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What is AIFF?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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AIFF (Audio Interchange File Format) is a file format used by Macintosh computers and Silicon Graphics Incorporated to store and transmit high-quality audio data, such as music. It can store monaural, stereo, or multi-channel sound as used for soundtracks. Apple Computer developed the format in 1987-88 in accordance with Electronic Arts Interchange File Format (IFF) standards. For this reason, the files might have the extension .aif or .ief.

These audio files are uncompressed, making them quite large compared to the ubiquitous MP3 format. AIFF files are comparable to Microsoft's wave files, and because they are high quality, they are excellent for burning to CD. A hybrid variety, termed AIFF-C, supports compression algorithms of 6:1. Compressed audio files do not have the same full quality of uncompressed files, though the difference will be less noticeable on small portable audio devices such as MP3 players.

The structure of the file contains distinct blocks of data called "chunks," and each chunk contains specific information about the file's contents. For example, a file will have a common chunk, a sound data chunk, and a chunk ID. Other chunks include a name, author, and copyright chunk. Perhaps owing in part to this structure, these files have been commonly used in professional recording industries for many years.

Though the AIFF file was designed for Macintosh computers, the format can be read by PCs as well, just as wave files can be read by Macintosh computers. Standardization of protocols and interoperability among manufacturers in conjunction with groups like the IFF has made cross-platform compatibility possible. These files are mainly used as an interchange format, either to capture live recordings or to copy existing recordings in order to transfer the sound data to another format, such as burning to disk. Though this format is popular among Macintosh users and audio professionals, PC users tend to use wave files instead.

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Discussion Comments
By anon353609 — On Oct 31, 2013

AIFF files can have various bit rates, determined by the sample rate and sample size (8, 16 or 24 bit). The higher the sample rate and sample size the bigger the bit rate and the larger the file. When you download an AIFF file to an iDevice using iTunes, you can select the bit rate from a list of options, those options are determined by the iDevice and the size of file it can deal with. For an iPod Nano, for example, the maximum bit rate is 256Kbps, but smaller bit rates and hence smaller files can be selected. Since an uncompressed AIFF file of CD quality has a bit rate of 1411Kbps it is clear that these lower bit rates mean compressed files with less audio information and diminished quality.

MP3 files usually have a bit rate of 128Kbps, 192Kbps, 256Kbps or a maximum 320kbps In effect transferring AIFF files to an iPod gives you very similar quality to an MP3 file. The amount of information is the essentially the same. It makes no difference to the quality of music you hear whether the file stored on you iPod is an AIFF or an MP3. Only the file size/bit rate affects the perceived quality.

By anon124111 — On Nov 04, 2010

Is there a way to master an AIFF file if you have a PC?

By anon116435 — On Oct 06, 2010

Yes, AIFF will play on later generation iPods. How do I know? I have loaded several AIFF albums into iTunes, synced my iPod Classic (80G)and am listening to it right now.

As for my perception of quality of AIFFs VS. Mp3s while listening to them on the iPod I cannot be 100 percent certain, but it feels nice to know I'm not listening to a compressed orchestral recording.

By anon61760 — On Jan 22, 2010

@maus: That is not true. I still play my AIFF files on my ipod fine. Only the iPod shuffle will suffer data loss. Maybe there is a discrepancy when you do play aiff on your iPod, but it is better to have it Aiff then MP3.

By anon61064 — On Jan 18, 2010

AIFF will not play on iPods. the sample rate is to high for the device. iTunes will play the files without issue. Also you can create AIFF files from programs like Quicktime if you get the pro version.


By anon49941 — On Oct 24, 2009

Anon's post is very good and helpful. There is no way to restore the full quality of a lossless file like .wave once it has been taken to mp3. That's why if you are ever converting a lossless file you have on your machine to an mp3 file format, you should make sure you are not "over-writing" the .wave when doing this (most sound converter programs don't over-write when you select waves to be into made waves into mp3s, but with audio editors, you have to be very careful to select "save copy as" instead of "save" when you open a wave into such a program and convert it to mp3 or you'll over-write, naturally. I don't know if aiff's play on ipods. I'm sure a google search will tell you. They play on most decent mp3 players now, but usually the answer is "no, unless you buy this extra thing" or just no when it comes to apple.

By anon41288 — On Aug 13, 2009

I think I know what an aiff file is. My question is how do I copy it to a DVD, and how do I play it? What program do I need to use to play it on a computer, and if it is copied to a DVD, will it just automatically play on a DVD player?

By anon34261 — On Jun 19, 2009

What is "lossless"?? does that mean that it can store 10 to 25000 hz, w/ 0% distortion? Does that mean that the sampling rate at 20,000 hz is more than 2? I mean are you starting with pure analog or are you talking about "lossless" from an already digital format. B/c up to now - I don't know any "lossless" digital format...

By anon12651 — On May 11, 2008

AIFF is a lossless format, like wave. You can't "make" an AIFF file by starting with a compressed format that has already removed some of the data from the sound file. Or to be clearer, if you convert a lossy format like MP3 to AIFF, it won't sound any better than the MP3 file did.

OTOH, if you convert an original .wav file to AIFF, it will sound just as good as the wave, but it will also be much larger than a compressed file such as MP3.

The whole reason people use MP3 files is to save space while creating a sound file that still sounds pretty good on ear buds. If you're going to listen on a quality stereo or entertainment center, listing to AIFF or wave files (on a CD for example) will sound better than MP3 files.

Because AIFF and wave files are lossless formats, they are good for archiving music files on hard disks. You can use these pristine files to create smaller, compressed files for portable players.

I don't know if AIFF will play on an iPOD or not, as I don't use proprietary devices like the iPOD. Standard MP3 players are FAR cheaper and FAR easier to load/unload. No software or proprietary interfaces required. Just drag and drop from your library to the player. Most will also play many file formats.

By LesGrands — On Apr 12, 2008

To make a file AIFF, do I only have to download a program that will do that for me?

Making a file AIFF will improve the quality of the sound?

Wouldn't this only be possible if the sound was recorded or imported from a CD in AIFF in the first place? Converting an MP3 to AIFF would have to restore the song to its original higher quality, but isn't this quality lost when it's turned into an MP3, so how then could it restore?

Do AIFF files play on iPods? Thank you.

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