What Is a WMA File?

Several programs support this audio file format

What to Know

  • A WMA file is a Windows Media Audio file.
  • Play one with Windows Media Player, VLC, AllPlayer, or MPlayer.
  • Convert one to MP3, OGG, WAV, AAC, M4A, etc., with Zamzar.

This article explains what WMA files are and how to play one or convert one to a different audio format.

What Is a WMA File?

A file with the WMA file extension is a Windows Media Audio file. Microsoft created this lossy format to compete with MP3, so it's often used for streaming online music.

There are multiple sub-formats of WMA, including WMA Pro, a lossy codec that supports high-res audio; WMA Lossless, a lossless codec that compresses the audio without losing quality; and WMA Voice, a lossy codec meant for applications that support voice playback.

Also developed by Microsoft is the Windows Media Video file format, which uses the WMV extension.

ASF is a video and audio container format also developed by Microsoft that often contains WMA or WMV data.

How to Open a WMA File

Windows Media Player is the best program to use for playing WMA files because it's included in most versions of Windows. However, you can listen to WMA files in other operating systems with third-party software like VLC, MPC-HC, AllPlayer, and MPlayer.

Screenshot of Windows Media Player playing a WMA file
WMA File Open in Windows Media Player.

TwistedWave Online Audio Editor provides a quick way to play a WMA file in your browser if you don't have any of those programs installed on your computer. It works on any operating system.

If you need to play the file in a program or device (like an iPhone) that doesn't natively support the WMA format, you can just convert it to a different format that is supported, using one of the converters described below.

If you find that an application on your computer tries to open the file but it's the wrong application or you'd rather have another installed program open it, see our How to Change File Associations in Windows guide.

How to Convert a WMA File

Lots of free file converters can be used to convert a WMA file to another audio format like MP3, WAV, FLAC, M4A, or M4R, among others. Some of them have to be installed on your computer before you can use them, but others can run entirely in your web browser.

Freemake Audio Converter is one program you have to install in order to use. Because it supports batch file conversions, it can be used to easily save multiple WMA files to a different format.

You may prefer an online WMA converter because they work through your web browser, meaning you don't have to download the program before you can use it. This does mean, however, that you have to download the converted file back to your computer.

Zamzar is an example of an online WMA to MP3 converter, but it can also convert the file to WAV and several other formats, much like a downloadable converter.

Zamzar WMA to MP3 conversion page

Although most audio conversions involve converting the file to another audio format, it's also possible to "convert" the WMA file to text. This is useful if the file was created from a recording of someone talking. Software like Dragon can turn speech into text.

Still Can't Open It?

File formats sometimes use the same or similar file extension letters, and it can be confusing. You might think you have a WMA file, but it could be something that just looks like it has that file extension.

For example, WMF (Windows Metafile), WMZ (Compressed Windows Media Player Skin) and WML (Wireless Markup Language) files share some of the same letters as WMA but are in fact not used for the same purpose as this audio file format.

Some other examples include Windows Media Photo files that use the .WMP file extension, and WAM files (Worms Armageddon Mission). The GarageBand MagicMentor Template file format uses a few of the same letters, too, for .MWAND files.

Other Types of WMA File Formats

There are three sub-formats that a WMA file can exist in, in addition to Windows Media Audio:

  • Windows Media Audio Professional: This lossy codec is similar in that most of the same coding features are included. However, it also supports better entropy coding and more efficient stereo coding.
  • Windows Media Audio Lossless: This sub-format is intended to be used for archiving the WMA file since it compresses the audio data without losing any quality. Once decompressed, the audio is identical to the original. Typical compression levels fall between 1.7:1 and 3:1.
  • Windows Media Audio Voice: This codec uses compression that's higher than standard WMA, and competes with others like Speex and ACELP. WMA Voice is used for low-bandwidth voice programs.
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