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Windows Media Audio

In 2000, Microsoft Corporation released the latest version (7.0) of the normally boring, Windows Media Player 7. It included capability to play back a brand new audio format called Windows Media Audio (*.wma). To everyone's surprise, this is a fantastic upgrade. Microsoft must have thrown some big money into this project. In one fell swoop, WMA might make both RealAudio and MP3 files obsolete. Most information on this page are excerpted from the October 2000 issue of Electronic Musician (EM) magazine.

Microsoft claims WMA offers the same audio quality at half the file size of comparable MP3. While most people know we must take Microsoft claims "with a grain of salt", there apparently is some truth in their marketing hype. Electronic Musician tested these claims by encoding music in all 3 formats: RealAudio G2, MP3, and WMA, and at varying sample rates. 

Comparison to MP3 Files

Microsoft's claim that (WMA) "produces files that are half the size of equivalent-quality MP3 files" appears to be very close to the truth. EM states "the comparison to MP3 is hard to argue with, especially when listening through typical computer speakers. At 64Kbps, WMA matches the reasonably smooth character of MP3 at 128 Mbps."

"Most people listening through common car stereos, boom boxes, or portable headphones would find it hard to distinguish audio encoded at this bit rate from the original source. At 128 Kbps (Mp3's 10:0 data compression ratio), this is impressive enough, but at 64 Kbps. WMA manages a better than a 20:1 compression."

Other WMA Advantages and Considerations

Aside from the significantly improved audio quality offered at similar bit rates when compared to both RealAudio G2 and MP3, WMA offers these advantages:

  • Only one file format required for both streaming-quality and CD-quality music

  • Windows Media Player 7.0 plays back both MP3 and WMA without plug-ins

  • SDMI* encryption capable for copy protection (see below)

  • Live broadcast capable

  • Current and future versions of Windows automatically configured for WMA

  • Next-generation MP3 Portable Player Support (Diamond, Sony, RCA, Creative Labs)

  • Support for e-commerce and pay-per-view