Compression is a useful tool for reducing file sizes. When images, sounds or videos are compressed, data is removed to reduce the file size. This is very helpful when streaming and downloading files.

Streamed music and downloadable files, such as MP3s, are usually between 128 kbps and 320 kbps - much lower than the 1,411 kbps of an uncompressed file.

Videos are also compressed when they are streamed over a network. Streaming HD video requires a high-speed internet connection. Without it, the user would experience buffering and regular drops in quality. HD video is usually around 3 mbps. SD is around 1,500 kbps.

Lossy and lossless compression

An explanation of lossy and lossless compression

Compression can be lossy or lossless.

Lossless compression means that as the file size is compressed, the audio quality remains the same - it does not get worse. Also, the file can be restored back to its original state. FLAC and ALAC are open source lossless compression formats. Lossless compression can reduce file sizes by up to 50% without losing quality.

Lossy compression permanently removes data. For example, a WAV file compressed to an MP3 would be lossy compression. The bit rate could be set at 64 kbps, which would reduce the size and quality of the file. However, it would not be possible to recreate a 1,411 kbps quality file from a 64 kbps MP3.

With lossy compression, the original bit depth is reduced to remove data and reduce the file size. The bit depth becomes variable.

MP3 and AAC are lossy compressed audio file formats widely supported on different platforms. MP3 and AAC are both patented codecs. Ogg Vorbis is an open source alternative for lossy compression.

Not all audio file formats will work on all media players.