IPod File Format Compatibility Guide

A Guide to the Audio Formats That Work on Your iPod

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If you think you can only listen to music you purchase from iTunes on your iPod, you're missing out on a lot of music opportunities. Although the iPod works seamlessly with iTunes and the Apple Music subscription service, the iPod is capable of playing many audio formats. Whether you decide to listen to music in a lossy format or a lossless format affects the sound quality. It also affects how much space the music takes up on your iPod. 

IPod Supported Audio Formats

The supported audio formats for the iPod and other iOS devices are:

  • AAC (bitrates from 8 to 320Kbps)
  • HE-AAC (bitrates from 8 to 320Kbps)
  • Protected AAC (from the iTunes Store)
  • ALAC (Apple Lossless)
  • MP3 (bitrates 8 to 320Kbps)
  • MP3 VBR (Variable Bitrate)
  • Dolby Digital (AC-3)
  • Dolby Digital Plus (E-AC-3)
  • AA (Audible formats 2, 3, 4) / Audible Enhanced Audio / AAX / AAX+
  • WAV (Waveform Audio File Format)
  • AIFF (Audio Interchange File Format) 

About the MP3 File Format

Chances are you already have plenty of MP3s. The iPod supports two types of MP3 formats: MP3 (8 to 320Kbps) and MP3 VBR. The MP3 VBR (for Variable Bit Rate) format is used on most MP3s because it delivers superior sound quality. Both formats are compressed to save space. Although the iTunes store doesn't use the MP3 format, you can get MP3s by ripping your own CDs or by downloading them from Amazon's Digital Music Store, eMusic, or a host of other online music services. The sound quality is acceptable for casual listeners, but audiophiles may prefer one of the lossless formats.

ACC Format Isn't Limited to iTunes

ACC is a lossy format that usually offers higher-quality sound that MP3s while taking up about the same amount of space. Every song sold in the iTunes Store is in ACC format, but the format is not exclusive to Apple.

High-Efficiency Advanced Audio Encoding 

HE-AAC is a lossy compression system that is sometimes referred to as AAC Plus. It is used for streaming audio applications such as internet radio, where low bit rates are necessary. 

Go Uncompressed With WAV Format

Waveform Audio format is an uncompressed file format used when high-quality sound is important, such as when you burn CDs. Because the format is not compressed, WAV files take up more space than either MP3 or ACC format music. A typical WAV file takes up about 10 times the amount of space as the same music in MP3 format.

Audiophiles Love AIFF Format

The Audio Interchange File Format is also an uncompressed audio format. Apple invented AIFF, but the format isn't proprietary. Like WAV, AIFF takes up about 10 times the amount of space as an MP3, but it delivers high-quality audio and is often preferred by audiophiles.

Try Open Source Apple Lossless Format

Despite its name, the Apple Lossless format or ALAC is open-source software that does an excellent job of reducing the file size while maintaining high-quality. Apple Lossless files are about half the size of MP3 or AAC format audio files.

Dolby Digital

Although not as common on the iPod as other formats, Dolby Digital AC-3 and its successor Dolby Digital E-AC-3 formats support  5 and 15 full channels respectively. Designed more for the home entertainment center environment than the iPod, the music format is nonetheless playable on your Apple device.

Listen to Your Favorite Books With Audible Format Files

Audible, the spoken word company, developed several proprietary spoken word audio formats – Audible Audio (AA 2, 3, and 4) and Audible Enhanced Audio (AAX  and AAX+) – all of which the iPod supports. AA 4 is a compressed file format, while Audible Enhanced Audio is not compressed.