Recording your podcast is the fun part, but how you go about it can vary. There’s two main ways that podcasters record: using MP3, or WAV formats. There’s an enormous divide when this question and you’ll hear tons of flak from both sides of the aisle.
We all know MP3, but just because it’s widely-used, does that make it the best? Your podcast should be clear, concise, and easy to listen to, so let’s find out which format works best, where its strengths are, and help you choose for yourself based on your needs and technological restrictions.
What is WAV
WAV is a sound file originally developed by IBM and Microsoft. The purpose is to have high-quality unrestrained and uncompressed audio. You know the crazy thing? WAV hasn’t been updated since March of 2007 (because there’s no need to update it).
This produces what’s known as lossless audio. It means there’s no quality loss through compression, which can essentially “cut” certain important parts of a music file. The files will be larger, but
Let’s go over the advantages and disadvantages now.
WAV is touted as being the best for podcasting by a lot of people, but how does that claim hold up? Turns out, it holds up pretty well when you get into the technical side of things. If you want to record in WAV, this is what you stand to gain.
- Lossless Quality: So what does “lossless” really mean? It means that every single byte of data you record, no matter how big it is, all gets saved in the recording. There’s no loss of quality, speaking strictly about compressing the audio, so it’s called lossless. If you have a lot of sounds and frequencies playing at the same time in a WAV format, it sounds as close to real life as possible.
- Supported Format: WAV is supported on just about every single platform, unlike a similar format called AIFF which isn’t. The point is: you shouldn’t run into any issues while uploading a WAV format podcast.
- Simple Editing: Because you can hear every little thing throughout your audio due to it being uncompressed, you can fix all the little mistakes you hear before finalizing your audio. Editing is easier and you don’t miss as much, and from there, you can still encode the finished audio into MP3 when you’re done with it.
No matter how good WAV is, it doesn’t come without downsides. Arguably, it has more downsides than MP3, but they’re very specific and have unique solutions. WAV is the format that podcasters record and encode in when they want lossless quality, but it may have a headache or two along the way.
- Enormous Files: It varies depending on your production value and quality (and how many microphones are in the mix), but suffice to say, WAV files are much bigger than MP3s. You can find an MP3 that’s around 4:00 in length at just over 6 MB, which would be about 40 MB or more with WAV. The file size can be restricting for some creators with smaller productions and minimal storage space.
- Re-Encoding: If you have to re-encode your podcast for any reason, whether it’s to upload or make it into some DLC for Patreon supporters or what have you, it can take some time. Lower-end PCs might run into hour-long encoding sessions, and in some cases it might take even longer. It depends on the file size and length, but suffice to say, it can clog up bits of time in the post-production pipeline.
- Longer Encoding: If you have a mobile setup (recording on a laptop on-the-scene, for example), you’ll run through more power by encoding in WAV. While it shouldn’t bump up your CPU usage by all that much, it’s more data and it still requires more power. It’s a small concern especially with modern battery lifespans, but still something to keep in mind.
What is MP3
MP3 is another audio file format. This automatically compresses audio files to reduce the overall size, which can strip away certain sounds and muffle others.
Quite simply put, it’s the most widespread format because it’s easy to compress and easy to use, but it’s by no means the best. MP3 is the standard due to low file sizes, making it easy to stream and download high volumes of music without running through a ton of data.
MP3 has its ups and its downs. As you read the advantages, you’ll see why it’s been the dominant audio format for an exceptionally long time now.
- Fast Downloads: This is for your viewers more than anyone else, but MP3s offer much faster downloads, allowing your listeners to download without killing their data cap. A lot of podcast listeners like to download episodes and listen to them on-the-go or while they’re at work. Giving them the option of MP3 downloads makes it much easier for them.
- Easily Shared: MP3 files are so small that you can even attach them in email documents if you really wanted to (up to 25 MB for Gmail and similar services, but that’s a lot of MP3 space). If you want to share a Dropbox folder and make content available through there, it won’t eat up all your cloud storage.
- More Downloads at Once: Let’s say someone stumbles on your podcast, loves the first episode that they streamed, and wanted to backtrack. They want to listen to all of your episodes. They look at the download size and quickly surmise that it would be a gargantuan amount of data for WAV files, but much less data for MP3 files. You just made your content more accessible for more people.
MP3s will have some disadvantages, of course. Most notably it comes down to quality and the ability to control your exact output. When you compress into MP3, you don’t have full control over how it turns out and you may have to start it up again. Either way, this is what you need to know about the downsides of MP3.
