Can MP3 Players Play WAV Files?

By Alan Bradford

Most MP3 players support a variety of audio file formats.
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The term "MP3 player" is somewhat deceptive and causes some consumers to believe that the device plays MP3 files exclusively. In fact, these players can play multiple formats of music files and may offer additional functionality such as video playback. Because multiple audio file formats are usually supported, you must determine which format best suits your needs.

Common Formats

Most MP3 players are capable of supporting multiple audio file types. In addition to MP3 files, common file formats include WAV, WMA, OGG, AAC, M4A and FLAC files. Some of these file extensions actually refer to file "containers," which contain the data for playing back the music, while other extensions describe the data itself. What's important to remember is that for virtually all MP3 players, WAV files are a widely supported file type.

MP3 and WAV Differences

One of the fundamental differences between the MP3 and WAV format is file size. WAV files typically do not use any kind of compression, so they are very large -- a song can be 50 megabytes or more! Back in the early days of MP3 players, 50 MB exceeded the available memory in many of these devices, so a "lossy" compression standard was developed called MP3. These files are much smaller but tend to degrade the quality of the audio.

MP3 Players

MP3 players are produced by a wide variety of technology companies. The most popular choices are the Apple iPod, Microsoft Zune and SanDisk Sansa. All three play WAV files. Some other MP3 player manufacturers that also support playback of the WAV digital audio format include Archos, Coby, Philips, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba. In addition to standard MP3 players, other devices are capable of WAV file playback, including many mobile phones and digital-capable home stereo systems.

File Conversion

It will be a rare occurrence if you encounter a digital audio device that does not support playback of the WAV file format. However, if you do, several free or low-cost tools are available that can convert WAV files into virtually any other audio file format, including MP3. Even if your device supports WAV file playback, you might wish to convert your WAV files to a smaller file format to conserve storage space and maximize the number of songs that can be stored on your device.