A Crash Course in Digital Audio Formats

2nd in a series about new audio technologies used in education

As our culture continues to integrate digital files, schools and classrooms have similarly expanded their use of audio-related content. For those who have relied on traditional analog content until now but would like to experiment with the new digital world, they’re confronted with several different types of files they must work with in order to access the same content. Gone are the days when wanting to play a song meant simply choosing between a record and a cassette.

The introduction and widespread acceptance of first CD players and then computers ushered in a new generation of how and where the same analog content could be digitized, stored, transferred, and ultimately played. Just like earlier generations of audio formats had their own dedicated equipment (phonograph players for instance), all digital files have their own file formats which determines their use, and audio files are no different. Each digital audio file has its own filename extension (a suffix attached to the name of that file to indicate the particular format of its contents).

The shift to a digital platform in schools means that at least for audio files, it’s important to be at least familiar with the most commonly used format types since newer audio equipment is integrating the ability to play many of these format types. It’s important to be aware of which audio equipment can play the audio files your class, school, or district is producing (or planning to make) could determine which equipment you’re going to purchase. So whether the envisioned equipment will be used by teachers who’ll be downloading lessons, for playing student-generated content, or recording a speech, there are at least three most commonly used audio file formats you should be know about.

A .wav file is one of the three most common digital audio file formats. It is a larger, compressed file format used by most Windows


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