Monkey's Audio Definition: What is the APE Format?

A look at the APE format and the pros and cons of using it

Monkey's Audio, which is represented by the .ape file extension, is a lossless audio format (also known as APE codec, MAC format). This means that it doesn't discard audio data like lossy audio formats such as MP3, WMA, AAC, and others. It can, therefore, create digital audio files that reproduce the original sound source during playback.

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Compression Levels

Many audiophiles and music fans wishing to perfectly preserve their original audio CDs (CD ripping), vinyl records, or tapes (digitizing) often favor a lossless audio format like Monkey's audio for their first-generation digital copy.

When using Monkey's Audio to compress an original audio source, you can expect to get approximately a 50 percent reduction on the original uncompressed size. Monkey's Audio achieves better than average lossless compression compared to other lossless formats like FLAC (which varies between 30 percent and 50 percent).

The audio compression levels that Monkey's Audio currently uses are:

  1. Fast (Mode switch: -c1000).
  2. Normal (Mode switch: -c2000).
  3. High (Mode switch: -c3000).
  4. Extra High (Mode switch: -c4000).
  5. Insane (Mode switch: -c5000).

As the level of audio compression increases, so does the level of complexity. This results in slower encoding and decoding. You'll need to think about the tradeoff between how much space you'll save versus the encoding and decoding time.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Monkey's Audio

Like any audio format, there are advantages and disadvantages worth weighing up before you decide whether to use it or not. Here's a list of the main pros and cons of encoding your original audio sources in the Monkey's Audio format.

Advantages
  • Preservation of the original sound source: One of the advantages of preserving original music using Monkey's Audio (like other lossless formats), is that if an original audio CD, for example, is damaged or lost, you can create a perfect copy from your first generation digitally encoded APE file.

  • Good lossless compression: Monkey's Audio typically achieves better lossless compression than other competing formats like FLAC.

  • Good software media player support: There's a range of free plug-ins available to enable the playback of .ape files on software media players. Popular jukebox software (with the relevant plug-in) includes Windows Media Player, Foobar2000, Winamp, Media Player Classic, and others.

Disadvantages
  • Decoding is resource-intensive: One of the downsides to encoding sound using Monkey's Audio is that the compression system is CPU intensive. This means that it takes a lot of processing power to play audio. Because of this, the Monkey's Audio format is only supported on a small number of PMP and MP3 players that have powerful CPUs.

  • Restricted platform support and license: Monkey's Audio is currently only officially available on the Microsoft Windows operating system platform. Even though the Monkey's Audio license agreement allows the compression system to be used freely, it isn't open source. In contrast, the FLAC project is open source and has been developed much more due to its large community of active developers.