WAV vs. MP3
Time to understand the difference between WAV and MP3 files. Here, you’ll find a detailed MP3 vs. WAV comparison and will learn to convert MP3 to WAV.
A convenient and widely-used coding format for digital audio using lossy compression for smaller file sizes.
Waveform Audio File Format. A high-quality uncompressed audio file format.
IBM and Microsoft
If you want to be able to easily convert media from one file format to another, Movavi Video Converter is an amazing choice even for audio files. The program can recognize and convert media files in over 180 different file formats, and you can even use the editor to add effects and edit the media before you export it as WAV, MP3, or whatever file type you want. Top Ten Reviews recently claimed that Movavi Video Converter is the fastest converter they tested, so you can quickly perform a WAV vs. MP3 test and discover which of the file types is best for you, or convert to ensure compatibility with your device and project.
MP3 vs. WAV: Differences between WAV and MP3
What is WAV?
WAV files are raw audio files, originally made by Microsoft and IBM. They are container files that store the sample itself, track numbers, and other information about the sample and bit rates.
Typically, they are uncompressed audio files, but they can support some forms of compression if needed. Generally speaking, though, they contain lossless audio which means a lot more detail stored in the file. The downside of this is that the files can be much bigger, with some as large as 4 GB in size.
Pros and cons of WAV files
Usually far better quality. The lossless nature of the files retains more of the original audio and this means they tend to sound much better and keep all of the data intended upon recording.
Compatibility. While the majority of computers and audio editing software recognizes WAV files, you may find that there are some options that don’t. For example, you can’t upload WAV files directly to YouTube. Some other video and audio hosting sites have the same policy.
Perfect for editing projects such as adding to a video, or using in music production and editing such as within your DAW.
Prohibitive file sizes. While this is less of an issue than it used to be due to cloud storage and the increase in hard drive size, it is not as much of a problem, but sending big WAV files can also be tough.
Industry standard for recording. If you are recording sound at home such as creating a podcast or recording yourself playing an instrument, you should record directly to WAV to ensure the most possible detail.
What is MP3?
MP3 files are a lossy version of audio files, they have a compression algorithm within which means a much smaller overall file size. The compression that takes place can’t be reversed, so data gets lost. This is why we call it “lossy”.
This loss of data doesn’t have to mean too much audio quality gets lost, but it can reduce the file types, sometimes up to 80 or 90% in an MP3 vs. WAV test. For instance, a 25 MB WAV file could possibly be compressed to around a 3-4 MB MP3 file.
MP3 files are incredibly widespread due to the fact that the compression usually does a very good job of retaining audio, but also reduces the file size so much. In the days of smaller hard drives on MP3 players and computers, this was especially useful.
Pros and cons of MP3 files
Compression means that the files are usually much smaller and therefore it is possible to store more of them on your device.
Some audio data inevitably gets lost along the way. The file type is lossy by definition.
Exceptional compatibility. MP3 files are compatible with virtually every device having been industry-standard for a long time, as well as upload options for websites.
There is the possibility of "compression artifacts" which can leave unwanted noise such as hissing in the file.
Plenty of options for different bitrates and quality in the files.
Most commonly, WAV audio format files are uncompressed audio, encoded in the linear pulse-code modulation (LPCM) format.
24-bit options are better in terms of data than 16-bit options.
The MP3 files can be encoded in a variety of different ways, with audio up to 16-bit with 320 kbps maximum bitrate.
As for the WAV vs. MP3 quality, WAV files are almost always better, but this depends on a few other factors. For instance, WAV files can sometimes be compressed, and this means they can be lossy. In this scenario, an MP3 file could have more detail than the WAV alternative.
When comparing MP3 versus WAV, it is usually a fair assumption that WAV files usually hold more data and therefore are better in quality. If you recorded the same sound from the same microphone to a WAV file, it would be better quality and contain more data than an MP3 recorded in the same method.
As we’ve already briefly mentioned, the compression of an MP3 file plays a big part in it losing some of its quality. As this is a lossy file, it will inevitably lose quite a lot of the audio, but for non-audiophiles or sound systems that are not that great, you won’t hear too much difference. Historically they have been used for the convenience factor.
WAV files are much bigger in general as they store far more data. This is why they are considered a professional audio format. Lossless audio means that you can hear more data through your sound system, too.
Both MP3 and WAV have fairly wide compatibility. WAV files are playable on Apple and Android devices, for instance. You will find some software options where WAV files cannot be used, but generally, they tend to be compatible with most modern media players.
MP3s have even wider compatibility. As they have been industry-standard for over 20 years, you will struggle to find audio systems that don’t recognize them. The big difference between MP3 and WAV, besides the quality difference, is compatibility.
Playback tends to be smooth for either WAV or MP3, but it is worth considering the source of the audio. If you are streaming the audio then WAV files can take longer, and you could get more buffering. If you want to know if MP3 or WAV is better for streaming, then the answer is definitely going to be MP3 if you are on limited bandwidth.
The need for special software
It is becoming increasingly rare, but some devices may need special software to play an MP3 or WAV file. Usually, this will be a WAV file, which some Android devices might need an extra media player to understand and play.
Also, if you are looking to upload the file somewhere, WAV does not have the same level of compatibility. For example, you are not able to upload WAV files to YouTube, so you may need special software such as Movavi Video Converter to change the file to a compatible format.
