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Difference Between WMA and WAV

WMA vs WAV

WMA and WAV are two formats for storing audio information in a digital format. Even though they serve the same purpose, they are very different from each other. The main difference between WMA and WAV is how they encode the data. WAV is a lossless codec that encodes the data faithfully. In comparison, WMA is a lossy codec, which does not encode a faithful copy of the original audio. WMA uses techniques that identify information that humans are not very sensitive to. These are then discarded to reduce the actual data that needs to be encoded. But because of how WMA works, it does not lend itself to sound editing as the sound will degrade every time the audio is saved or re-encoded.

In conjunction to the lossy coding technique, WMA also compresses the final file. Unlike WAV, which does not compress the file. The techniques used by WMA allow it to create files that are approximately 10% the size of files created by WAV. This creates two performance effects on the playing devices. The small size of WMA allows the device to access the storage media a lot less often. But, the nature of WMA means that it needs additional processing power to decompress and decode the actual data. The performance effects though are not really very significant to affect most modern devices.

WAV was very popular more than a decade ago because it was the default audio format by Microsoft Windows. Nowadays, having extremely large files is unacceptable because storage space is always limited. WMA and other lossy codecs are preferred in storing music files by most people as those provide the best trade-off between size and sound quality. People who prefer lossless formats also steer away from WAV as there are better alternatives.  Lossless codecs, to name a few, include FLAC, ALAC, and some versions of MP4 and even WMA. Although these formats are lossless, they compress the file to achieve a size that is somewhere between WAV and lossy codecs like WMA.

Summary:

  1. WMA is a lossy codec while WAV is a lossless codec
  2. WMA is compressed while WAV is not
  3. WMA uses more processing power while WAV tends to access the media more
  4. WMA is widely in use while WAV is rarely used nowadays


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