Audio Interchange File Format (AIFF) is an audio file format standard used for storing sound data for personal computers and other electronic audio devices. The format was developed by Apple Inc. in 1988 based on Electronic Arts' Interchange File Format (IFF, widely used on Amiga systems) and is most commonly used on Apple Macintosh computer systems.
The audio data in most AIFF files is uncompressed pulse-code modulation (PCM). This type of AIFF file uses much more disk space than lossy formats like MP3—about 10 MB for one minute of stereo audio at a sample rate of 44.1 kHz and a bit depth of 16 bits. There is also a compressed variant of AIFF known as AIFF-C or AIFC, with various defined compression codecs.
In addition to audio data, AIFF can include loop point data and the musical note of a sample, for use by hardware samplers and musical applications.
The file extension for the standard AIFF format is .aiff or .aif. For the compressed variants it is supposed to be .aifc, but .aiff or .aif are accepted as well by audio applications supporting the format.
With the development of the Mac OS X operating system, Apple created a new type of AIFF which is, in effect, an alternative little-endian byte order format.
Because the AIFF architecture has no provision for alternative byte order, Apple used the existing AIFF-C compression architecture and created a "pseudo-compressed" codec called sowt (twos spelled backward). The only difference between a standard AIFF file and an AIFF-C/sowt file is the byte order; there is no compression involved at all.
Apple uses this new little-endian AIFF type as its standard on Mac OS X. When a file is imported to or exported from iTunes in "AIFF" format, it is actually AIFF-C/sowt that is being used. When audio from an audio CD is imported by dragging to the Mac OS X Desktop, the resulting file is also an AIFF-C/sowt. In all cases, Apple refers to the files simply as "AIFF", and uses the ".aiff" extension.
For the vast majority of users this technical situation is completely unnoticeable and irrelevant. The sound quality of standard AIFF and AIFF-C/sowt are identical, and the data can be converted back and forth without loss. Users of older audio applications, however, may find that an AIFF-C/sowt file will not play, or will prompt the user to convert the format on opening, or will play as static.
All traditional AIFF and AIFF-C files continue to work normally on Mac OS X (including on the new Intel-based hardware), and many third-party audio applications, as well as hardware, continue to use the standard AIFF big-endian byte order.