AAC: Apple’s preferred audio codec

“It seems that almost every day I read something about people not wanting to rip their music in AAC (the default format for iTunes and the iPod) because ‘it’s a proprietary format,’ or ‘because it is owned by Apple,'” Kirk McElhearn writes for Kirkville.

“I see this in forums and blog comments from people who seem to have a fair understanding of technical issues,” McElhearn writes “Yet these thoughts are caused by confusion, a lack of information, and, perhaps, a tricky abbreviation.”

“Some people think AAC stands for Apple Audio Codec; it doesn’t, its real name is Advanced Audio Coding,” McElhearn writes. “It’s true that Apple was the first major hardware or software manufacturer to champion AAC over MP3, but this format is simply a part of the MPEG-4 standard, and is owned by a consortium of companies. Like MP3, this format is available to all for licensing, and there are even open-source encoders and decoders for AAC.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take:

AAC is not some proprietary Apple-only format. AAC is MPEG-4 Audio. Apple should’ve just called it MP4 to soothe simple minds.MacDailyNews Take, October 6, 2005

AAC is an audio codec that is superior to the old MP3. Think of it as MP4 Audio, because that’s what it is.MacDailyNews Take, April 30, 2007


  1. “AAC is an audio codec that is superior to the old MP3”

    And history has shown us that superior solutions always win against inferior ones, right?

    Ha! Very often “good enough” rules the roost.

    1. Very often “good enough” rules the roost.

      This is true, but applying it to the AAC audio format just proves that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

          1. Thank you, that’s a far better and informative response.

            Where I was coming from was based on the MDN summary, which was talking about what people choose to rip their music to, rather than the format they buy existing music in.

    2. Superiority of the codec wasn’t really the focus of the article. obtuse preconceived arguments on the Apple specificity of ACC was the topic at hand.

      This guy must be faced with hard core Apple haters in his day to day work cause anybody with 5 seconds of free time can find AAC on Wikipedia and see that AAC is used in a slew of devices and services other than Apple (namely Youtube and Nintendo DS) and compatible in many others.


      He’s wasting his time though cause haters will hate. No amount of information or education will fix that.

    1. To be fair. protected AAC was only supported on iPods and the like. Shows how long memories are when something enters the collective consciousness.

      Yes, Apple should have just called it MP4. They still use m4v for videos.

      1. DRM-protected, yes. But, it is such a common myth that AAC stands for “Apple Audio Codec”, and is a closed standard that can only play on Apple’s devices, is something that persists to this day despite many years having passed.

      2. Any company could put DRM on AAC. Apple did so at the behest of content creators. Many other download stores also had DRM on their audio files, including AAC.

        Apple called it AAC since that was a common name for it. Additionally, it is a logical fallacy that using a different name could have altered anything about this. “A is for Apple” is a result, not a cause of the confusion about this. The confusion was largely started by ignorant tech press and consumers.

    2. “I see this in forums and blog comments from people who seem to have a fair understanding of technical issues. Yet these thoughts are caused by confusion, a lack of information, and, perhaps, a tricky abbreviation.”

      OR….pure trollery!

  2. People who want to hate will find or manufacture justifications to hate. The same people who diss AAC because they associate it with Apple will happily use Windows Media file formats without a second thought. Sometimes ignorance is just ignorance and the bliss is illusory.

    1. Which sounds like someone recorded a song in a trashcan inside a bathroom. The only codec that sounds worse than WMA is ATRAC. That was truly horrid.

  3. “It seems that almost every day I read something about people not wanting to rip their music in AAC”

    Really? I’m guessing it’s the Kim Komando forum of “technical literates”.

    1. And interestingly, .mp3 doesn’t even stand for MPEG3. It stands for MPEG2 layer 3. The Motion Pictures Experts Group decided to skip MPEG3 and go straight to MPEG4 in order to avoid confusion with the .mp3 extension.

  4. Perhaps instead of ignorant arguments back and forth, someone could link to an educated, objective, scientific comparison of the various audio formats.

    Given how cheap hard discs are, ALAC or AIFF or superior digital formats are the obvious choice to someone who appreciates quality.

