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Audio Codecs in a Nutshell

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Audio Codecs in a Nutshell

Uncompressed digital audio files can take up a huge amount of space on your computer's hard drive. CD-quality audio requires approximately 10MB of storage space for each minute. Fortunately, there are many compression schemes for reducing the size of audio files. These audio codecs (compression / decompression) can provide good sounding audio at a fraction of the space required by uncompressed audio.

An audio codec is a computer program that is used both to create a certain format of audio file and to play it back. The same or compatible codec that is used to compress the audio must be installed on the computer in order to listen to the file. For example, you cannot listen to MP3 files without having an MP3 codec installed in your computer.

There are two basic types of audio codecs - lossless and lossy. Lossless codecs retain all the original data of the original sound file while lossy codecs remove some of the data. Loss the schemes provide for greater compression and smaller file sizes but there is no way to restore the audio to its original quality. Lossless codecs allow you to restore the audio.

There is a great variety of audio codecs because some are more suitable for certain kinds of audio. For example, some codecs are ideal for speech and others are better for music. In choosing a codec, you want the resulting file to retain good sound quality while reducing the file size as much as possible.

Without a doubt, the most popular codec is MP3. It is suitable for all types of audio files and can be used to encode audio at a great variety of bit rates. The most common bit rate for music is 128 (kbps) kilobytes per second, which provides a compression rate of about 10/1. This means you can store the music from 10 CDs into the space equivalent to one CD. The popularity of MP3 audio codecs has greatly enhanced the ability to distribute music over the Internet.

Audio codecs designed for compressing voice files are widely used in mobile communication devices like cellular phones. The limited frequency range of the human voice allows voice files to be compressed to a fraction of their original size allowing them to be instantly transmitted through digital networks.

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