An audio coding format (or sometimes audio compression format) is a content representation format for storage or transmission of digital audio (such as in digital television, digital radio and in audio and video files). Examples of audio coding formats include MP3, AAC, Vorbis, FLAC, and Opus. A specific software or hardware implementation capable of audio compression and decompression to/from a specific audio coding format is called an audio codec; an example of an audio codec is LAME, which is one of several different codecs which implements encoding and decoding audio in the MP3 audio coding format in software.
Some audio coding formats are documented by a detailed technical specification document known as an audio coding specification. Some such specifications are written and approved by standardization organizations as technical standards, and are thus known as an audio coding standard. The term 'standard' is also sometimes used for de facto standards as well as formal standards.
Audio content encoded in a particular audio coding format is normally encapsulated within a container format. As such, the user normally doesn't have a raw AAC file, but instead has a .m4a audio file, which is a MPEG-4 Part 14 container containing AAC-encoded audio. The container also contains metadata such as title and other tags, and perhaps an index for fast seeking. A notable exception is MP3 files, which are raw audio coding without a container format. De facto standards for adding metadata tags such as title and artist to MP3s, such as ID3, are hacks which work by appending the tags to the MP3, and then relying on the MP3 player to recognize the chunk as malformed audio coding and therefore skip it. In video files with audio, the encoded audio content is bundled with video (in a video coding format) inside a multimedia container format.
An audio coding format does not dictate all algorithms used by a codec implementing the format. An important part of how lossy audio compression works is by removing data in ways humans can't hear, according to a psychoacoustic model; the implementer of an encoder has some freedom of choice in which data to remove (according to their psychoacoustic model).
A lossless audio coding format reduces the total data needed to represent a sound but can be de-coded to its original, uncompressed form. A lossy audio coding format additionally reduces the bit resolution of the sound on top of compression, which results in far less data at the cost of irretrievably lost information.
Consumer audio is most often compressed using lossy audio codecs as the smaller size is far more convenient for distribution. Lossless audio coding formats such as FLAC and Apple Lossless are sometimes available, though at the cost of larger files.
Uncompressed audio formats, such as pulse-code modulation (.wav), are also sometimes used.