    For those who prioritize mobility and streaming, then any current digital format is indeed good enough.

    If you’re into vinyl, then there is no scientific explanation. After the first play, vinyl playback quality rapidly degrades. Those who buy new vinyl releases are deceiving themselves into thinking they are cool for embracing an antiquated lifestyle.

    1. Rapidly? I don’t think so.

      Also, if you are into ‘mobility’ yet still have some Beyerdynamics, Sennheiser, HiFiMan or other quality headgear, you will notice 256 AAC is better than 256 MP3 (I’ve even notice a difference at 320 Kbps).

      Personally, most of my music server tunes are in AIFF.

      1. That’s kind of misleading. WMA doesn’t have to include DRM (neither does WMV, and Silverlight is a framework that can play all kinds of formats).

        MP4 on the other hand can contain DRM (and not just FairPlay).

        That said, WMA sucks, WMV sucks harder, and Silverlight is the suckiest.

        1. HA! Yes, I can see how it can be confusing, as if Windows media stuff and Silverlight always had DRM. It’s just an option.

          I didn’t mind Silverlight when I was using Netflix. But I got tired for the high crap factor of stuff available for Netflix streaming and quit. I hear they’ve dumped Silverlight, or are at least planning to. That’s the only time I’ve run into it.

  5. The Cause Of Confusion: Apple’s “FairPlay” DRM.

    Back during the worst days of DRM (Digital Rights Manglement) there was no way the RIAA companies were going to allow digital music files to be sold online without ‘protection’. Therefore, Apple applied (the ironically named) ‘FairPlay’ encryption to AAC music files.

    From Wikipedia:

    FairPlay is a digital rights management (DRM) technology created by Apple Inc., based on technology created by the company Veridisc. FairPlay is built into the QuickTime multimedia software and used by the iPhone, iPod, iPad, Apple TV, iTunes, and iTunes Store and the App Store. Formerly, all songs in the iTunes Store were encoded with FairPlay. Apple later started offering a selection of songs that, after an additional 30 cents is paid per song, could be downloaded FairPlay-free. Currently, in the US, Apple does not sell songs with FairPlay encryption, however, apps downloaded from the iTunes store are still encrypted with FairPlay. FairPlay digitally encrypts AAC audio files and prevents users from playing these files on unauthorized computers.

    IOW: AAC as a format does not inflict DRM and is not proprietary. ‘FairPlay’ is proprietary, based on Veridisc technology.

    1. FairPlay was probably the lesser of the DRM evils, as it still allowed you to burn to CD then re-rip DRM-free. But of course each step lessened the quality.

      And a lot of people probably don’t realise or have forgotten iTunes Store music is now DRM-free. Also, AAC is supported on a wide range of other manufacturers’ devices.

      I’ve used AAC from the start because it’s about a third more efficient than MP3 in terms of file sizes.

      1. I’ve changed from using MP3 at 360 Mbps to AAC at 360 Mbps for my ripped tunes. It’s a slightly smaller file size with a slightly better reproduction quality.

        Apple has never embraced FLAC, apparently for fear of potential licensing requirements. For my high quality tune ripping, I’ve been using Apple Lossless.

        Lately I’ve been ripping some of my 96KHz 24Bit music from DVD to Apple Lossless for playing in iTunes. It’s a bit of a contortion to do it to get around the DVD DRM infestation, but it works.

        1. Shouldn’t they be identical file sizes – but the AAC better quality?

          I should add that iTunes Match came along at just the right time – I was staring down the barrel of re-ripping my entire CD collection at 256Mbps after originally doing it at 128.

  6. Indeed, amazing this is still a thing. For reference, the original mp3 spec was finalized way back in 1991! The modern MPEG-4 spec, based around h.264 and AAC (essentially “mp4”) audio was finalized in 2003.

  7. Oh man, I remember the days when this Apple topic was a big thing talked about here. Sort of nostalgic for MDN almost 10 years ago.

    Wow. 10 years. I can’t believe I’ve been reading this blog for over that long.

    And now, Apple dominates and M$ is beleaguered. Wow.

    Next maybe we’ll talk about viruses?

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