Windows Media Audio (WMA) is an audio data compression technology developed by Microsoft. The name can be used to refer to its audio file format or its audio codecs. It is a proprietary technology that forms part of the Windows Media framework. WMA consists of four distinct codecs. The original WMA codec, known simply as WMA, was conceived as a competitor to the popular MP3 and RealAudio codecs.
WMA Pro, a newer and more advanced codec, supports multichannel and high resolution audio. A lossless codec, WMA Lossless, compresses audio data without loss of audio fidelity. The regular WMA format is not lossless). And WMA Voice, targeted at voice content, applies compression using a range of low bit rates.
A WMA file is in most circumstances encapsulated, or contained, in the Advanced Systems Format (ASF) container format, featuring a single audio track in one of following codecs: WMA, WMA Pro, WMA Lossless, or WMA Voice. These codecs are technically distinct and mutually incompatible.
The ASF container format specifies how metadata about the file is to be encoded, similar to the ID3 tags used by MP3 files. Metadata may include song name, track number, artist name, and also audio normalization values.
Microsoft claims that audio encoded with WMA sounds better than MP3 at the same bit rate; Microsoft also claims that audio encoded with WMA at lower bit rates sound better than MP3 at higher bit rates. Double blind listening tests with other lossy audio codecs have shown varying results, from failure to support Microsoft's claims about its superior quality to supremacy over other codecs. One independent test conducted in May 2004 at 128 kbit/s showed that WMA was roughly equivalent to LAME MP3; inferior to AAC and Vorbis.
Apart from Windows Media Player, most of the WMA compression formats can be played using ALLPlayer, VLC media player, MPlayer, RealPlayer, Winamp, Zune Software (with certain limitations-DSP plugin support and DirectSound output is disabled using the default WMA plugin), and many other software media players. The Microsoft Zune media management software supports most WMA codecs, but uses a variation of Windows Media DRM which is used by PlaysForSure.
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