Final Cut Pro is a great piece of video editing software and when it comes to audio editing it certainly has some chops. However, audio can be a confusing landscape to navigate.
In the world of digital music and audio, there is a bewildering array of different audio file formats, encoding rates, and a whole host of technical details. It can be easy to get lost in a sea of abbreviations and specifications.
However, the three audio file types which are most commonly used are AIFF, WAV, and MP3, all of which Final Cut Pro can use. There are some important things to understand about each file type before you decide which is going to best suit your needs.
The AIFF and WAV audio formats employ the same type of encoding that results in large file sizes. Though AIFF and WAV play on almost all computers and devices, WAV is for Windows, while AIFF works mostly for Mac. The main differences? WAV has better sound quality compared to MP3 and M4V.
The main differences between these three file types are listed in the table below.
|Actual Name||Audio Interchange File Format||Waveform Audio File Format||MPEG Audio Layer-3|
|Year of Release||1998||1991||1991|
|File Extension||.aiff, .aif||.wav||.mp3|
|Lossless / Lossey||Lossless||Lossless||Lossy|
|File Size||Very small||Large||Small|
|Best For||Apple users||Professionals||Everyone|
|Supported Players||iTunes/Apple Music, VLC,||Windows Media Player, VLC||Almost all music playback software|
|Restrictions||No||Restricted to 4Gb file size||No|
AIFF (Audio Interchange File Format) was introduced by Apple in 1998. Of the three file formats, that makes it the most recent.
As you would expect for a format developed by Apple, AIFF was designed to work on Macs and iOS. That means iTunes, and later Apple Music, were the ideal way to listen to this format. The AIFF format also works perfectly with other apps on Mac such as Final Cut Pro so it’s not just restricted to Apple’s own software.
However, most media players will accept AIFF files, and Windows Media Player can cope with the format so Windows users can use it as well. With Windows (and Android devices) you will need some kind of third-party player whereas, on a Mac or iOS device, AIFF can be played natively.
AIFF is a lossless audio format, which is to say that there is no loss in quality when an audio file is encoded in the AIFF format. It produces uncompressed audio files. This means that the audio quality is very high, which makes AIFF suitable for anyone looking for a broadcast or studio-quality audio format.
Sample rates and bit depth options are very high with AIFF, which is what allows it to produce such high-quality audio files. This gives you flexibility when it comes to choosing quality and what the final audio will sound like.
There is a downside to all that audio quality though — the file size for AIFF is considerably larger than it is for formats such as MP3. Around one minute of audio can take up to about 10Mb.
This makes it a less practical format when it comes to sharing files. If you are posting video content to sites such as YouTube or TikTok you want to keep your file sizes as small and practical as possible, meaning it might not be an ideal format for those sites either.
There is a compressed version of AIFF which is known as AIFF-C. This takes up less hard drive space than a regular AIFF file and comes with a slightly different file extension, .aiffc.
There is no quality difference between AIFF and AIFF-C, though AIFF-C may not be playable on older media players. Up-to-date media players should have no problem though.
Another issue with AIFF is that it doesn’t handle metadata very well, so tagging files isn’t as well-handled as it is with other formats. This can be a problem if you have a large number of files that need to be organized and searched for easily.
Despite this limitation, however, the sound quality of AIFF really is excellent and if it’s top quality you need, especially if you are an Apple user, then it’s a great choice.
The WAV file format, which stands for Waveform Audio File format, is older than AIFF and was developed in 1991 by Microsoft and IBM. Despite the age, WAV is a venerable format that is still in use today.
Like AIFF, WAV is a lossless format and produces uncompressed audio, so when you encode music with WAV there is no compression or loss of quality. Analog audio data is taken, converted into binary data your computer can understand, and stored as a bitstream. This is the same technique that AIFF uses as well. This very high quality means it is ideal for anyone working professionally since the quality of sound can be guaranteed.
The WAV file format was developed for use on PCs, and the data is raw and produces uncompressed audio. The development for PCs makes it ideal to use with Windows, though the WAV format is so common now that pretty much all platforms can play it back, including Macs.
Alongside Windows Media Player and iTunes/Apple Music, VLC Player can also easily play back WAV files and is a great cross-platform media player that runs on macOS, Windows, Android, and Linux – so playing back WAV files is easy anywhere.
