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An audio file format is a container format for storing audio data on a computer system.

The general approach towards storing digital audio is to sample the audio voltage which, on playback, would correspond to a certain position of the membrane in a speaker of the individual channels with a certain resolution - the number of bits per sample - in regular intervals (forming the sample rate). This data can then be stored uncompressed or compressed to reduce the file size.

Types of formats

It is important to distinguish between a file format and a codec. A codec performs the encoding and decoding of the raw audio data while the data itself is stored in a file with a specific audio file format. Though most audio file formats support only one audio codec, a file format may support multiple codecs, as AVI does.

There are three major groups of audio file formats:

Uncompressed audio formats, such as WAV, AIFF and AU;

formats with lossless compression, such as FLAC, Monkey's Audio (filename extension APE), WavPack (filename extension WV), Shorten, Tom's lossless Audio Kompressor (TAK), TTA, Apple Lossless and lossless Windows Media Audio (WMA).

formats with lossy compression, such as MP3, Vorbis, Musepack, lossy Windows Media Audio (WMA) and AAC.