Audio file formats for DJ’s – 1 Stop guide

Table of Contents

What is the common audio file formats that DJs use?

Often DJ’s use either .MP3 or .WAV, however both have downsides and upsides that other file formats fix.
Which I will talk about below.

Formats compared

With most modern DJ players these music file formats are supported:

File formatAcronymCompressed*Lossless**Tags***
MP3Mpeg 3yesnoyes
AAC/M4AAdvanced Audio Codingyesnonot standard
WAVWavenoyesNO!!!
AIFF/AIFAudio Interchange File Formatnoyesyes
ALACApple Lossless Audio Codecyesyesyes
FLACFree Lossless Audio Codecyesyesyes
MP4Mpeg 4yesnoyes
Ogg VorbisyesNoyes

* Compression: reducing file size by applying an algorithm.
This can lead to quality loss when compressed (depending on the audio format).
** Lossless & Lossy: Audio information is stored 1 on 1 in a file.
No methods are used to compromise audio quality, even when a file is compressed.
Lossy is the opposite of lossless, which means that compromises are made to reduce the file size (for example by removing inaudible frequencies).
*** Meta Data Tags: is a very useful feature to have, it can store: song key, tempo (bpm), notes and cover art.

WAV

WAV (or wave) is a dinosaur of a format originally developed my Microsoft.
WAV is a lossless audio format, meaning that all audio information is stored in the audio file.

Pros
✔️ WAV can contain studio quality music and is therefore used by a lot of professional DJ’s.

Cons
❌ Storage space. A good quality recording can take up roughly 10MB per minute.
❌ It doesn’t support tags to store tags for tempo and key information.

MP3

MP3 are probably the most well known because of their popularity.
MP3 is a lossy audio format.

MP3, although widely used, isn’t supported anymore by Fraunhofer (licensor).
Manufacturers can’t get a new license, which means that MP3 is technically dying.
The follow up is either AAC or MP3Pro.

Pros
✔️ MP3 files can be small
✔️ It supports tags to store things like tempo and key.

Cons
❌ Quality. Although it can be high, it is never as good as a lossless audio format like WAV, ALAC or FLAC.
❌ The standard is dying

FLAC

A lossless audio file format, but compressed for a smaller file size.
It also support tags for meta data.
This is why I think this is the best file format for DJ’s.

Pros
✔️ Small but everything is ‘inside’ for high quality playback

Cons
❌ Not every DJ controller/player supports it

File formats: Professional DJ’s

Professional DJ’s often use WAV purely because of the music quality.
Why not more professional switch to other formats like ALAC or FLAC is beyond me, because the quality is the same and they support tags.

File formats: Bedroom DJ’s

Amateur DJ’s often use MP3, because of the reduced file size.
Most dancers in a small venue will not hear the difference between a properly compressed MP3 file and a WAV file.
However for music festivals or major nightclubs with proper sound systems, I would strongly advice to use a lossless file format.

File formats: Best choices

Lossless file formats are preferred for Djs for the best audio quality, but that comes at the cost of larger file sizes.
The best of all worlds is when a file format supports compression, is lossless and supports tags.
Digital music stores charge often more for lossless audio files.

Best audio qualityFLAC , ALAC, WAV or AIFF
Worst audio qualityMP3, MP4
Best priceMP3
Best storage spaceMP3, MP4
Widest support for all types of players (of all brands)MP3, WAV

USB Filesystem format

The file system support for USB storage by Pioneer and Denon DJ players:

File systemManufacturerPioneer CDJDenon SC
FATMicrosoftYes
FAT 32MicrosoftYesYes
ExFATMicrosoftLimited*Yes
NTFSMicrosoftRead-only**
HFS+AppleYesRead-only**
APFSApple
* Limited support. Only some new hardware devices released in 2020 and onwards support this feature
** Read-only means that tracks can be read, but no information can be stored. Like track history, settings, changes to tracks (beatgrid i.e.) etc.

See my guide on how to format a USB drive for Rekordbox and CDJ for more details.

What audio file format do Pioneer CDJs and Denon SCs use?

