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What Is Compression As It Relates To Digital Audio Or Video Files? Check Out 2 Best Methods for Compressing a Podcast

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What Is Compression As It Relates To Digital Audio Or Video Files

An audio recording is usually a lot more complex than it seems to the listener, with a whole range of effects and processes being used on the audio file to improve or adjust it before it’s finally published.

When figuring out what is compression as it relates to digital audio or video files, you should know a few things.

One is that compression is just one of the effects used on audio files that a podcaster or other content creator might be interested in using, but focusing on making the data smaller and easier to manage.

So what is compression as it relates to digital audio or video files? Compression is the process of making an audio file smaller so that it can be stored more easily on a device, with the two most common methods being lossless or lossy.

Compressing audio files to a more manageable size might be required for a podcaster, so it’s good to understand how it works.

Although they share similar names, data compression is not the same as dynamic range compression, and it’s important to note the difference.

This extensive guide will cover all aspects of what is compression as it relates to digital audio or video files, the process behind it, and potential downsides, so you can see what it’s all about.

What is Compression As It Relates To Digital Audio Or Video Files?

What is Compression?

Compression is a process that lets you encode information using fewer bits, effectively making it smaller in size.

The first thing you should remember when determining what is compression as it relates to digital audio or video files is that the goal of compression in audio files is to reduce the size without affecting any quality.

Compression does it by only eliminating parts that are redundant and have nothing to do with the final sound.

When you make an audio recording, it’s stored at its best quality and large size, making storing and sharing challenging.

That’s why compression is commonly used for these types of files, including recordings of podcast episodes before or after they’ve been edited and produced.

Compression is known as source coding, data compression, and bit-rate reduction. The technical aspect of compression is done relatively quickly using software or a device called an encoder.

However, it’s still important to understand what is compression as it relates to digital audio or video files and what it can potentially mean for your audio files once it’s complete.

Compressed Data vs. Sound Compression

Compressed Data vs. Sound Compression

When you’re new to audio recording and production, it can be challenging to get a handle on all the different terms and processes you must learn. A common misconception has to do with compression, as you can have both dynamic range and data compression. 

Dynamic range compression is a process that takes place during post-production. Using a compressor, you can bring the higher and lower volume levels of the audio you’ve recorded closer together, compressing them within a specific range.

The listener will hear a more balanced audio track that doesn’t have intense highs and lows, which makes for a better listening experience. 

Compared to data compression, which is mainly about making the files smaller so they can be easier to transfer and store, you can see how they’re nothing alike.

It’s likely that a podcaster will be using both methods of compression, just in different ways, so being able to differentiate between them is vital in the creation of your series.

How Does Compression Work?

How Does Compression Work?

Although it’s not necessary to know the ins and outs of what is compression as it relates to digital audio or video files to use it successfully, having a basic understanding of what the process entails can be helpful.

Audio data compression works like other types of data compression, removing unnecessary details from the file.

These nonessential details are commonly referred to as bits, and each file has a set number of bits. The file size shrinks as we take them out, making it easier to save or share with others.

Depending on the compression type, whether it’s lossless or lossy, this can include removing statistical redundancies or simply taking out the nonessential details to make it smaller.

The methods used will also determine whether this encoding can be reversed or not, so make sure you understand what’s involved in the process before going ahead with compression.

Having a backup of the original file is also recommended, just to be on the safe side, and it lets you edit and tinker with it in the future without losing any quality.

What Is Audio Bitrate?

What Is Audio Bitrate?

Any time you discuss what is compression as it relates to digital audio or video files, it’s essential to talk about audio bitrate.

The bitrate of a compressed audio file will determine how good it sounds, so it’s not something you want to get wrong, and it’s all about finding the perfect line between file size and the overall quality of the sound.

The audio bitrate of a lossy compressed audio file refers to how much data has been encoded per second during the compression process.

When you’re working at a lower bitrate setting, you’ll get a smaller file size but with an audio quality that’s minimal as well. A higher audio bitrate will result in a larger file and better quality, which is almost always recommended.

The most common audio bitrate for an MP3 compressed file is 320 kbps, so this should be your goal if you’re planning on encoding files.

At this rate, most listeners won’t be able to tell the difference between an uncompressed file and a compressed one, especially for vocal audio recordings like those on a podcast.

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Do You Need to Compress?

One of the biggest decisions you’ll need to make when creating a podcast is what file format you ultimately want your show to be available in.

