Waveform Audio File Format (WAVE, or WAV due to its
filename extension A filename extension, file extension or file type is an identifier specified as a suffix to the name of a computer file. The extension indicates a characteristic of the file contents or its intended use. A filename extension is typically delimited ...
; pronounced "wave") is an
audio file format An audio file format is a file format for storing digital audio data on a computer system. The bit layout of the audio data (excluding metadata) is called the audio coding format and can be uncompressed, or compressed to reduce the file size, often ...
standard, developed by
IBM International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) is an American multinational technology company headquartered in Armonk, New York, with operations in over 170 countries. The company began in 1911, founded in Endicott, New York, as the Comput ...
Microsoft Microsoft Corporation is an American multinational technology company with headquarters in Redmond, Washington. It develops, manufactures, licenses, supports, and sells computer software, consumer electronics, personal computers, and related s ...

, for storing an audio bitstream on PCs. It is an application of the
Resource Interchange File Format The Resource Interchange File Format (RIFF) is a generic file container format for storing data in tagged chunks. It is primarily used to store multimedia such as sound and video, though it may also be used to store any arbitrary data. The Micro ...
bitstream format A bitstream format is the format of the data found in a stream of bits used in a digital communication or data storage application. The term typically refers to the data format of the output of an encoder, or the data format of the input to a decod ...
method for storing data in ''chunks'', and thus is also close to the
8SVX 8-Bit Sampled Voice (8SVX) is an audio file format standard developed by Electronic Arts for the Commodore-Amiga computer series. It is a data subtype of the IFF file container format. It typically contains linear pulse-code modulation (LPCM) dig ...
and the
AIFF Audio Interchange File Format (AIFF) is an audio file format standard used for storing sound data for personal computers and other electronic audio devices. The format was developed by Apple Inc. in 1988 based on Electronic Arts' Interchange File F ...
format used on
Amiga The Amiga is a family of personal computers introduced by Commodore in 1985. The original model is one of a number of computers with 16 or 32-bit processors, 256 KB or more of RAM, mouse-based GUIs, and significantly improved graphics and audio ...
and Apple Macintosh, Macintosh computers, respectively. It is the main format used on Microsoft Windows systems for uncompressed audio. The usual bitstream encoding is the linear pulse-code modulation (LPCM) format.


The WAV file is an instance of a
Resource Interchange File Format The Resource Interchange File Format (RIFF) is a generic file container format for storing data in tagged chunks. It is primarily used to store multimedia such as sound and video, though it may also be used to store any arbitrary data. The Micro ...
(RIFF) defined by IBM and
Microsoft Microsoft Corporation is an American multinational technology company with headquarters in Redmond, Washington. It develops, manufactures, licenses, supports, and sells computer software, consumer electronics, personal computers, and related s ...

. The RIFF format acts as a "wrapper" for various audio coding formats. Though a WAV file can contain audio data compression, compressed audio, the most common WAV audio format is uncompressed audio in the linear pulse-code modulation (LPCM) format. LPCM is also the standard audio coding format for audio Compact Disc, CDs, which store two-channel LPCM audio Sampling (signal processing), sampled at 44,100 Hz with 16 Audio bit depth, bits per sample. 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, on Microsoft Windows, the Audio Compression Manager. Any ACM codec can be used to compress a WAV file. The user interface (UI) for Audio Compression Manager may be accessed through various programs that use it, including Sound Recorder (Windows), Sound Recorder in some versions of Windows. Beginning with Windows 2000, a WAVE_FORMAT_EXTENSIBLE header was defined which specifies surround sound, multiple audio channel data along with speaker positions, eliminates ambiguity regarding sample types and container sizes in the standard WAV format and supports defining custom extensions to the format chunk. There are some inconsistencies in the WAV format: for example, 8-bit data is unsigned while 16-bit data is signed, and many chunks duplicate information found in other chunks.



