Help with Audio Files

by Sean Ennis, August 9, 2001 [just a quick update]
(Original Audio Help Page written November 20, 1996)

Here is a brief explanation of the different audio formats available at this site now or in the future.

MPEG(*.mpg, *.mp1, *.mp2, *.mp3, *.mpeg)

MPEG stands for Motion Picture Experts Group and is a compression format for both audio and video. MPEG files have a good balance between fidelity and file size, and provide the ability for the creator of the file to adjust these two parameters. When comparing audio samples of different formats, MPEG files will take up the least space in storage, but will deliver very high-quality audio. MPEG files are quick to download, but may take longer than other file types to load into an audio player, if the player software must decompress the file before playing. Some MPEG players can decompress on the fly and can even be used to stream audio and video over the Internet, eliminating the wait for downloads. MP3 has recently become a widely used format for audio on the internet with professional and amateur musicians, record companies, fans and pirates selling, buying, giving and trading songs as fast as they can be encoded.

Wave (*.wav)

WAV files are probably the most prevalent sound files in use by the masses. There are several different compression schemes for WAV files. A very useful type of WAV file is the Microsoft ADPCM version. This version of WAV features CD quality sound, but takes up one-quarter of the disk space as traditional WAV files.

RealAudio (*.ra, *.ram)

This file type was developed by Progressive Networks for the purpose of streaming audio, which eliminates download waits. RealAudio is in wide-spread use on the Internet because of its ability to provide live broadcasts, and give the user the ability to listen to feature-length programing, pause the playback and resume from the same point, and jump to an indexed point in the program. To enable streaming audio, the size of the data stream is minimized, which means the fidelity of the sound suffers. The use of RealAudio also relys upon special server software that a website developer needs access to in order to deliver the audio data stream in an intelligible way. The most appropriate application of RealAudio at this time is for speech, but with continuing development of faster modems and improvements in compression technology, RealAudio is being used for music and other uses that require high-fidelity. RealAudio is often combined with other media types for multimedia presentations such as automated slide shows, or three-dimensional graphic worlds (VRML) that respond to the user's actions with audio. There are other streaming audio types, such as Xing's streaming MPEG.

Next/Sun (*.au)

AU is a format by Next/Sun Microsystems and comes in a few flavors of varying compression and quality. This file type is widely supported on the Internet. Even an old version of Netscape will handle these files with no external helper application. Files can be large and/or noisy in comparison to other formats.

Apple audio (*.aif, *.aiff)

This was the standard audio file for Apple computers (Macintosh). This is another type for which Netscape has built-in support. Files are usually large in comparison to other formats, but offer relatively good fidelity.

Do you have a soundcard?

To enjoy any of these audio formats, you need to have a soundcard installed in your computer. If you have ever heard music or recorded speech come out of your computer, and not just beeps, you probably have a soundcard.

What about software I already have?

If you are using Windows, there are programs bundled with your operating environment that will play WAV files and maybe a few others as well. An example is Media Player, which is usually installed on new computers and will play many file types. (Sorry folks, I don't know Macs. Check below with the links for other sources.)

Most soundcards come with software for playing popular audio formats such as WAV files. For those using Creative Lab's SoundBlaster soundcards, you may have WavePlayer, SoundOle', and/or WaveStudio, all of which support several types of WAV files. For you web surfers using DOS, you probably received some sort of audio player software for DOS with your soundcard. You may try searching the directory that contains your soundcard software for a file called "wavplayer.exe" or something similar, and run it, but be aware that if it is a Windows program, it will not work for you.

Many internet browsers have audio capabilities. If you have Netscape, you already have built-in support for AIFs and AUs, and the ability to use helper applications for other file types, so they automatically play upon loading. Netscape 3.0+ supports AU, AIF, WAV, and MIDI (music) files. Recent versions of Microsoft's Internet Explorer also support these file types. Both of these popular browsers support RealAudio, but you may have to install it as a helper application or plug-in. You may have to set your browser to recognize the MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extentions) type and associate it with the appropriate program. For instance, with Netscape 3.0, you select Options from the menu bar, then General Preferences. Click the Helpers tab. Scroll through the MIME types (such as audio/x-wav) and their associated file name extensions (like .wav) When you find one you want to associate with an audio application, highlight it, then click the radio button labled "Launch the Application". Now go to the button labeled "Browse" and find the executable file of the program you want to use, select it, and click Open. Now, when you download an audio file of this type, upon completion of the loading it will start the software you chose to use automatically with the file loaded and ready to play.

Links for help and software

Below are links to resources for finding and installing audio tools for Windows, Macintosh and Unix machines. Many will have links to radio-style programs and recordings!

(Note: Software mentioned or linked to on this page is not maintained by myself, or by Dave Maize. We cannot guarantee availability or suitability for a given purpose because we have not tried some of the software suggested via these links. We do not, at this time, provide support, nor can we bear any responsiblity for any problems you may encounter when installing or using this software or any mentioned on other sites linked from this page. Always read all available on-line documentation thoroughly before installation.)

Cool Edit - A full-featured Windows audio tool for playback, recording, editing, and more. It is easy to play files. If you use it as a helper application, it will automatically play the file upon download and decompression. If used by itself, you can open the file, then press the spacebar to start and stop. Supports many audio formats including WAV.

Quicktime is popular multimedia playback software for Macintosh and Windows by Apple. It can play WAV and MP3 files, among others.

RealPlayer - With this handy accessory, you can hear, and see, a vast amount of diverse programs from web servers across the world. They have a guide called Timecast that lists sites and upcoming events. Sound quality gets better if you have faster hardware and network connection, and if buy their nicer software. The RealPlayer also supports streaming video, but it is jerky, at best. I've watched live TV from Delhi, India with this fun program, hearing native musicians that will never make it on the airwaves where I live! For available many operating systems.

MPEG links

©Sean Ennis, 1996 - 2001
Web Development by Ennis Web Design
Last Updated: August 9, 2001