The bitrate and data sampling for WAV is extremely high and produces CD-quality sound, though WAV files are not what is actually burned on CDs — they just use the same encoding, which is known as Linear Pulse Code Modulation (LCPM). WAV also has a very high dynamic range of up to 192Khz which ensures the quality of the audio.
One of the advantages of WAV files is that they are great for editing and manipulating. This can make it a good choice for a video project and works well for DJs, mash-up makers, or anyone interested in playing around with audio. WAV files are simple and that simplicity is what makes them so ideal for editing and working with.
The WAV file format has the same downside as AIFF though, which is large file sizes. Because WAV is uncompressed audio, the resulting files can be very large depending on how much audio you are dealing with. File sizes between AIFF and WAV are likely to be very similar since they both work in the same way.
The file sizes associated with WAVs also mean that WAV files aren’t ideal for sharing online and you will need a good-sized hard drive if you are going to have a lot of them to work with or edit.
Another possible downside is that, because the files are so easy to edit and play around with, it can become easy to corrupt the file, so it’s always worth ensuring you have a backup saved and that you regularly save your work while editing the sound file to avoid any potential problems.
WAV files are a venerable format but the quality and familiarity of the format means there’s plenty of life in the old dog yet and WAVs continue to be a great choice for high-quality, lossless audio.
There is likely no more familiar audio file format in the world than MP3s. Developed in 1991, the same year as WAV files, the MP3 solves WAVs biggest drawback — file sizes.
MP3 produces compressed audio files, so it’s a lossy format. That means that to get the audio file sizes to a more practical level the audio signal is compressed. In theory, MP3 compression is meant to take audio data that is beyond the range of human hearing and cut it out of the signal.
Getting rid of that data means there is less audio data to be saved. In practice, it doesn’t quite work like that and the compression can result in other audio data being removed.
This means that there is a loss of audio quality, unlike AIFF or WAV, but the resultant file size is much, much smaller. That makes the files extremely practical and MP3 files are around one-tenth the size of WAV or AIFF files. The cost of that practicality is quality — there’s no doubt that the audio quality of MP3 is far below that of either WAV or AIFF.
Flexibility is the main gain, and that’s the reason that MP3 has established itself as the format that everyone uses when it comes to music portability. The quality might not be as high, but the benefits when it comes to sharing files, reducing storage size, and being able to swap files are immense. Audiophiles will be able to hear the difference between MP3s, but for most people, the sound quality is good enough to not worry about the loss of quality.
When it comes to Final Cut Pro, MP3 makes sense to use as an audio format when you need to keep your file sizes small and are dealing with audio such as dialogue or a music track.
However, one drawback of the MP3 compression algorithm is that there’s always a short, silent gap at the end of any MP3 file of around 10 to 50 microseconds (ms).
This might not sound like much but it’s a big problem if you want to loop a file, or have several tracks that blend into each other (for example, the “Long Medley” at the end of The Beatles Abbey Road) because it means there’s always a short blip between tracks.
Despite the loss of quality, MP3 remains the dominant music format, even in the age of streaming. There really is no audio format that even comes close to it in terms of popularity.
When it comes to AIFF vs WAV vs MP3, choosing the right format is a balancing act. You need to take into account several factors that will vary from project to project and from file to file.
For example, if you have a Final Cut Pro video file that utilizes a lot of voiceovers but little other audio you might find that MP3 is the best option to choose.
When it comes to dialogue or the spoken word the difference between a lossy and lossless format is extremely hard to hear and MP3 audio files are almost always fine for this kind of sound file.
If you are doing a lot of work with music, the choice might be harder. AIFF and WAV, where the quality is almost exactly the same, will provide fantastic-sounding audio files but those files are going to be very large.
This could be a problem if you are posting to social media sites, which may limit how big an overall file can be. On the other hand, if you are keeping your files locally the size of the file may not matter so using WAV and AIFF files would be fine.
In the end, it will be a judgment call. Experimenting with different settings and different file types will give you the chance to decide what will best suit your needs.
With AIFF vs WAV vs MP3, all have different features and reasons to be used in your Final Cut Pro projects. Understanding how these audio formats work and the differences between them will let you make an informed decision as for which to use.
And now you have all that information at your fingertips, all you need to do is make your choice between AIFF vs WAV vs MP3 and produce some great-sounding audio.
The simple answer is yes, iPhones are able to play any AIFF audio file. AIFF was developed by Apple so all Apple devices, including the iPhone, iPad, and Mac computers, can support and play AIFF files natively.