- Lossy Quality: You get far thinner sound with MP3. It may sound fine, but once you’re on the production side of things and you hear how rich sound can be (especially through studio speakers), you’ll be able to pick out the differences between WAV and MP3.
- Artifacts: MP3 doesn’t always encode properly despite being a shorter task. Compression can create artifacts in your final product, and then you have to go back to the drawing board to make a new solution. It’s not the most ideal way to handle things.
Now let’s take a look at how the two are different, and where each format reigns supreme. We need to approach every single way that these formats can be used and what they mean for you in the production process of your next podcast. Let’s take a look.
Encoding is the process of converting one format into another format. When you talk into your XLR microphone (see also ‘USB Mic Vs XLR – Whats The Difference Or Best‘) , it’s encoding that into WAV or MP3, so encoding is a pretty universal term amongst all file types.
The encoding process matters more than you might think, unless you have a good amount of data processing power. Because WAV can be 10x or larger than MP3, your PC has to encode more data during the recording process, so that’s something to consider. As long as you have enough computing power, it shouldn’t be much of an issue.
MP3 is easier on your encoder, but it’s still ideal to record in WAV. Why? Because WAV is uncompressed and higher quality, you can master your audio, make your podcast sound just how you want it, and then re-encode it into MP3. You can’t encode from MP3 to WAV.
Both formats are highly compatible with just about every service out there, but that doesn’t mean they’re equally welcomed. WAV files are pretty huge, so you have to think about the data restrictions that large platforms have. There’s a lot of content being uploaded and viewed/listened to every single minute of the day, so they have to reduce how much data they take in.
Because of this, you may not see a WAV format ban, but instead you might see a maximum file size limit. That means a two-hour podcast might be 3 GB or larger in a WAV format, and maybe the platform has a limit of 2 GB per upload, so you either have to curb the length or turn it into MP3.
Thankfully it’s not as much of an issue as people make it out to be, but you might run into some compatibility restrictions here and there. WAV is still worth it for the platforms that value podcasting content.
This is a very technical aspect of each format where anecdotal information doesn’t really matter. We can measure sound and identify which is objectively better, and it’s WAV. WAV isn’t compressed, so you can get higher kHz than you do with MP3’s restrictions, allowing for deeper and richer sounds.
Everyone hears differently, so for some people they may not notice the difference between MP3 and WAV because they can sound similar. However, for production value’s sake, WAV’s lossless quality is the clear winner.
File size is another topic entirely. WAV uses up a lot of space, while MP3 doesn’t (it’s kind of the whole point of MP3 in the first place). This is a blanket statement, however, because you have to factor in exactly what you’re adding into that WAV file in the first place.
If you have a one-track recording where it’s just microphone audio (like a one-man podcast with no special effects), you’ll see fairly small file sizes in WAV. In MP3, they’ll be ridiculously small and compressed.
However, a mid-level or complex podcast with multiple microphones and any add-on effects (audio tracks from videos, etc.) will run higher. On average, 60 seconds of a podcast in the WAV format takes up roughly 10 MB, whereas you’ll run into 1 MB to around 1.5 MB for MP3 formats.
Audio distortion can happen in either format. You’ll quickly find a slew of people who have WAV format supremacy, and while there are obvious benefits to WAV, it’s not perfect. You can get artifacts that cause audio distortion in both formats even if you do everything right.
Thankfully, you can find software that repairs audio distortion. It’s free in VLC player (one of the most-used media players that’s ever existed), and available in professional audio software that can be used for dozens of different features related to repairing and mastering audio.
That being said, MP3 compresses and WAV doesn’t, so if there is distortion in MP3, it’s a lot harder to fix. It could have been an issue during compression if you transferred it from another format, or it could just be that your recording settings are too high for the low file size.
Either one can usually be traced back to the recording format, method, and what you have your settings at. If you notice constant audio distortion, it’s a user problem that can be fixed. While distortion can still occur even if you’re doing everything right, it happens more in MP3 than it does in WAV.
MP3 are compact and convenient files, while WAV offers high quality without compression or artifacts. If you want better audio quality for your podcast, WAV is the way to go, but don’t be against MP3 for downloadable versions of your podcast.
If you have four microphones, sound effects, background sounds and a whole lot more going on, then you’ll have to stick with WAV so those tracks and effects don’t get lost in compression. WAV for streaming, MP3 for download (as long as you test it first).