The Baltimore Sun Sorts Out The Alphabet Soup Of Audio Codecs

AAC, MP3, WMA? What does it all mean? Whatis the difference? Why should you care? An article at the Baltimore Sun aims to sort out these questions and more, by explaining the difference between the three codecs and CDs, where each is used, and hardware compatibility of each. He also included an apology for a previous gaffe calling AAC a proprietary file format. From the Baltimore Sun:

In last weekis column about iTunes, Appleis online music store, I wrote that Apple sells music in a proprietary format called AAC. As a small legion of Mac fans wrote to protest, AAC is not proprietary but an industry standard. It just happens that Apple is the only online music company that uses it.

I regret the error - but the subject brings up a question Iive been getting more frequently as online music stores proliferate: Whatis the difference between MP3, WMA, and now AAC files?


When Phillips and Sony developed the compact disc format in the late 1970s, they settled on a standard scheme for "sampling" the sounds musicians made and translating them into a series of binary ones and zeros.

The codec developed for audio CD players, still in use today, wasnit very efficient. It requires close to 10 megabytes of data to store a minute of music. Although a compact disc can store 74 minutes of music, the format still required too much data to move music around over the computer networks that developed in the 1980s and i90s.

Lastly, we were tickled about a poke at Microsoft included in the piece. From the Baltimore Sun:

Since Microsoft didnit own or control the MP3 standard - a state of affairs that Chairman Bill Gates canit abide - the company decided to develop its own compressed music format, known as Windows Media Audio, or WMA for short.

You can read the full article at the Baltimore Sunis Web site.