If you've been streaming music since the days of Napster, you know well how much space audio files can take up. And though many of us take advantage of streaming services, WiFi is not a given. Having a few good albums stored locally on your phone for the days when your gym has spotty Internet service is good preparation. And for the days when you need to turn the WiFi off to concentrate on work, a steady stream of music can keep us productive.

What is audio file compression?

Of course, given that audio file sizes can be large, many audio file formats used widely by commercial entities come with programs called codecs that help reduce their file size. Without this compression, it'd be impossible to store or send and slow down our devices every time we pressed play. But other audio files are designed for those who want or need all the raw data — in this case, sound waves — in the file. In these cases, codecs often can't quite compress the file size as much while keeping all the data intact. And in these cases, you'll usually need an outside tool to reduce the file size even further.

How does audio compression work?

Audio files fall within three major categories, the differences between which have significant implications for file size. The first category is uncompressed audio, which is exactly what it sounds like. These are actual sound waves that have been digitized but have not been altered any further. As a result, they require a lot of storage space. They include files with the extensions PCM, WAV, and AIFF.

Then there are the audio files that use lossy compression techniques. With lossy compression, the audio quality deteriorates over time as the data is continually encoded and decoded for compression, encryption, transmission, storage, and other purposes. Usually, lossy compression is not immediately noticeable after a few repetitions. But low audio file lossy compression can produce distorted sounds.

You definitely have seen these types of audio files before. Maybe you're not familiar with AAC or OGG Vorbis files. Chances are, though, that you may have seen WMA files, which are the proprietary file format Microsoft created and that are played with Windows Media Player. But even if that barely registered, I'm sure you've heard of MP3 files. Indeed, in the Internet's early days, "MP3" was synonymous with digital music files. Even now, MP3 files are compatible with every device you can name. MP3 files reduce inaudible and hard-to-hear sounds as a part of their compression algorithm and do so quite well.

Last, you have audio file formats with lossless compression. These formats don't eliminate any data while they shrink in size. However, they do not shrink very far in size. Common audio file formats utilizing lossless compression include FLAC, ALAC, and WMA Lossless. FLAC files — perhaps the most popular of the three — are compatible with most devices and allow you to enjoy the raw audio sound. Of course, FLAC files are larger than many other file formats as a result. But FLAC is also open-source and royalty-free, which means you're not going to be compelled to buy a particular piece of software or hardware to play FLAC files. You'll pay a bit more, but true audiophiles likely will do so for a richer sound that will maintain its integrity in the long-run.

Why to compress audio files

If you're building a library of FLAC formatted music or have many other high-quality audio files, you're going to need a storage solution. You'll quickly find that the free storage that comes from individual Google or Microsoft accounts isn't sufficient for storing more than a handful of files. And if you're sharing your files with others or moving them between multiple devices, you'll need a software solution to reduce the file size before transmitting the data from place to place.

It's not just music fans who have these needs. Here are only a few others who need to be able to store and transmit audio files.

  • Lawyers and paralegals need to share taped depositions with transcriptionists
  • DJs have to collect and arrange digital music files for their playlists.
  • Speech pathologists must review recorded sessions with their clients to monitor progress
  • Customer service managers must review, assess, and develop training materials from recordings of customer service phone conversations.
  • Companies may need to record and store verbal agreements between their agents and their customers.

And these are just a few examples. Many businesses and individuals rely on audio file compression technology to help them perform essential work functions.

How to compress audio

Lossy compression often isn't enough. And sometimes, it's not an option. Whether your lossy files are still too large, or your lossless compression files have barely shrunk in size, you need a third-party tool like WinZip. Another pioneering name from the early days of the Internet, WinZip still helps millions of people simply and securely compress their files for storage, encryption, and transmission.

How to compress audio files in WinZip

From File Explorer:

  1. From your File Explorer select all of the files you want to compress.
  2. Right-click on the selected files. WinZip > Add/Move to Zip File… This will open WinZip with options about how you want your file zipped.
  3. Select your file options, like name, location, encryption, and any other features you want to include.
  4. Select Add. This will create a zip file in the location you selected containing all your files.

From within WinZip:

  1. From within WinZip, locate the files you want to zip using the panel on the left.
  2. Select all of the files you want to compress.
  3. Select the Add to Zip button at the bottom of the left panel.
  4. After you add all of the files you want to the Zip file, select the "Save as" button in the right bottom corner. Name your file and select save.

Note: Certain file types do not compress as much as others. You must have WinZip installed on your computer to use these methods.

Conclusion

You can use a variety of open-source or proprietary methods, but WinZip is known and trusted worldwide. Creating a ZIP file is an easy way to compress your audio. And whether you need to store or send it, your data's integrity will remain intact.


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