AAC: Apple’s Preferred Audio Codec

It seems that almost every day I read something about people not wanting to rip their music in AAC (the default format for iTunes and the iPod) because “it’s a proprietary format”, or “because it is owned by Apple.” I see this in forums and blog comments from people who seem to have a fair understanding of technical issues. Yet these thoughts are caused by confusion, a lack of information, and, perhaps, a tricky abbreviation.

Some people think AAC stands for Apple Audio Codec; it doesn’t, its real name is Advanced Audio Coding. It’s true that Apple was the first major hardware or software manufacturer to champion AAC over MP3, but this format is simply a part of the MPEG-4 standard, and is owned by a consortium of companies. Like MP3, this format is available to all for licensing, and there are even open-source encoders and decoders for AAC. This page on Wikipedia goes into detail about this audio format.

AAC is used for the DVD-Audio format, and HE-AAC is used with digital terrestrial television. Most hardware and software players support AAC, and the format offers many advantages: better quality at equivalent bit rates, meaning you can rip your music in smaller files; multi-channel capabilities; higher resolution audio, with sampling rates up to 96 kHz; and much more.

So why are some people afraid of using AAC? The proprietary claim is simply one of ignorance. AAC is here to stay; it’s not Apple’s audio format, and most devices and software support it. If you still think that AAC is “owned by Apple,” think again.

Oh, and that Apple Lossless, or ALAC, format? Apple did create it, but it’s now open source. So you don’t have to worry about using that either.

13 thoughts on “AAC: Apple’s Preferred Audio Codec

  1. Well, one reason is it is not universally supported. I bought a new car last year and the stock CD player supports MP3 but not AAC.

  2. People think that “MP3 Players” can only play the “MP3” format. MP3 has become generic for digital music files, much in the same way people still make “Xerox copies”. So people don’t understand that their “MP3 Player” can also play AAC files.

  3. “DVD-Audio” is a set of tweaks to the DVD format to allow distribution of music-only DVDs — used for high-resolution audiophile releases. It’s not “the audio for DVDs”. I’ve never seen a video DVD that wasn’t primarily encoded with AC-3, and the earliest movies in my collection date from 1997.

    • I agree. I have never seen a DVD with AAC. Also DVD players don’t support it either. The earliest movies used Dolby prologic encoded within a two channel stream and then later on Dolby digital also known as AC3. They supported uncompressed PCM 2 channel and even DTS. Never AAC.

      AAC is not supported by ATSC either. It is MPEG 2 TS and Dolby Digital.

      However most bluray players support AAC and it is one of the native codecs in ps3.

  4. Obviously, a sane person who cares about their data long-term will rip in MP3 format. MP3 is universally supported, while AAC is widely supported. If you don’t care about the distinction, and/or don’t understand the implications of the distinction for long-term preservation of your data, you might be Kirk.

    • Chucky, you’re grouchy today. Yes, MP3 is universally supported, but there’s no reason why AAC won’t continue to be supported for a very long time. If you’re really concerned about long-term data preservation, you should rip in lossless.

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