A very common question these days is whether you should be buying your music in MP3 or WAV format. And if it’s MP3, which version: 192 or 320 kbps?
A few words on WAV first. WAV is an “uncompressed” audio format and provides what’s called “CD quality sound”. In other words, you could rip a CD into a WAV file and then use that WAV to burn a bit-by-bit copy of that CD without any loss in quality. WAV tracks are more expensive, and they also take up a lot of space on your hard drive.
MP3, on the other hand, is a “compressed” format. An MP3 version of a song is obtained by taking a WAV, stripping out all of the frequencies that a human ear theoretically won’t hear anyway, and then applying some fancy compression algorithms to further reduce the file size.
The problem with MP3 is that stripping out part. Because MP3 leaves out some of the original sound, it’s called a “lossy” format. In other words, every time you encode an MP3, you lose some of the music forever.
This can be an issue with low MP3 bitrates, say 96 or 128 kbps, where the encoder has to throw away so much information that the sound distortion actually becomes audible. However, most people can’t tell the difference between a WAV and a properly encoded 192 kbps MP3, let alone a 320 kbps version. (That’s true even if you constantly see DJs bragging otherwise on message boards.)
So should you be paying more for WAVs to get the ultimate quality, or would an MP3 suffice? I tend to take a middle ground approach: Go for the MP3 but grab the 320 kpbs version. No one will hear the difference and it will be considerably lighter on your wallet (and your hard drive) than a WAV.
Do you buy your music in MP3 or WAV? If MP3, what bitrate? Let me know in the comments below!
JM has played open-air gigs, shared the stage with the likes of ATB and had mix albums released commercially. He has been teaching DJing since 2008.
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