What is a WAV file?

Waveform Audio File Format (WAVE or more commonly known as WAV due to its filename extension .wav) is a Microsoft and IBM audio file format standard for storing an audio bitstream on PCs.   It is an application of the Resource Interchange File Format (RIFF) bitstream format method for storing data in chunks. It is the main format used on Windows systems for raw and typically uncompressed audio without video or metadata such as subtitles or closed captioning. The usual bitstream encoding is the linear pulse-code modulation (LPCM) format. Both WAVs and AIFFs (Audio Interchange File Format) are compatible with Windows, Macintosh and Linux operating systems. The RIFF format acts as a “wrapper” for various audio coding formats.

Though a WAV file can contain compressed audio, the most common WAV audio format is uncompressed audio in the LPCM format. LPCM is also the standard audio coding format for audio CDs. Since LPCM is uncompressed and retains all of the samples of an audio track, professional users or audio experts may use the WAV format with LPCM audio for maximum audio quality. WAV files can also be edited and manipulated with relative ease using software. The WAV format supports compressed audio using Audio Compression Manager in Windows. Any ACM codec can be used to compress a WAV file.

Uncompressed WAV files are large, so file sharing of WAV files over the Internet is uncommon. However, it is a commonly used file type, suitable for retaining first-generation archived files of high quality, for use on a system where disk space is not a constraint, or in applications such as audio editing and transcription, where the time involved in compressing and uncompressing data is a concern.

Broadcast Wave Format (BWF) is an extension of the Microsoft WAVE audio format and is the recording format of most file-based nonlinear digital recorders used for motion picture, radio and television production. It was first specified by the European Broadcasting Union in 1997 and updated in 2001 and 2003. The purpose of this file format is the addition of metadata to facilitate the seamless exchange of sound data between different computer platforms and applications. It specifies the format of metadata, allowing audio processing elements to identify themselves, document their activities, and permits synchronization with other recordings. This metadata is stored as extension chunks in a standard digital audio WAV file. Since the only difference between a BWF and a normal WAV file is the extended information in the file header, a BWF does not require a special player for playback.