MP3 is a digital music format which allows CD tracks to be reduced to around a tenth of their normal size without a significant loss of quality. MP3 gets rid of a lot of the information recorded in a song that our ears are not able to hear and then uses complex algorithms to reduce the file size. This then enables you to get hundreds of songs on to a CD and it also has opened up a new market over the internet - the download market as download times have been significantly reduced.
The MP3 format is a lossy format. That means that an MP3 file does not contain 100% of the original audio information. Instead, MP3 files use perceptual coding. In other words, that means it removes the information that your ear doesn't notice thereby making the file smaller. The reason lossy formats are used over RAW is that RAW audio files are too large to travel over the internet at any great speed. By using lossy formats it enables even dial up users to download mp3 files at a reasonable speed. RAW file formats generally require 176,000 bytes per second compared to a lossy format which requires 17,600. The difference is massive and so are the download times.
AAC is similar to MP3. It essentially cuts out, or compresses, information that the human ear cannot pick up thereby making digital files smaller and more easily managed and therefore quicker to download. AAC is about half the size of MP3 but with better quality. It is at least one tenth the size of CD digital data. Apple are the biggest users of this format and if you have an iPod or iPhone then you will have come across this format as it is iTunes default audio format.
AAC is similar in concept to MP3 but goes further. It too compresses digital audio files but to a bigger degree. It is also part of the MPEG-4 standard, it is most widely used to create small digital audio files. The current variant is specified in ISO/IEC standard 14496-3. Like MP3, AAC is a lossy algorithm. The human hearing system cannot hear quiet sounds in the presence of loud sounds of a similar frequency; for example, a voice conversation cannot be heard while an aeroplane flies low overhead. This is known as auditory masking, this allows the discarding of data with minimal loss of quality.
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