The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Digital Audio

You may have many digital audio files with music, lectures and other sound recordings.   Some of these have personal, research, or other value that leads you to keep them for a long time.

Archiving tips

Select your important files:

  • Identify your audio files on computers, audio players, phones and removable media such as memory cards and DVDs.  Include audio files that you manage through audio software.
  • Pick the recordings that you feel are important.  If there are multiple versions of important recordings, save the one with the highest quality.

Export your files:

  • If saving a few recordings, you can use the "save as" command in your web browser or software program to export them as individual files.
  • If saving many recordings, check into automatically exporting them.
  • If possible, save recordings in an open format.
  • Save metadata for the audio files, including the date it was exported.

Organize your files:

  • Give individual audio files descriptive file names.
  • Tag the files with information about the recording.
  • Create a directory/folder structure on your computer to put the recordings you picked.
  • Write a brief summary of the directory structure and the recordings.

Save files in formats that are optimal for long-term preservation:

  • If the audio is media-based and on an aging format such as an LP record, casette tape, or 8-track, you should convert the audio content to digital files and store them on your computer and on CDs.
    • Never discard your original media in case your digital files are lost.
  • Choose a master file format that is optimal for long-term preservation.  A good format for master copies is the WAV format:
    • WAV - standard audio file format used mainly in Windows PCs. Commonly used for storing uncompressed CD-quality sound files.
  • Choose an access file format that is optimal for everyday use.  A good format for access copies is the MP3 format:
    • MP3 - the MPEG Layer-3 format is the most popular format for downloading and storing music. By eliminating portions of the audio file that are essentially inaudible, MP3 files are compressed to about 1 MB per minute of music while maintaining good audio quality.

Make copies and manage them in different places:

  • Keep multiple copies of your selected audio recordings in different locations and on different media forms to ensure the best chance of long-term preservation.
  • One copy may remain on your computer, but putting several other copies on separate media such as CDs, portable hard drives, USB drives or Internet storage will be the best protection against loss. Store copies in different locations that are as physically far apart as practical. If disaster strikes one location, your audio recordings in the other place should be safe.
  • To be as safe as possible create 2 copies of your audio recordings.  Save one as your uncompressed master, without modifying it at all, and save another as a small compressed access copy for emailing, streaming etc. When you need another copy to use, make a copy from the master file.

Long-term storage is a key element in preserving your files. It is important to realize that no storage medium is permanent in the digital environment. Any storage medium used will require some maintenance to keep its contents viable for the longest period possible.

  • Currently the most common media used for long-term storage are:
    • CD/DVD – common form of storage and cheap.  (Optical media will face longevity issues, so this should be a considered a   short-term solution)
    • USB drive – very common storage method and relatively inexpensive
    • External hard drive – Holds large volumes of material and is a bit more expensive.
    • Internet/Cloud storage – generally subscription-based for a respectable amount of space

Check files and refresh storage media on a regular basis:

  • Create new media copies every five years or when necessary to avoid data loss.

Migrate files to newer formats if needed:

  • Attempt to stay current with major shifts in standards, software, hardware, platforms, and formats to ensure that your files are in a common, readable format.

To learn more see:

Guidelines on the Production and Preservation of Digital Audio. The International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives. ed. by Kevin Bradley. Second edition 2009.