Transcoding Audio

Transcode audio concept image
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In digital audio, the term transcoding simply means the process of converting one digital format to another. Transcoding isn't just limited to audio either. It can be used for just about any type of digital media where conversion takes place, such as video, photos, etc.

There are quite a few reasons to convert between formats, but one of the main ones has to do with compatibility. For instance, you might have a song that is in the FLAC format. Not all portable devices support this format, so you may need to transcode to one that your device can play, like MP3.

Types of Software That Can Transcode Media Files

Depending on what you need to achieve, there are several types of software programs that can transcode media:

  • Video to Audio Converters - Online and offline tools for extracting audio from video.
  • Software Media Players - These often have a built-in media converter.
  • Media managers - Useful for managing and organizing your library between formats.
  • Standalone CD Ripping Software - These usually provide a wide range of audio formats to convert your original CDs.
  • DRM Removal Tools - Although these mainly record the output of your computer's soundcard (analog loophole), the resultant audio file is a sort of transcoding.
  • CD Burning Programs - This type of software program often has the facility to convert compressed audio files back into WAV for use when you want to create an audio CD.

Benefits of Converting From One Format to Another

  • Increasing Compatibility - This is probably the most common reason for transcoding audio files. If you have downloaded songs from the iTunes Store, for example, then these are usually in the AAC format. This isn't supported as widely as MP3; in this case, converting these AAC encoded songs to a more popular audio format will help to make your iTunes library more accessible on the different hardware devices you have.
  • Reduce File Storage Requirements - If you are short on hard drive space or simply want to store your songs in a more compact way, then transcoding software is a useful tool to use. Compared to uncompressed audio formats like WAV, lossy formats such as WMA, MP3, and AAC all offer a way to store the same songs at a fraction of the size.
  • Optimize Songs for Cloud Storage - To preserve the quality of ripped CDs, many people store their digital music library on external hard drives in a lossless audio format. This audio format isn't the best one to use if you want to keep your music library in an online music locker. To help minimize upload time, bandwidth, and data transfer usage, transcoding can be used to convert a larger lossless audio format into one that has sufficient quality for everyday streaming audio; this is typically offered at 256 kbps on most streaming services.

While transcoding is useful, the quality of the audio can suffer in certain circumstances, like the conversion from one lossy format to another. If audio quality is important, then only transcode from lossless to either lossy (e.g. FLAC to MP3) or another lossless format.

Transcoding is sometimes confused with another similar-sounding term called, encoding. This latter term usually means the conversion from analog sound to digital.