In computer science, encoding is the process of adding special characters to the end of a data file to specify the format of the file. This format specialization allows computers to know how to treat the file, and which software to use to read the file.
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For example for images and picture the encoding suffixes are often .png or .jpeg, for Microsoft Office files, .docx, .pdf, .pptx, and for videos .mov, .mkx, .mp4. For Ableton projects, this suffix is .als, and for audio you will find either lossless PCMs (.FLAC, .AIFF or .wav) or the common .mp3
In Ableton, when you are exporting audio, you will have these 2 options – lossless PCMs or MP3. These 2 formats have their advantages and drawbacks. Let us take a quick dive into these formats and what they are.
Ableton offers 3 lossless format encoding. Here is what they are and what they mean:
Encoding Options (PCM & MP3) in Ableton Live
PCM stands for Pulse-Code Modulation, a method of converting analog audio into digital audio. This audio format is high-quality, raw and uncompressed, meaning that the audio file will not be affected by compression codecs in playback software, or truncation online transfer and streaming website. This is how you export PCM
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Go to file and select Export Audio/Video
You can also open the export menu using this shortcut – Cmd + Shift + R on Mac, or Ctrl + Shift + R on Windows
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Activate the PCM and MP3 (CRB 320) toggles to activate your preferred encoding format
Select the encoding PCM file format you need
There is no better lossless file format in the list above, all are high-quality, high-resolution audio file formats. The difference may come in the type of software, computer of distribution website in use that supports a specific format.
For clarity, this is what these file formats mean:
PCM File Formats
FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec, and this is how audio was saved on CDs and DVD before online audio. The audio was in 16 bit resolution and 44.1kHz sample rate. Wave this lossless audio file format was developed by IBM and Microsoft as a way to store audio files of storing audio on PCs. This is also the most common lossless file format in audio production, and online music distribution sites. AIFF stands for Audio Interchange File Format developed in 1998 by Electronic arts and is another type of lossless audio format
Step 4: Export
Tip! The higher the bit depth you select, the higher audio resolution you get. Higher bitrates often lead to slower export speed.
The MP3 audio format is the most common across most platforms, devices and software. MP3 audio is compressed, and therefore you will get a smaller file size compared to the lossless audio formats, best for audio sharing, copying and transfer. Here is how you encode an MP3
Go to file and select Export Audio/Video or use this shortcut – Cmd + Shift + R on Mac, or Ctrl + Shift + R on Windows to open the export settings window, and activate Encode MP3 (CRB 320)
Step 2: Export
If you activate both PCM and MP3, you will get both file types in your designated folder.
FYI! Ableton’s codec only export MP3 audio in CRB 320. 320 in this instance stands for the 320 kilobytes per second bitrate (kbps), the best MP3 audio resolution, and CRB stands for Constant Bitrate, which provides a constant and reliable audio quality for playback.
Both PCM and MP3 formats have their perks and downsides. Lossless PCMs result is high-quality audio, while creating larger audio files. MP3s are more versatile, easy to store and transfer, but can be subject to truncation and lower quality audio. For more on when these formats may be best for use, have a look at my breakdown at the end of, Exporting MP3 Files from Ableton Live here. Have Fun!