Home : File Formats : WAVE Definition


WAVE is an audio format used to store sound data. It is is similar to the AIFF format, but is based on the Resource Interchange File Format (RIFF), a container format designed to store data in "chunks." Therefore, each WAVE file contains one or more chunks that store audio data or other information.

A typical WAVE file includes a format ("fmt") chunk and a data chunk. The format chunk describes how the waveform data is stored and specifies the number of channels, sampling rate, and compression type. The data chunk contains the actual audio data and is separated into channels (such as left and right for a stereo audio recording). Optional chunks include the silent ("slnt") chunk, which defines silent parts of the audio and the wave list ("wavl") chunk, which specifies the locations of silent sections. WAVE files may also include several other optional chunks, such as cue chunk, which marks specific points in the audio, and the info chunk, which is used to store metadata that describes the file.

The WAVE format supports several types of media compression, including Microsoft ADPCM, Yamaha ADPCM, a-law, µ-law, GSM, and MPEG compression. However, most WAVE files store data in an uncompressed (PCM) format. For example, most Windows programs that rip audio from CDs export the data as uncompressed WAVE files. These files maintain the original CD-quality audio, which includes two audio channels, a sample size of 16 bits, and a sampling rate of 44.1 KHz. This is identical to the uncompressed AIFF files exported by most Macintosh audio ripping utilities. Since the WAVE and AIFF formats are so similar, most DAW applications and audio programs can read and write both formats.

NOTE: While WAVE files contain binary data, you can tell if an audio file is saved in the WAVE format by dragging it to a text editor. The first several characters should read something similar to "RIFF WAVEfmt."

File extensions: .WAV, .WAVE

Updated: March 1, 2013

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