WAV or MP3: Test
We performed a side-by-side test of a lossless WAV file and a lossy MP3 to test out the sound firsthand.
Of course, the more the audio has in terms of harmonic frequencies, the more likely it is that there is going to be a difference.
We tested a 24-bit WAV file and also ran it through a quick MP3 encoder to get a proper WAV versus MP3 test. Is MP3 or WAV better? Well, there are no surprises there. Converting the file format using an MP3 encoder noticeably lost some detail, especially in the high-end frequencies. It felt like the songs we tested lost a little brightness, and some of the instruments felt a little flat as a result.
This was testing with a 320 kbps MP3, too. If you were to test with a lower quality file then you may find even more data gets lost.
The flipside, as you would expect, is the fact that the MP3 file, even at its highest possible quality, was 1/3rd of the size. Even though a lot of quality got lost, it didn’t lose 2/3rds of its data, so you can definitely see why MP3 files have such widespread usage.
Now, we suggest you listen to the same music piece in the MP3 and WAV formats. See if you can hear the difference!
Frequency chart for the MP3 file
Frequency chart for the WAV file
MP3 or WAV: How to choose
So, is WAV or MP3 the best for the sound quality of your project?
It depends on a few different factors, but this is definitely something you should think about beforehand and have a clear plan for. In many simple projects, you might be perfectly happy using an MP3 file. For example, if you are making a home video of your recent holiday and you can’t find a WAV file, then an MP3 file of the audio will be fine in the majority of instances.
However, let’s say you are trying to make a high-quality recording of your guitar playing. A WAV file is going to be much bigger, take up more space on your hard drive, or cost more to store on the cloud, but it is likely to provide you with a far better end result. Audiophiles will definitely be able to tell the difference.
Also, if you are working with other audio professionals, the chances are that they will expect high-quality WAV files to be the choice you’ve made. If you make a home recording and then send it to a producer to edit, they are going to expect a WAV file as it has more detail. Even if the file is eventually mixed down to an MP3, having the raw WAV file to work with gives you more options for audio.
In summary, both MP3 and WAV files have their merits and might be suitable for your project. Need to store a huge amount of audio data? MP3 files might be the solution, as WAV files can be prohibitively large. It is important to give it some thought.
How to convert files
If you want to change the format of your files, use Movavi Video Converter. It’s a handy conversion app that supports over 180 media formats and lets you edit your files.
Here's how to use Movavi Video Converter to convert audio:
First, download and install Movavi Video Converter to your device. This program is available on both Windows and Mac here on the Movavi website.
Follow the instructions to install. Once the program has been installed you can launch it and add the file(s) you want to convert. Click Add Media in the top-left corner and browse your files to find the audio that you want to add. The program also supports drag and drop functionality.
Next, you need to choose the format you want to convert the audio files to. Click on the Audio tab at the bottom of the screen and choose which format you plan to convert to.
To start the conversion, click on the Save to button in the bottom right. Choose a destination on your computer and then click on the Convert button.
Movavi Video Converter
Frequently asked questions
Is WAV better than MP3?
WAV files are not always better than MP3 files. They may be compressed and contain less data, though the majority of WAV files are lossless. For professional applications, WAV is often better, but MP3s serve a purpose and are good for fast streaming and communication and for storing a lot of files. It isn’t all about the audio quality when comparing WAV files vs. MP3, and there are a lot of applications where MP3 is preferable.
Is WAV or MP3 better quality?
In general, WAV files are better quality than MP3 files, but this isn’t always the case if the WAV file has been compressed. A lossless WAV file is always best for recording and for carrying high-quality audio files. MP3 files are not bad quality but WAV is more elite. Think of it as a higher resolution version of a television show or film, there is more detail in the “higher definition”. This is a good analogy for WAV vs. MP3.
What is the difference between MP3 and WAV?
MP3 files are much smaller and have been compressed so they lose some data. WAV files are usually lossless and have not been compressed, so they have more data. This means more in terms of file size, but also usually means better quality of audio and more options for editing.
Should I upload MP3 or WAV to YouTube?
You need to upload an MP3 file to YouTube as WAV files aren’t supported, possibly due to their huge size. If you need to, you can convert WAV to MP3, which makes it more widely compatible with certain uploading options both on YouTube and other sites, such as social media.
Does MP3 sound worse than WAV?
MP3 files don’t usually have the same level of quality that WAV files do. As our MP3 vs. WAV quality test showed, WAV files retain more of the finer details, but we are used to hearing MP3 files and they certainly aren’t bad quality, especially when converted and encoded with a higher bitrate. They may not have as much information, but MP3 files are still very good audio files.
Do DJs use MP3 or WAV?
Whether DJs use MP3 or WAV files is usually a judgment call for each individual to make. A 320kbps MP3 is usually high enough in quality to be used even in big venues, but a DJ should also trust their own hearing and if a WAV file sounds better, they could use it instead. Of course, this means more data to store. WAV files may also be more expensive, so each DJ will have their own method.
Which is bigger, WAV or MP3?
In almost every scenario, WAV files are bigger than MP3 files due to the fact they usually haven’t been compressed. It is possible for an MP3 file to be bigger, but it is rare. Of course, the length of the files play a part. For the same song, a lossless WAV file will always be bigger than the equivalent compressed MP3 due to the fact that there is more data within the file. In some situations, an MP3 of a song can be at least 80% smaller than the WAV file of the same song.
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