There are a lot of advantages to digital music, but it can be confusing as you try to determine what format, bit rate and file size are best suited for any given hardware solution. If you love the idea of having access to the best digital music, but you feel intimidated by the conflux of software, hardware, bits and code, maybe this simple glossary will help you navigate towards the best music available.
Album Art An image that shows the physical cover original to the album, which can be duplicated digitally on a listening device.
Bit rate – The amount of data used in a given period of time to represent sound waves. This value will generally take the form of kilobits per second (kbps).
Burning – Term for writing data to a CD or DVD.
CD Recordable (CDR) – A compact disc onto which data or audio can be written once. Audio CDs can be recorded and played in car, home, and other standard CD players.
Codec – Short for “compression/decompression”, generally consisting of some mathematical algorithm used to both compress and store the CD audio, as well as playback to the compressed audio files.
Decoding – Generally refers to the process occurring behind the scenes by an audio player (such as an iPod), allowing the digital file to be converted into sound you can hear.
Encoding – The process of converting an uncompressed format to one of several compressed digital formats.
Kilobytes per Second (Kbps) – A unit of measurement generally used when discussing bit rate. A 128kbps file contains 128,000 bits of data for every second of content being stored. Uncompressed formats use approximately 1411 kbps, while a compressed format generally uses only 128-192kbps.
Metadata – Information about a particular CD, generally consisting of artist, album, and track information. Album information usually includes the year the album was released, its genre (jazz, rock, etc), and possibly album art.
MP3 – MPEG Layer III, by far the most commonly used, compressed digital audio format. The compression process results in files that can easily be transmitted over the Internet, written to CD/DVD, or stored on portable devices.
Normalization – A process which adjusts a number of audio files such that they seem to play at approximately the same volume.
Ripping – Also called digital audio extraction, this is the process of taking CD audio and recording it to a computer in an uncompressed file format (wav). When the transfer is from CD to MP3, the process consists of both ripping and encoding.
WAV – An uncompressed audio file generally used on PCs. CDs must first be extracted to wav files before they can be compressed to another format (see MP3, WMA, etc).
Windows Media Audio (WMA) – Microsoft’s proprietary audio codec designed to compete with MP3. Claims to offer competitive sound quality at lower bit rates.