audioread provides a single, unified function for reading audio files in a range of different file formats, including wav, mp3, aac, flac, AIFF, etc. In most cases, access is actually provided by external binaries, but this is hidden within audioread (and its subfunctions). The idea is to make your code independent of the kind of audio files used as input.
In addition, audioread provides support for common modifications performed during sound input, namely resampling (changing the sampling rate), casting multi-channel signals to mono, and loading only a limited time range of the sound. Care has been taken to ensure that short subregions of very large soundfiles can be read with the minimum of memory overhead (for instance, without having to load in the entire soundfile at any time.