A waveform audio file, also known as a wave file, or simply .wav after its extension, is a common type of sound file. Microsoft and IBM introduced the wav file in 1991 for use on the Microsoft Windows 3.1 operation system (OS). Long before digital audio became a staple, computer users were exposed to the wav file as an embedded sound file that played a chime-like sound at boot up of the Windows operating system.
The wav file had two very big things going for it when introduced. Firstly, it could digitize sounds 100% faithful to the original source because it is a lossless format. “Lossless” means that the wav file format does not compromise audio quality even when it holds compressed data. Secondly, the wav file is very easy to edit and manipulate with software. Luckily for audiophiles, free wav file editing software has been available nearly as long as wav files themselves.
While the wav file format was ideal for sound effects, it had a drawback when it came to music files. One four-minute song could easily consume over 35 megabytes (MB) of space when saved as a wav file. Though the cost of hard drives dropped over the years, the wav file format was still too large for portable players with limited flash memory, which would become ubiquitous by the new millennium. Additionally, wav files were not the most practical format to transfer online, especially over slow dial-up connections.
Today the wav file format is still widely used to archive music files in a lossless format where space is not an issue. Some CD and DVD players can also read wav files copied directly to a compact disk. More often, software that burns the files to CD will convert them in the process to the Compact Disk Audio (.cda) format, making the audio CD compatible with all players.