DJ Audio Formats Explained

Our DEX 3 DJ mixing software supports many formats, and both audio and video files.  As a Digital DJ you should be aware of the supported file formats, and their various pro’s and con’s.

Today we’ll talk about Audio formats only, but we’ll follow this post up shortly with and explanation of the various video formats DEX 3 supports.

For the better part of the last 2 decades MP3 has reigned king, with cross-platform support and when ripping at high bit-rates (320kbps), it combined just the right compression to only lose some of the very low and high frequencies while taking up minimal hard drive space.  It has been the standard, and continues to be. With hard drive space no longer at a premium, many DJs are moving on to loss-less formats like Flac.  They are larger in file size, but sound just like the original recordings.

Let’s dive in and take a look at some of the popular formats our DEX 3 software supports:

Lossless vs Lossy Audio – What’s The Difference?

Lossy audio is the most commonly used among DJs due to the ever-popular and vastly supported MP3 format. Lossey basically means parts of the song data have been removed due to audio compression.  Lossy formats use algorithms that remove portions of the audio spectrum, usually on the very high and low frequencies where it will not affect the sound quality as much.  However, the more compression applied the more song fidelity will be lost.  For instance a 128kbps file vs a 320kbps file produce noticeable sound quality differences.

Lossless means exactly what the name suggests, it’s an audio recording without song data removed. Lossless can also be compressed or  uncompressed.   Compressed lossless audio files have a reduced file size due to inaudible changes, and although they are not as small as a compressed lossy file the changes are enough to reduce file size drastically. Uncompressed lossless files are exactly like the original recording so no change in file size or fidelity..

You can learn more about Lossy files from the Wikipedia page HERE. and more about Lossless on Wikipedia HERE

Now let’s take a look at each specific format:

Popular Lossy Formats:

MP3:  As noted, MP3 is easily the most widespread and utilized lossy formats, for both DJs and consumers. Most record pool services, like our partners at the iDJPool, deliver the highest-quality 320Kbps MP3’s.  However, some audiophile Djs refuse to use them, as they claim even at 320Kbps they don’t sound nearly as good as lossless audio.   Personally, I feel that unless you have ears like a dog, hearing the very high frequencies and low frequencies that are lost with MP3 compression  at 320kbps is almost impossible.  I think it’s one of those things you may “feel” rather than hear – especially on a very loud system. Obvious pro’s of using MP3 is their small file size and the fact that they have excellent metadata that includes items like album art (which is now supported in PCDJ DEX 3).

AAC:  AAC stands for Advanced Audio Coding and is near cousin of MP3, albeit newer and some will suggest “better”.   ACC was created by Apple, and is the file type sold in iTunes, which is a popular way for mobile DJs to acquire music (iTunes files and playlists are supported directly in the DEX 3 browser) An ACC file extension is .M4A, and they (supposedly) sound better at lower bitrates than an MP3.  Many compare 256kbps ACC files to 320Kbps MP3’s, but personally I’d say it’s negligible — although throughout my 37 years I’ve liked my tunes LOUD, so it could be my own ears negating the difference.

WMA: This is Microsoft’s proprietary Windows Media’s format and often has compatibility issues with some players, especially on MAC.  PCDJ does support WMA, and their metadata.   If you ripp your CD’s with Windows Media Player this is the default format, but I would highly-suggest changing the ripping settings to MP3 for better quality, and to ensure no compatibility issues in the future (especially if a shiny new Macbook Pro is in your future!).  WMA simply doesn’t sound as good as MP3 or AAC, at least to me.

OGG (or OGG Vorbis):  Ogg has been around for close to a decade now, and when it was first announced many felt it had the potential to replace MP3 as an industry standard, but for whatever reason never picked up steam. It is roughly comparable to other formats used to store and play digital music, such as MP3 and AAC, and other lossy digital audio formats. It is different from these other formats because it is completely free, which means to support it in DJ software licensing isn’t necessary (playback decoder).  PCDJ DEX 3 and RED Mobile 2 both support Ogg, too.

Now A Look at Lossless Formats:

WAVE: .WAV files are a universally known and lossless, uncompressed format.  They are by-far the most utilized of all lossless formats, and are supported in all DJ software.   The fidelity is excellent, CD quality, and many DJs only perform with WAVE.  The biggest downside to using standard WAVE files is their lack of  metadata (tags),  although a version of WAVE exists called Broadcast Wave (BWF) it’s difficult to find software to create and support them.  With drive space no longer being as expensive as it once was, I’m sure more DJs would adopt WAV as a standard providing extended tag metadata would be supported.  (something our DJ software development team is already exploring for a future update).

AIFF:  This is Apple’s WAVE equivalent. Same sound-quality and the same metadata limitations. AIFF is best used on MAC’s only, and will have limitations (or zero support) on Windows machines.

FLAC:  My personal audio file of choice. FLAC files are compressed unlike the previous two formats. The files produced are about half the size of a WAVE or AIFF.  The major bonus’s here are obviously, there is no loss in audio fidelity from the original track and they fully support metadata including album art.  PCDJ DJ software supports FLAC files,  and they are gaining in are popular with many DJs.  Recently many of the online record pools for DJs are taking notice, and introducing Flac download options.

I hope that helps some of you get your heads around some of the popular formats PCDJ supports, and the differences between Lossy and Lossless.

If you have any questions, feel free to comment below! 

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