WAVe of the past

The home of WAV

WAV, or Waveform, is both a Microsoft and IBM-created audio format for storing files on PCs. Essentially, WAV stores data in chunks, making it very similar to the AIFF codec used by Apple for its Macintosh computers. As Microsoft has grown, so has the .wav file, which is the main codec used for raw audio within the Windows operating system.


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PCM for PCs

However, unlike some of the other digital media files we've explored on this site, WAV files are not commonly associated with compressed audio. Instead, most .wav files contain uncompressed audio in the "pulse-code modulation", or PCM. If this seems a bit technical – and we don't blame you if it does – just know that PCM is the standard audio file for most compact discs at 44,100 samples per second. The one thing you should take from this description is the fact that PCM uses lossless, uncompressed technology. This gives audio gurus the ability to produce the absolute best sound quality. How? Software is available to allow for some serious audio manipulation and mutation.

However, unlike Advanced Audio Coding, which can be also be manipulated by A/V geeks, WAV does not download well. Why? Well, Mr. Nosey, when it comes to the file-transferring that the kids like to do so much these days, the freedom to manipulate sound files is actually WAV's downfall. Simply put, this ability makes the codec too big to use and, in this latest generation, WAV files have become less and less popular. They're just too bloody big.

The result has been to step away from WAV towards the codecs that employ "lossy" technology, which drastically reduces the size of files by risking the quality of sound. In many cases, lossy audio formats simply sound different than the original product, leaving attentive music lovers frustrated.

They should relax with some Mozart (on CD, of course) and a bottle of red wine, like Wolf Blass Yellow Label. Maybe even a bubble bath….

Although WAV files are not instantly recognizable to the teenager who has "come of age" in the Kazaa or Napster era, it remains a popular digital media file. Most applications employ WAV as a method of offering the lowest common denominator in exchanging audio files between programs. You'll still find WAV used in many of the Windows sound files (yes, that's right, all the pings and blips that let you know you can't access your neighbor's wireless network without a security key).