A RIFF file is a tagged file format. It has a specific container format (a ''chunk'') that includes a four-character tag (FourCC) and the size (number of bytes) of the chunk. The tag specifies how the data within the chunk should be interpreted, and there are several standard FourCC tags. Tags consisting of all capital letters are reserved tags. The outermost chunk of a RIFF file has a RIFF form tag; the first four bytes of chunk data are a FourCC that specify the form type and are followed by a sequence of subchunks. In the case of a WAV file, those four bytes are the FourCC WAVE. The remainder of the RIFF data is a sequence of chunks describing the audio information. The advantage of a tagged file format is that the format can be extended later without confusing existing file readers. The rule for a RIFF (or WAV) reader is that it should ignore any tagged chunk that it does not recognize. The reader won't be able to use the new information, but the reader should not be confused. The specification for RIFF files includes the definition of an INFO chunk. The chunk may include information such as the title of the work, the author, the creation date, and copyright information. Although the INFO chunk was defined in version 1.0, the chunk was not referenced in the formal specification of a WAV file. If the chunk were present in the file, then a reader should know how to interpret it, but many readers had trouble. Some readers would abort when they encountered the chunk, some readers would process the chunk if it were the first chunk in the RIFF form, and other readers would process it if it followed all of the expected waveform data. Consequently, the safest thing to do from an interchange standpoint was to omit the INFO chunk and other extensions and send a lowest-common-denominator file. There are other Resource Interchange File Format#INFO chunk placement problems, INFO chunk placement problems. RIFF files were expected to be used in international environments, so there is CSET chunk to specify the country code, language, dialect, and code page for the strings in a RIFF file. For example, specifying an appropriate CSET chunk should allow the strings in an INFO chunk (and other chunks throughout the RIFF file) to be interpreted as Cyrillic or Japanese characters. RIFF also defines a JUNK chunk whose contents are uninteresting. The chunk allows a chunk to be deleted by just changing its FourCC. The chunk could also be used to reserve some space for future edits so the file could be modified without being rewritten. A later definition of RIFF introduced a similar PAD  chunk.


The toplevel definition of a WAV file is:
                               // Format
                   []         // Fact chunk
                   []          // Cue points
                   []     // Playlist
                   [] // Associated data list
                    )       // Wave data
The definition shows a toplevel RIFF form with the WAVE tag. It is followed by a mandatory format chunk that describes the format of the sample data that follows. The format chunk includes information such as the sample encoding, number of bits per channel, the number of channels, the sample rate. The WAV specification includes some optional features. The optional fact chunk reports the number of samples for some compressed coding schemes. The cue point (cue ) chunk identifies some significant sample numbers in the wave file. The playlist chunk allows the samples to be played out of order or repeated rather than just from beginning to end. The associated data list allows labels and notes (labl and note) to be attached to cue points; text annotation (ltxt) may be given for a group of samples (e.g., caption information). Finally, the mandatory wave data chunk contains the actual samples (in the specified format). Note that the WAV file definition does not show where an INFO chunk should be placed. It is also silent about the placement of a CSET chunk (which specifies the character set used). The RIFF specification attempts to be a formal specification, but its formalism lacks the precision seen in other tagged formats. For example, the RIFF specification does not clearly distinguish between a set of subchunks and an ordered sequence of subchunks. The RIFF form chunk suggests it should be a sequence container. The specification suggests a LIST chunk is also a sequence: "A LIST chunk contains a list, or ordered sequence, of subchunks." However, the specification does not give a formal specification of the INFO chunk; an example INFO LIST chunk ignores the chunk sequence implied in the INFO description. The LIST chunk definition for does use the LIST chunk as a sequence container with good formal semantics. The WAV specification allows for not only a single, contiguous, array of audio samples, but also discrete blocks of samples and silence that are played in order. Most WAV files use a single array of data. The specification for the sample data is confused:
The  contains the waveform data. It is defined as follows:
      → data(  )
    → LIST( 'wavl' ... ) // Silence
   → slnt(  ) // Count of silent samples
These productions are confused. Apparently (undefined) and (defined but not referenced) should be identical. Even if that problem is fixed, the productions then allow a to contain a Recursion (computer science), recursive (which implies data interpretation problems). The specification should have been something like:
    → data(  ... )
    → LIST( 'wavl' ... ) // Silence
   → slnt(  ) // Count of silent samples
to avoid the recursion. WAV files can contain embedded IFF "lists", which can contain several "sub-chunks".