Depending on the platform you’re publishing podcasts on, there might be a requirement for the type of file format you use, and some may even require multiple versions of the audio file to suit various listening options.

Generally, music producers prefer to work with uncompressed audio to ensure the best quality.

For other types of listening, a compressed format file with a high bit rate, like a 320 kbps MP3, is all you need, which means it’s okay to compress this type of audio without worrying about losing too much of the quality.

Finally, a lossless compressed format like FLAC is the most common for critical listening circumstances and might also be ideal for podcasts.

You won’t lose any audio, and the file size will be small enough to manage, but it depends on what requirements the podcast hosting platform has for file uploads, including the size and format of the file.

Types of Audio Files

Types of Audio Files

When determining what is compression as it relates to digital audio or video files, you need to remember three types of files, depending on the methods and advantages you’re looking for.

  • Lossless audio file: A file that has not been compressed and contains 100% of the audio data it recorded. The benefit of using lossless audio files is that they’re the best quality, but the downside is that the file sizes are large. The most commonly used lossless audio files are WAV and AIFF, (also see “What Is Best For Podcasting: WAV or MP3“).
  • Compressed lossless audio file: If you compress an audio file but want to ensure that none of the audio data is lost, a compressed lossless audio file is the way to go. FLAC and Apple Lossless are the most common examples here, with the goal being they sound just the same as a WAV or AIFF but in a much smaller size.
  • Compressed lossy audio file: As the name suggests, a compressed lossy audio file has lost some of its audio data as it was compressed to shrink its size. The goal is to reduce the file size without too much tampering with its audio quality, which has become easier thanks to modern technologies. The most common compressed lossy audio files are MP3 and AAC, in which many podcasts are published.

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The Potential Downsides

When thinking about what is compression as it relates to digital audio or video files, you’ll realize that there are good and bad to consider any time you work with audio files. Sometimes the downsides aren’t worth the risk.

These are the disadvantages that you should consider before compressing the audio files you’re working with, especially when it comes to podcast production.

  • Loss of quality: The biggest drawback to audio file compression is the potential risk of losing audio quality when you do it. When you’ve figured out what is compression as it relates to digital audio or video files, you will see that unless it’s necessary to compress the files you’re working with, we’d recommend leaving them alone and keeping the quality of your podcast in check.
  • Not always necessary: When you’re new to audio production, you might not understand the purpose of doing things like audio compression. These days, it’s not always necessary to compress audio files and throw away some sound quality because devices can hold more downloaded data than ever before.
  • More Software: The mere act of encoding or compressing data requires a whole new piece of software and the knowledge of how to use it. You’ll need to know all the settings and how to use them; otherwise, you can permanently damage your audio files. When figuring out what is compression as it relates to digital audio or video files, you should know that unless you’re absolutely sure you’ll need to compress the audio files you’ve created for your podcast and you know how to do it, it’s probably a waste of time and money getting your hands on data compression software.
  • Streaming services: One of the wonders of the streaming revolution is that we no longer need to store hundreds of gigabytes of music and audio content on our small devices. Where there was once a need for compressed audio files, it’s simply not as big of a deal these days, and you can find many high-quality streams of your favorite podcasts that don’t require you to save anything at all.

Methods for Compressing a Podcast

Methods for Compressing a Podcast

There are two main methods you’ll use when sending, sharing, or saving the audio files once you’ve figured out what is compression as it relates to digital audio or video files. Consider which works best for your circumstances and the overall quality of the files.

  • Zip files: Any time you send a large file through email, you can compress it by creating a zip file; it’s as easy as clicking a button. On the other end, the recipient will be able to open the compressed file using a zip program and then access them in the original format.
  • Compression software: The most common tool for compressing audio files is compression software (also see, “Audacity Review – A Resource for the Audio Editor on a Budget“). If you plan on regularly reducing the size of your podcast files but are concerned about keeping their quality, this is the way to go. Most compression software programs are easy to use; some are free and available online. You select the file you wish to compress, adjust the settings on audio quality and bitrate, and then wait for the file to be compressed and available in a smaller size. 

Final Verdict On What Is Compression As It Relates To Digital Audio or Video Files: Compressed Is Best

Sharing or saving large files like the ones you’ll create when recording your podcast is easy with the right compression tools (and knowledge, of course).

We hope this article helped you understand more about what is compression as it relates to digital audio or video files and the benefits compression can offer for your podcast production.

Rose Evans

Helping podcasters grow their podcast has been my passion for the past 6 years, being part of the Wired Clip team means I can do this on a much larger scale.

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