What is the WMA Pro Format?

Information on the Windows Media Audio Professional format

Native American Woman at a Recording Console

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If you use Windows Media Player then you might have seen the option to rip to the WMA Pro format. But, what exactly is it?

The WMA Pro format (short for Windows Media Audio Professional) is often thought of as a lossless codec similar to others like FLAC and ALAC for example. But, it is actually a lossy codec. It forms part of Microsoft's Windows Media Audio set of codecs, which also includes WMA, WMA Lossless, and WMA Voice.

How Is It Superior to the Standard WMA Format?

The WMA Pro compression scheme shares a lot of similarities with the standard WMA version, but has a few enhanced features worth highlighting.

Microsoft has developed the WMA Pro format to be a more flexible option than WMA. As well as being able to efficiently encode audio at low bit rates, it is also capable of high-resolution encoding. It has 24-bit support with sampling rates up to 96 kHz. WMA Pro is also capable of producing audio tracks with 7.1 surround sound (8 channels).

Audio quality using the pro version of WMA is also usually better. It can be ideal if you want higher quality audio files at lower bitrates than standard WMA. When space is limited (such as a portable media player), and you want to stay in Microsoft's ecosystem, then WMA Pro is a good solution.

Compatibility With Hardware Devices

Even though the WMA Pro format has been out for quite some time, it still hasn't managed to gain wide support from hardware manufacturers. If one of your goals is to use a portable device for listening to digital music, then it is worth checking first to see if the device in question supports the WMA Pro format. If it doesn't, then you will either need to stay with the standard version of WMA or go for an alternative non-Microsoft format that's supported by your portable.

Is It Worth Using for Building up a Digital Music Library?

Whether you use WMA Pro or not really depends on how you are going to listen to your digital music collection. If you currently have a music library that is (mostly) based on the standard WMA format and has come from a lossless source (like your original music CDs), then you may want to explore the WMA Pro option.

Obviously, there isn't a gain from directly converting existing WMA audio files to WMA Pro (this will cause quality loss), so you'll have to think about whether the time necessary to re-encode the music again is worth it. However, if you want to keep using one of Microsoft's lossy codecs then using WMA Pro will give you a better quality digital music library than just WMA.