The beat . A blog by premiumbeat

November 18, 2011
Final Cut ProFinal Cut Pro XVideo Editing

AIFF, MP3 and WAVs — What’s the Best Audio Format for Video Editing in Final Cut Pro?

In this post, we’ll tackle a question commonly asked by video editors — what audio file format is best for use in my Final Cut Pro video editing software?

First, let’s get this out of the way:

  • Final Cut Pro hates MP3.
  • This goes for the new Final Cut Pro X, as well as legacy versions of the application.
  • Attempting to use MP3s in your FCP projects will cause problems.

MP3s by their very nature are a highly compressed format. When placed on a Final Cut Pro timeline you may run into some of the following problems:

  • Click and Pops (common offenders)
  • Diminished sound quality
  • MP3 will require rendering (no matter the sequence settings)
  • Once rendered, the application may “lose track” of the audio — drifting sync, starting and stopping at odd points and not matching up to the audio waveform

The most obvious fix to this problem is to use a higher-quality audio file format if avaliable.  Most stock music sites (such as Premiumbeat) will provide their music and sound effects as either WAVs or AIFFs…both formats that “play well” with Final Cut Pro.  Mixes from audio post facilities, as well as audio files from digiatal field recorders, are often recorded as WAVs.  Some Mac applications will save high quality audio files as AIFFs.  So, now you might be scratching your head…”So MP3s are bad for FCP, but what’s the difference between WAVs and AIFFs?”

AIFFs and WAVs are essentially the same file type…both use the same PCM compression (for the technical low down on PCM, wrap your head around this).  Intially, the AIFF wrapper was developed to work best on Mac systems, while WAVs were designed for PC.  Today, it makes litte difference as they work well on either.

So, let’s say that your client hands you some voice-over that was recorded to MP3.  They long ago trashed any high-resolution versions of that audio.  Now you’re tasked with integrating the audio into a project.  Don’t panic, here’s the drill:

As we said before, MP3s are highly compressed.  There’s not going to be much you can do about that.  You can’t decompress a file, magically turning a low resolution piece of audio into a stunning high resolution one.  You only have the audio “information” that was included in the compressed MP3 file, and well, you’re just going to have to work with that.

That being said, you can convert the MP3 file into a WAV or AIFF so that it will integrate better within Final Cut Pro.  Let’s take a look at 2 ways to convert an MP3.  Note, the converted file will have the same quality as an MP3, but wrapped as an AIFF or WAV.

Convert MP3 to AIFF using Compressor

Users of previous versions of Final Cut Pro will find Compressor included in the Final Cut Studio suite.  With the release of FCPX, Compressor is avaliable as a standalone application from the App Store.  Compressor makes converting your MP3s to AIFFs a breeze.

  1. Drag the MP3 into the main Compressor window (or click on the “Add File” button).
  2. The Settings window:  If it not visible in your Compressor layout use the shortcut COMMAND + 3 to bring it up.  Navigate to the Audio Formats folder.
  3. In Compressor 4:  Drag the AIFF setting onto your MP3.
  4. In earlier versions of Compressor:  Drag the AIFF 48:24 setting onto your MP3.
  5. In the main Compressor window right click on “Source” and choose the Destination you would like to save the AIFF file.
  6. Click “Submit”
  7. Clicking “Batch Monitor” will show the progress of the conversion.

Note: You can drag multiple MP3s into the Compressor window and apply the settings.  Then batch convert them all at once.

Convert MP3 to AIFF using MPEG Steamclip

We’ve sung the praises of the free application MPEG Streamclip before…and here we go again!  On the long list of formats and codecs it can encode/transcode, add audio…and more specifically MP3 to AIFF.

  1. From the menu bar in MPEG Streamclip choose File > Open Files
  2. Make sure “Audio Files” is enabled from the dropdown and navigate to the MP3 you’d like to convert.
  3. Streamclip may return an “Unsupported File Type” message, but choose “Open Anyways”
  4. You should now be able to playback your MP3 in the application.
  5. From the menu bar choose  File > Export Audio.  In the pop-up window choose 48khz (a digital video standard).   Click “OK”
  6. Choose the destination for your converted file and click “Save”.

Just as a legal disclaimer, we never recommend converting copyrighted music or using such music in your video projects without permission of the owner/creator.  For the whole shebang on music and copyright check out our previous article here.

Ultimately, the best sceneario is having a WAV or AIFF as the original file.  If you’re looking for high-quality, royalty free WAVs check out our selection here at Premiumbeat.  However, when you’re only given an MP3 to work with, convert it!

What software applications do you use for conversions?
We want to hear from you in the comments!

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  • http://YourSite(Optional) Jared

    I’ve actually just used iTunes before. Works like a charm and is very easy to do. So if you need a solution you already have, iTunes is a good one.

  • http://YourSite(Optional) Helge Tjelta

    Why don’t you use a droplet ? Set up once, use many! Just drag and drop.

  • Anthony Burokas

    The real part I’ve never understood is that QuickTime plays an MP3 fine. FCP has to render the audio with an MP3 on the timeline, fine. I’ll grant that…
    But why the hell can’t it accurately “render” audio or properly play back the render files? There’s ABSOLUTELY nothing Pro about it when it completely fails to be able to 1) render without errors, or 2) play back renders without errors. That’s either really bad programming, or deliberate.

    • Guest

      MP3 is not a professional audio format and doesn’t conform to video standards. That’s why pro software has trouble with it. Simple conversion can work just fine.

      FCPX also has troubles with MP3 and needs to be converted as well.FCP 5-7 (I only started editing with FCP when it was in version 5 so I’m not sure about earlier versions) has an export function built in which allows you to convert MP3 to AIFF 48kHz without going to Compressor. Simply right-click (Ctrl+click) the audio file in the Browser, select “Export – Using QuickTime Conversion”. Under ‘Options’ make sure that 48kHz is selected and you’re good to go.

      • Danny Greer

        Another good option for converting. As a best practice you should use the least compressed audio file available. If you can start with a WAV or AIFF from the get-go, your video’s audio quality will be the better for it.

  • Apk

    A correction: .aif and .wav files are both uncompressed digital audio formats, which use PCM to portray the audio, but no compression scheme is applied. An hour long .wav of pure silence or a 100 Hz sine wave would be exactly the same size as an hour of complicated, multitimbral, highly dynamic music or other sound. This would very much not be the case with an mp3, which would easily compress the silence or unchanging tone down to a relatively small file size, whereas the music would not squeeze down so easily without sounding quite poor.

  • Fox Mahoney

    I use FCPX to transcode mp3 media. When importing, check the Transcode Media option (and it’s a good idea, I believe, to also select Analyze and Fix Audio Problems.) FCPX transcodes high quality media which can be found in the Final Cut Events > (event name) > Transcoded Media > High Quality Media folder. You can also right click on MP3s in an event and Transcode Media as with any other video clip. The resultant audio clip is WAV format which is actually the “default” audio codec used in FCPX. The surprising thing is the audio files are 16-bit (48kHz) whereas the documentation recommends 24-bit.

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