What is the Best Audio Format for Voice Over?

This is such a dreaded question and everyone has an opinion. I mean, you would think WAV/AIFF would be only answer. However, is there something better? All I can say is, after working as a video editor, producer, and now a voice over artist, there’s a format that not only makes the process easier, but much quicker.

How did this all start?

This all came about a while back. I had the pleasure of being around one of the top promo voices in the industry during one of his live sessions. Once he finished, the sound engineer asked, “What format?” Convinced that I knew the answer, I almost didn’t pay attention to the answer. Glad I did. “Wait..did I hear that right? If so, then this an audition or a scratch track. Surely, a major network does not use MP3 for voice over tracks on national promos.” So I had to ask and, to my shock, no doubt about it…a major network, a major talent, a major promo for a major show and…MP3 256. I asked, “Is this normal?” He informed me that, not only was this normal, it has become the standard among most major networks to use MP3 voice tracks.

Why weren’t MP3s used up til now?

Well, I believe it comes down to a few reasons.

First, nearly 10 years ago, one of the most popular professional videos editing softwares in the world would not accept MP3 files. They had to be converted to one of two formats. Can you guess? WAV or AIFF. Considering the widespread use of this program, that pretty much wiped out the use of MP3 files for professional video editors.

Second, I believe that the difference in file size causes some people to automatically assume that WAV is much better quality. I even have a good friend that would religiously make the claim that MP3s were “lossy.” And truthfully, it’s initially a valid argument. A WAV file with the same specs (bitrate, hz, etc.) is going to be, on average, nine times bigger in size. Keep in mind though, a bigger file size doesn’t always mean better quality. Many High Definition video file sizes are significantly smaller than standard definition file sizes just 15 years ago.

Agree or not, for voice over, an MP3 (at least 256 kbps) has an undetectable difference in sound quality. Through testing this with many clients that have requested WAV or AIFF, I have provided my audio in both the requested format and high quality MP3. More than half the time when they have booked me again, they say “MP3 is fine.” If they can’t hear a difference, then there isn’t one. The only difference that they should care about, is an audible one. It’s obviously good enough for the major networks.

The bottom line is…

If there’s no audible difference, then we have to agree that the only visible difference is really attractive…same quality at a 10th of the file size. Some voice talents don’t know this, but we are often times the very last part of a project. Sometimes, the deadline is pretty close. I’ve done many projects where the client says, “Can you get this to me in the next few hours because this is due at the end of the day?” Well, the smaller file size will send faster, download faster and will “lengthen” the deadline. When you can exceed expectations, don’t be surprised if you have yourself a longterm client.

Remember, always provide the client with whatever format they request. However, don’t be afraid to also include a high quality MP3. I’ve watched clients, editors, and even friends change their perception of MP3s by just listening.

Click here to listen to a few demos. All voice over spots submitted in MP3 format. I also frequently post new voice overs on Instagram!