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Switching Tracks: Ways to Convert Audio File Formats

Recently I published a post that highlighted the major types of audio file formats, ranging from mp3 to WAC, and AAC to FLAC. In this post, I thought of mentioning some of the tools we have used to convert files from one audio format to another. My focus will be on software tools and websites that can get this job done quickly- without relying on audio editing software like Audacity or Adobe Audition or Garageband.

Introduction

The challenge of How to convert audio files from one format to another has bother many a singer, podcaster, or audio editor at some point or another. At gaathastory, we have encountered a variety of challenges related to audio formats, from creators sending off-spec audio files to varying requirements of different podcast hosts. At peak, we handled 18 different podcast shows across 6 languages, and published one episode per day for 2 consecutive years. Which only complicated the problem further.I am simplifying the nature of the problem, for the sake of brevity.

Input files in different formats

Initially, we stipulated that contributors should upload the audio files directly to our cloud server in 16-bit WAV format. This drive was accessible to the editors. However, we frequently received files in MP3, OPUS, and other formats. This forced us to create an intermediate step: check the audio for the right format. If they are not uploaded in the .wav, reject the audio and ask the artist to re-send the same. On the flip side, this step began to add more time to our workflow. We decided to convert the audio files ourselves, if the received audio file met other parameters (narration style, quality, etc.) This extra step became a routine part of our workflow, albeit out of necessity.

Some contributors opted to send their files via WhatsApp, which compresses audio and degrades its quality more that any other tools.

In certain cases, due to a lack of alternatives, we were compelled to proceed with these degraded and heavily compressed audio files. This experience highlighted the necessity for more flexible, yet quality-conserving, solutions for handling different audio formats.

Different requirements for podcast hosts

Another issue arose with audio file delivery. Multiple times, unfortunately.

Different podcast hosts have their own format preferences Megaphone, for instance, accepts only MP3 files. Spotify, with whom we had a two year long agreement, required us to upload audio files in 320 kbps MP3 format. In contrast, Spreaker was more lenient, accepting FMAC, WAV, and MP3 formats. An audiobook company wanted us to deliver the audio in 120 Kbps mp3 files. These varying requirements prompted us to explore tools for converting audio files.

Audio files for test audience

Very often, we would send test or sample files to a selected pool of listeners, before the final release. Particularly the elderly listeners or those who are less tech-savvy, we had to provide lower-bitrate MP3 files. They would typically listen to the files on their mobile devices, and in 2016-18, majority of them were still on 3G network. This meant we had to mitigate their bandwidth and latency challenge. As a result, we had to emplasize the need for a streamlined, efficient way to manage and convert audio formats.

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Open Source Audio Tools to the Rescue

As an open-source advocate, my first instinct was to seek out solutions for Mac and Linux computers. Some of the tools to convert audio files from one format to another include Audacity and Ocenaudio or even Ardour DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). For Mac, GarageBand is an excellent tool that is capable of converting some files.

My search also extended to online platforms such as Cloudconvert and later TinyWOW. This led me to develop the below list of various software and web-based tools. Note that as on August 2023, I have personally used most of the below mentioned tools.

Pros and Cons: Convert audio files from one format to another

Converting audio files from one format to another comes with its pros and cons. On the positive side, it allows for greater flexibility and adaptability. This enables content creators to meet various platform-specific requirements. However, there are downsides such as potential loss of audio fidelity or quality due to compression.

Using different formats and conversion methods may result in varying degrees of audio quality. Additionally, converting files to different compressed formats often leads to smaller file sizes. This could be beneficial for storage, but detrimental to sound quality.


Open Source Tools

1. FFmpeg

  • Supported Platforms: Windows, Linux, Mac
  • Mobile: No
  • Description: FFmpeg is a robust, command-line utility capable of converting audio files among many different formats.

2. SoX (Sound eXchange)

  • Supported Platforms: Windows, Linux, Mac
  • Mobile: No
  • Description: Another command-line utility, SoX supports multiple audio formats and even offers some basic audio processing functionalities.

3. fre:ac (Free Audio Converter)

  • Supported Platforms: Windows, Linux, Mac
  • Mobile: No
  • Description: This is a user-friendly GUI application that supports a range of audio formats.

4. LameXP

  • Supported Platforms: Windows
  • Mobile: No
  • Description: LameXP is a free multi-format audio file converter that supports a variety of encodings.

5. Audio Converter by MediaHuman

  • Supported Platforms: Windows, Mac
  • Mobile: No
  • Description: This tool offers a clean interface and supports batch conversions.

6. XRECODE

  • Supported Platforms: Windows
  • Mobile: No
  • Description: This tool supports multiple file formats and batch conversions, but is only available on Windows.

7. Converter for iOS and Android (Mobile)

  • Supported Platforms: iOS, Android
  • Mobile: Yes
  • Description: These are specialized apps available on respective app stores and are open-source or have open-source variants.

More Ways to Convert Audio File Formats : Browser-Based Tools

1. Cloud Convert

This is a web-based utility that lets you convert audio files without installing any software. While not open-source, it’s free to use.

2. Zamzar

Zamzar is one of the oldest online file conversion services and supports a multitude of audio, video, and document formats.

3. Convertio

Convertio allows users to upload files from multiple sources including desktop, URL, Google Drive, and Dropbox. It supports various audio formats.

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4. Aconvert

This service also supports a variety of file formats, not limited to audio. Users can adjust the bitrate, sampling rate, and channels.

5. 123apps Online Audio Converter

As the name suggests, this online tool is dedicated to audio conversions and offers options to change quality, sampling rate, and other audio settings.

These services usually support a broad range of formats, making it easier for users to convert between common and more specialized audio formats.


Conclusion and Takeaways

If yo are looking for robust, cross-platform options, FFmpeg and SoX are the way to go. For a more user-friendly interface on desktop platforms, you might choose fre:ac. If mobile accessibility is essential, specific apps on iOS and Android stores could be useful. Most browser-based tools are not open-source, but they provide the convenience of not requiring an installation.

Which is your preferred format for recording and publishing Audio files?

Links and Resources