As a derivative of RIFF, WAV files can be tagged with metadata in the INFO chunk. In addition, WAV files can embed any kind of metadata, including but not limited to Extensible Metadata Platform (XMP) data or ID3 tags in extra chunks. Applications may not handle this extra information or may expect to see it in a particular place. Although the RIFF specification requires that applications ignore chunks they do not recognize, some applications are confused by additional chunks.


Uncompressed WAV files are large, so file sharing of WAV files over the Internet is uncommon except among video, music and audio professionals where the uncompressed form has become the most popular of all audio formats and, for most, high speed large bandwidth web connections are commonplace. Many audio and music software manufacturers now favour it as their default file format though others are often supported. The high resolution of the format make it suitable for retaining Generation loss, 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 where the time involved in compressing and uncompressing data, and the losses in quality of such conversions are a concern.

Use by broadcasters

In spite of their large size, uncompressed WAV files are used by most radio broadcasters, especially those that have adopted a tapeless system. * BBC Radio in the UK uses 48 kHz 16-bit two-channel WAV audio as standard in their SCISYS dira! audio editing and playout system. * The UK Commercial radio company Global Radio uses 44.1 kHz 16-bit two-channel WAV files in the Genesys playout system, and throughout their broadcast chain. * The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, ABC "D-Cart" system, which was developed by the Australian broadcaster, uses 48 kHz 16-bit two-channel WAV files, which is identical to that of Digital Audio Tape. * The Digital Radio Mondiale consortium uses WAV files as an informal standard for transmitter simulation and receiver testing.


The WAV format is limited to files that are less than 4 Gibibyte, GiB, because of its use of a 32-bit unsigned integer to record the file size header. Although this is equivalent to about 6.8 hours of CD-quality audio (44.1 kHz, 16-bit stereo), it is sometimes necessary to exceed this limit, especially when greater sampling rates, Audio bit depth, bit resolutions or Surround sound, channel count are required. The W64 format was therefore created for use in Sound Forge. Its 64-bit header allows for much longer recording times. The RF64 format specified by the European Broadcasting Union has also been created to solve this problem.

Non-audio data

Since the sampling rate of a WAV file can vary from 1 hertz, Hz to 4.3 GHz, and the number of channels can be as high as 65535, .wav files have also been used for non-audio data. LTspice, for instance, can store multiple circuit trace waveforms in separate channels, at any appropriate sampling rate, with the full-scale range representing ±1 volt, V or ampere, A rather than a sound pressure.

Audio CDs

Audio Compact disc, CDs do not use the WAV file format, using instead Red Book (audio CD standard), Red Book audio. The commonality is that audio CDs are encoded as uncompressed Pulse-code modulation, PCM, which is one of the formats supported by WAV. WAV is a file format for a computer to use that cannot be understood by most CD players directly. To record WAV files to an Audio CD the file headers must be stripped, the contents must be transcoded if not already stored as PCM, and the PCM data written directly to the disc as individual tracks with zero-padding added to match the CD's sector size. In order for PCM audio to be able to be burned to a CD, it should be in the 44100 Hz, 16-bit stereo format.

Comparison of coding schemes

Audio in WAV files can be encoded in a variety of audio coding formats, such as GSM or MP3, to reduce the file size. This is a reference to compare the Monaural, monophonic (not stereophonic) audio quality and compression bitrates of audio coding formats available for WAV files including Pulse-code modulation, PCM, ADPCM, Microsoft GSM 06.10, CELP, Smart Bitrate Control, SBC, Truespeech and MPEG Layer-3. These are the default ACM codecs that come with Windows. The above are WAV files; even those that use MP3 compression have the .wav extension.

See also

* Audio Compression Manager * Broadcast Wave Format (BWF) * Comparison of audio coding formats * RF64, an extended file format for audio (multichannel file format enabling file sizes to exceed 4 gigabytes)


External links

WAVE file format specifications
- from McGill University, (Last update: 2011-01-03)
Extensible Wave-Format Descriptors
from Microsoft (Updated October 26, 2017)

- University of Bath

WAV & BWF Metadata Guide

Exif tags
see, for example, page 128 {{DEFAULTSORT:Wav Audio file formats Digital container formats Computer-related introductions in 1991 Microsoft Windows multimedia technology