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A Guide To Converting Between Digital Music Formats

Have you always wanted to convert music files from one format to another? Well, there’s a wide variety of music file types out there – from MP3, WMA, OGG, AAC and what have you. The problem with having so many formats, of course, is confusion on the part of the consumer. Here’s a guide to the most popular types of music file formats out there and how to convert between them.

Common Music File Formats

Before we start, here’s a brief summary of the common music file formats out there.

MP3: This is the most popular music file format in use today. MP3 files are highly compressed but do not compromise audio quality. This is done by eliminating sounds that the human ear cannot perceive. All new Windows systems support this format.

WAV: This file format represents digital audio in a raw, uncompressed format. While the audio quality is excellent, the file size is huge. A typical pop song may take up to 40MB of hard disk space.

OGG: This stands for OGG Vorbis which is an open source music file format. It’s gaining popularity as there are no licensing fees involved when it is used to encode or play music. Audio quality and compression are quire similar to the MP3 format.

WMA: This file format stands for Windows Media Audio, which comes from Microsoft. WMA files sound better than MP3 files at the same bit rate, and take up less space. Some WMAs are copy protected, while others aren’t.

AAC: If you own an iPod, the AAC format should be familiar to you. It stands for Advanced Audio Coding, and is developed by Dolby Laboratories. Apple applies its own digital rights management technology to secure AAC downloads from iTunes.

MIDI: Stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It was originally created for recording and playing music on digital synthesizers. Very popular as cell phone ring tones, MIDI files are very small in size. The computer’s sound card interprets MIDI files and reproduces music using a wavetable.

RA: RA stands for RealAudio. Developed by Progressive Networks, an RA file can be used for live streaming audio from websites. You can play them back on RealAudio players which are downloadable software programs.

Different Types of Conversion

Now that we understand what are the common music file formats out there, let’s look at the different types of conversion we might want to do.

Convert CD tracks to WMA or MP3: This is one of the most popular conversion tasks. You can use programs like Musicmatch and Windows Media Player to rip music off an audio CD and encode them in MP3 or WMA. I’ve written up a short guide on how to do this with Musicmatch, which you may want to read.

Converting between WAV, MP3, WMA and OGG
Ok, I frequently get questions as to how one can convert WAV to MP3, MP3 to WMA, MP3 to OGG – all sorts of permutations are possible. My reply is always the same – get an all-purpose audio conversion program.

My favorite audio conversion program that can easily convert between WAV, MP3, WMA and OGG is, believe it or not, called the Alt WAV MP3 WMA OGG Converter.

This small little program is really amazing. Due to its fast conversion speed, you no longer need to wait for hours to finish converting a batch of music files. The user interface is very friendly – you can drag-and-drop files from Windows Explorer and switch between formats in one click. There’s even support for ID3 tags so you can organize your music files properly.

Ok, this one needs clarification. MP3 cannot be converted to MIDI. This is because the MIDI file format merely represents a set of instructions for playing music on a synthesizer.

Conversely, MIDI cannot be directly converted to MP3. What you can do is to playback the MIDI file on a synthesizer, then record it into the computer via the audio input of your sound card.

Real Audio to WAV
If you want to make an audio CD from RealAudio files, you can use a program called Realaudio-to-WAV Recorder.


As you can see, there are so many types of music file formats out there, its sometimes confusing to beginners. Remember to refer to this guide the next time you need to do music file conversion. If the type of music file conversion you need is not listed here, feel free to drop me a note so I can help you.

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