What is Audio Streaming? How Does it Work?

Many people have heard the term ‘audio streaming’ or ‘streaming audio’ tossed around without any explanation, and this causes them to ask: just what is audio streaming?

Audio streaming is a technology that allows audio files, such as music or voice-overs for websites, to begin playing on one or more devices while the data is still being transmitted from another device. Streaming can be seen in a handful of applications, but online radio and websites tend to be the dominant uses for the technology.

Websites often use streaming audio and/or video to grab the attention of viewers quickly and effectively. Surfers that load a website and need to wait more than a few seconds are less inclined to stay, even if the website is full of useful information. If the website launches audio almost immediately thanks to streaming audio technology, then there is a greatly increased chance that the viewer will focus on the website itself instead of typing in another address or switch tabs/tasks.

A different answer might be given if one were to ask a gear-head a question such as what is audio streaming and what does it mean? A gear-head might suggest that streaming audio files are just like any other files in that they are comprised of an incredibly long stream of zeros and ones. Those zeros and ones are interpreted as sounds by a computer or other device that knows what to do with them, but sounds can be a very fluid and dynamic thing. For example, a CD is a digital audio storage medium has all of its sounds and music stored on it, and yet it still needs to rotate for the player to access the sounds.

This in turn means that not all of the sounds belonging to a single audio file need to be loaded or received before they can be played. This is the very essence of streaming; audio is received as it is needed or faster, and then played at the correct speed. Audio data that has yet to play is generally ‘buffered’ in memory, which allows faster network connections to transfer data at rates that are higher or lower than that of the playback speed.

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