What Is the Best Audio Format for My Portable Device?

Does it make any difference which audio format you use?

Deciding on an Audio Format
Deciding on an Audio Format. Source: Pixabay

Working Out What Audio Format is Best For Your Portable

If you've got a portable device that can play digital music, have you ever wondered if there's a particular audio format you should be using?

After all, it's not always clear which format is the best for music. Some services like Amazon sell digital music in the MP3 format. While Apple offers song downloads from its iTunes Store in the AAC format.

Then there's the question of which formats your device can actually play. If it's relatively new, you might be able to play lossless formats like FLAC as well as the older lossy ones such as MP3 and AAC.

And to add even more confusion, there's the listening factor too. How important is sound quality to you?

To help you decide, here's a few things you can do.

1. Check Your Portable's Format Compatibility

Before deciding on an audio format, the first thing you'll need to do is check its compatibility. This can usually be found on the manufacturer's website or in the specifications section of the user guide (if it came with one of course).

Here are two articles that might help if you've got one of the following Apple devices:

2. Decide on The Audio Quality Level You Need

If you're not going to be using high-end audiophile equipment in the future then a lossy audio format might be sufficient if you're only going to use your portable.

For wide compatibility, the MP3 file format is the safest bet. It's an old algorithm, but one that gives good results. In fact, it is still the most compatible audio format of them all.

However, if you are pulling tracks from music CDs for instance, then you might be wise to keep a lossless copy on your computer / external hard drive and convert to lossy as well for your portable.

This will keep your music future-proof even if new hardware and formats surface at a later date.

3. Consider The Bitrate

Bitrate is an important factor to be familiar with especially when you are looking for the best quality music playback. However, the actual bitrate setting you need will depend on what audio format you are using.

For example, the MP3 format (MPEG-1 Audio Layer III) has a bitrate range of 32 to 320 Kbps. There are also two methods of encoding you can choose too -- namely CBR and VBR. In this case, rather than encoding using the default CBR (Constant Bit Rate) setting, it is far better to use VBR (Variable Bit Rate) encoding. This is because VBR will give you the best quality to file size ratio.

The encoder you use is also an important factor.

If you use an audio file converter that uses the MP3 Lame encoder for example, then the recommended preset for high quality audio is 'fast extreme' which equates to the following:

  • Lame encoder switch: -V0
  • Average bitrate: Approx. 245 Kbps.
  • VBR Working range: 220-260 Kbps.

4. Is The Music Service You Use a Good Fit?

It's best to choose a music service that works best for you and your portable.

For example, if you have an iPhone or other Apple product and solely use the iTune Store for your music then keeping with the AAC format makes sense -- espceially if you are going to stay in Apple's ecosystem.

It's a lossy compression scheme but is ideal for the average listener.

However, if you have a mix of hardware and want your music library to be compatible with everything, then choosing a music download service which offers MP3s is probably the better choice -- it is still the de facto standard after all.

But, if you are an audiophile who wants nothing but the best, and your portable can handle lossless audio files, then choosing a HD music service is a no-brainer.