The home of (low quality) online radio

Although you wouldn't download RealAudio files off a file-sharing network like Limewire, it is an important audio format that has grown increasingly popular as the Internet expands into a host of new environments. Most people familiar with web music will be at least partially familiar with RealAudio, which is a common way to stream Internet music through online radio stations.

Advertiser Links for RealAudio

Developed by RealNetworks, RealAudio was first introduced to the web-crawling public in 1995. In the decade-plus that it has been available, ten versions of the product have made their way to techie music lovers, making it one of the more sought-after online applications.

The early days of RealAudio

Bandwidth Bloater, Extraordinaire

RealAudio has undergone considerable changes from its original version to the recently released RealAudio 10. For one, the extension has evolved from .ra to .rm (when RealAudio expanded to include both sound and video playback) to .rmvb to .ram to .smil. All of the changes to the extension have had something to do with the increasingly expanding options of RealAudio, including its evolving use of video, language, and the method used to stream music through online radio.

John Mayer sucks “thiiiis much” worse by streaming through online radio and RealAudio

Today, RealAudio is the bane of system administrators everywhere. This writer has himself been reprimanded by various IT geeks for hogging bandwidth by streaming online music. This is essentially the biggest problem with RealAudio – it certainly isn't kind to a network's speed.

In addition, most listeners of online radio streamed through RealAudio certainly won't be hearing the quality sound found on compact discs or even through the shadiest file-sharing programs. Although most illegal and even legal music download sites offer their wares with the bitrate quality of 128 kb/s, for the most part online radio stations bring listeners a grainy 96 kb/s. You'll notice the difference pretty quickly – compared to the CD version (around 320 kb/s), John Mayer just sounds that much worsethrough RealAudio.