this format is free, which apparently is one of the reasons for its popularity. The used codecs supports variable bit rates (as a default), and .ogg files usually play back easily on all platforms. All things being equal, the sound quality exceeds that of mp3 somewhat.
SPHERE (SPeech HEader Resources) is a file format defined by NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) and is used with speech audio. SoX can read these files when they contain μ-law and PCM data. It will ignore any header information that says the data is compressed using shorten compression and will treat the data as either μ-law or PCM. This will allow SoX and the command line shorten program to be run together using pipes to encompasses the data and then pass the result to SoX for processing.