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Audiophile 101

Your Intro to all things audio.

Chapter 8 - What is WAV?

Welcome to Audiophile 101, your continuing  education into all things audio presented by Pocket Rock It Radio! A-101 aims to answer any questions you may have regarding audio to help enable you to become a better informed connoisseur of music. No matter how many questions you may have the Audiophile 101 program will do it’s best to answer those undying audio related questions in simple and easy to understand terms.

In this chapter we will take a look at the WAV file format all to answer the question, what is WAV?

Table Of Contents:

WAV is a completely uncompressed audio file format. Meaning that the WAV file contains a large amount of data in it’s original uncompressed form as it was originally created. All of the original code and dynamics of sound exist in the audio file in their native format, while good for sound quality it takes up a lot of storage space. Due to the WAV file formats extremely large file size it is primarily used by audio professionals such as those in the music, and film industry.

So you know what WAV is now.
But you want to know more?
Cool, we got more!

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What does WAV stand for?

WAV stands for ‘Waveform Audio File Format’

What is WAV audio used for?

Due to the large file size WAV audio is not often used by the at home user. Due to the file size it has become traditional for this audio file format to be utilized by the music industry, TV shows, movies, animations, and other professional audio productions. Anywhere audio quality needs to be at it’s best.

Is WAV better than MP3?

Yes from a audio persoective. MP3’s are a lossy compressed type audio file.  WAV files on the other hand are completely uncompressed. WAV audio files are the original audio file with all of the original data, resulting in the audio being far superior to MP3. However this comes at a cost of digital storage space as the WAV audio files can be many, many times larger than an MP3 file. It should also be noted when you start getting into higher ‘bit rate’ MP3’s the difference in sound quality becomes harder to notice without high end listening equipment.

For More on the differences between lossy and lossless compression see A-101 Chapter 2 – Lossy Vs. Lossless Audio

Is WAV better than FLAC?

Yes. However they both contain the same audio data so the difference is arguably negligible. Since the audio files contain the same information such as bit rate, bit depth, dynamic range, etc. the difference comes from the way the files are read by the computer. The WAV file format is a fully uncompressed audio file. Where the FLAC / ALAC audio file is lossless compressed audio file type.

This means that when playing back the WAV audio file the computer can read the information as if you were reading a book in your native language out-loud. While playing a lossless compression file a computer program decompresses [reads] the audio file in real time for playback. This would be like trying to read the same book you were with WAV, but now the book is written in a foreign language you understand but you must translate it in your brain before reading it out-loud.

It’s true the computing program can make this translation faster than we ever could, but to perform the task it takes more processing power to read a lossless compressed audio file than a fully uncompressed audio file. This results in increased computer processing and increased power consumption, this can result in digital interference that can cause there to be some degrading of the audio quality of the lossless compressed audio file compared to a WAV file**.

**Please note that to actually hear this difference you would need to have a proper Hi-Fi audio set up.

Can you convert FLAC to WAV? Can you convert WAV to FLAC?

Yes. Since all of the original WAV audio files information is retained ‘bit’ for ‘bit’ when converted to a lossless compressed file type, all of the digital information can be used to convert it back to it’s original uncompressed WAV format.

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Why not use WAV instead of FLAC?

Storage space. WAV audio files are extremely large in size due to all of the uncompressed information they contain, and our home computers or portable devices have a limited amount of information they can actually store. Utilizing FLAC [ALAC] lossless compression makes it so you can maintain essentially the same audio quality with up to half of the original audio file size doubling the amount of music you can store and enjoy. Since the audible differences are only noticeable in high end set-ups lossless compression will sound good for most end users.

More from A-101:

Chapter Wrap Up:

That is the basics of the WAV audio file format. For more information on digital audio, and a number of other Audio related topics check out the Audiophile 101 Archives.

If we lived in a world of limitless data storage WAV would be the only audio file we’d need, however that’s not the case. And while we want to get the best audio quality during our music listening experience, and WAV might sound like the way to go in 90% of most set ups and situations using WAV is basically unnecessary.

If you still have a question, comment, correct, or something to add let us know in the comments section. We’d love to hear from you.

Until next time, Happy Listening. 

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