PlayerCDFormatsMediaConnect via usbInfo
CDJ 3000MP3, AAC (.m4a, .aac, .mp4), WAV, FLAC, ALAC, AIF/AIFFUSB thumbdrive, RJ45 (pro dj link), SD cardWin, Mac, iOS, Androiddetails below
CDJ 2000 NXS2CD, CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R, DVD-R DL, DVD-RW, DVD+R, DVD+R DL, DVD+RWMP3, AAC (.m4a, .aac, .mp4), WAV, FLAC, ALAC, AIF/AIFF, Audio format (CD only)USB thumbdrive, RJ45 (pro dj link), SD cardWin, Mac, iOS, Androiddetails below
CDJ 2000 NXSCD, CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R, DVD-R DL, DVD-RW, DVD+R, DVD+R DL, DVD+RWMP3, AAC (.m4a, .aac, .mp4), WAV, FLAC, ALAC, AIF/AIFF, Audio format (CD only)USB thumbdrive, RJ45 (pro dj link), SD card
details below
SC5000, SC5000MMP3, AAC (.aac, m4a), MP4, WAV, FLAC, ALAC, AIF/AIFF, Ogg VorbisUSB thumbdrive, WIFI, RJ45 (streaming + StageLinq), SD card (SD, SDHC, SDXC)Win, Macdetails below
SC6000, SC6000MMP3, AAC (.aac, m4a), MP4, WAV, FLAC, ALAC, AIF/AIFF, Ogg VorbisUSB thumbdrive, WIFI, RJ45 (streaming + StageLinq), SD card (SD, SDHC, SDXC)Win, Macdetails below

Supported file formats CDJ 3000 (FLAC, AIFF, WAV, MP3)

File formatBit depthBit rateSample freq
MP316 bits32 – 320 kbps44.1, 48 kHz
AAC (.aac, .mp4, .m4a)16 bits16 – 320 kbps44.1, 48 kHz
WAV16 bits, 24 bits44.1, 48, 88.2,96 kHz
FLAC16 bits, 24 bits44.1, 48, 88.2,96 kHz
ALAC (.m4a)16 bits, 24 bits44.1, 48, 88.2,96 kHz
AIFF16 bits, 24 bits44.1, 48, 88.2,96 kHz

Supported file formats CDJ 2000 NXS 2 (FLAC, AIFF, WAV, MP3)

File formatBit depthBit rateSample freq
MP3 (mpeg1, mpeg2)16 bits32 – 320 kbps (mpeg 1); 8 kpbs – 160 kpbs (mpeg 2)32, 44.1, 48 kHz (mpeg1); 16, 22.0524 kHz (mpeg2)
AAC (.aac, .mp4, .m4a) (mpeg 2+ mpeg4)16 bits16 – 320 kbps16, 22.05, 24, 32, 44.1, 48 kHz
WAV (no cd support)16 bits, 24 bits44.1, 48, 88.2, 96 kHz
FLAC (no cd support)16 bits, 24 bits44.1, 48, 88.2, 96 kHz
ALAC (.m4a) (no cd support)16 bits, 24 bits44.1, 48, 88.2, 96 kHz
AIFF (no cd support)16 bits, 24 bits44.1, 48, 88.2, 96 kHz

Supported file formats CDJ 2000 NXS (FLAC, AIFF, WAV, MP3)

pioneer-cdj-2000-nxs
File formatBit depthBit rateSample freq
MP3 (mpeg1, mpeg2)16 bits32 – 320 kbps (mpeg 1); 8 kpbs – 160 kpbs (mpeg 2)32, 44.1, 48 kHz (mpeg1); 16, 22.05, 24 kHz (mpeg2)
AAC (.aac, .mp4, .m4a) (mpeg 2+ mpeg4)16 bits16 – 320 kbps16, 22.05, 24, 32, 44.1, 48 kHz
WAV
16 bits, 24 bits44.1, 48 kHz
AIFF
16 bits, 24 bits44.1, 48 kHz

Unfortunately, FLAC is not supported by the CDJ 2000 Nexus.

Supported file formats Denon SC5000(M) / SC6000(M)

The supported file formats are listed below:

File formatBit depthBit rateSample freq
MP3unspecified *32 – 320 kbpsunspecified *
AAC/M4Aunspecified *
unspecified *
WAV
16 bits, 32 bits44.1 – 192 kHz
AIFF/AIF
16 bits, 24 bits44.1 – 192 hHz
ALACunspecified *

unspecified *
FLACunspecified *

unspecified *
MP4unspecified *

unspecified *
Ogg Vorbisunspecified *
unspecified *
* file format is supported, but technical specifications don’t list specifics
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