Popular codecs used to store and transmit digital audio

Music has been part of the World Wide Web since its earliest days. For many years the speed of the network and the limits of physical storage capacity imposed severe limits on the quality of audio over the internet. A number of ingenious methods were developed to try to get around these technical limitations.

Compression / decompression (codec) algorithms such those developed by the Moving Picture Experts Group (most famously MP3) can reduce the size of audio files down to around a tenth their original size. Lossy codec compression works by removing those parts of the sound data that are beyond the 'optimal' range of human hearing and encoding the remaining part in an efficient manner. While this works well enough for some listening contexts (in-car, computer speakers and iPods for instance), when listened to through a reasonably capable home Hi-Fi system the reduced sound quality becomes truly noticeable and diminishes the 'magic' of the musical experience.

While these technologies spawned a revolution in the way people consume music (along with the many prophets of doom for the future of recorded music), they were always considered a necessary evil by those who would really rather listen to music as it was originally recorded. While people are now conditioned to expect low quality compressed music from the internet, the time has come to see out this era of lossy compression, with thanks for all the memories.

High-speed broadband in the home is virtually ubiquitous in the developed world and with storage capacity no longer an issue for most web users, there is no longer a good reason to compromise our music listening pleasure by sticking with lossy audio compression. DreamStreaming exists to encourage the wider adoption of lossless audio (16 bit CD and 24 bit Studio quality) across the internet and get us back to hearing the music as it was made to be heard.

To this end, we would strongly encourage anyone who cares about music to demand lossless music from all internet music providers, wherever possible.

We would also advise everyone to archive their music libraries losslessly, either uncompressed or using a lossless compression format such as FLAC, which can reduce file size by about half with no loss of sound quality.

Of course, lossy codecs still have their place, and can then used if needed to create smaller files suitable for use on MP3 players or phones where storage capacity is still limited, while keeping your main archive in the full quality of the original recordings.

Many download stores offer files in varying qualities. Our advice would be always to choose the highest quality option available, from which lesser quality encodings can be made if needed. Musical information lost during lossy compression can never be recovered.

We describe in this section some of the codecs and file formats most commonly found on the web today.

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Astell& Kern AK Jr @ Sound Fidelity

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