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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Understanding Audio File Formats for Archiving

Now that's Family Tree and other programs such as's Family Tree Maker and's Family Tree Builder, accept audio files, there is a need to understand audio file formats. The requirements imposed by the program allow only two file formats: .mp3 and .mp4a. The size of these files is limited to 15MB. There are dozens of audio file formats, that is, different ways audio is recorded by a digital device such as a recorder, smartphone, tablet etc. You can review a partial list on Wikipedia: Audio file format. As an example, the new iPhone 6 supports the following audio file formats: AAC (8 to 320 Kbps), Protected AAC (from iTunes Store), HE-AAC, MP3 (8 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3, 4, Audible Enhanced Audio, AAX, and AAX+), Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV.

The simple way to approach this issue is to make sure your audio recording equipment supports the two acceptable file formats and follow the device's instructions about saving files in an appropriate file format. The challenge of encountering an audio file in an unknown format is finding a device and/or program that will play the file format. If you find a suspected audio file in an old hardware format such as a cassette tape or on dictation machine, your challenge will be finding a working device that will "play" the particular media found.

Current digital recorders start at less than $50 and have as good a quality as older recorders costing ten times as much. Many cell phone also have the capability to record audio files. There are quite a few websites that discuss procedures for recording personal oral histories. Here is a limited selection:

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