Windows Media Audio (WMA) is an audio data compression technology developed by Microsoft. The name can be used to refer to its audio file format or its audio codecs. It is a proprietary technology that forms part of the Windows Media framework. WMA consists of four distinct codecs. The original WMA codec, known simply as WMA, was conceived as a competitor to the popular MP3 and RealAudio codecs. WMA Pro, a newer and more advanced codec, supports multichannel and high resolution audio. A lossless codec, WMA Lossless, compresses audio data without loss of audio fidelity. WMA Voice, targeted at voice content, applies compression using a range of low bit rates.
A WMA file is in most circumstances encapsulated, or contained, in the Advanced Systems Format (ASF) container format, featuring a single audio track in one of following codecs: WMA, WMA Pro, WMA Lossless, or WMA Voice. These codecs are technically distinct and mutually incompatible. The ASF container format specifies how metadata about the file is to be encoded, similar to the ID3 tags used by MP3 files. Metadata may include song name, track number, artist name, and also audio normalization values.
This container can optionally support digital rights management (DRM) using a combination of elliptic curve cryptography key exchange, DES block cipher, a custom block cipher, RC4 stream cipher and the SHA-1 hashing function. See Windows Media DRM for further information.
Windows Media Audio 9
This codec samples audio at 44.1 or 48 kilohertz (kHz) using 16 bits, similar to the current CD standard, offering CD quality at data rates from 64 to 192 kilobits per second (Kbps). The resulting sound quality is 20 percent better than audio sampled with Windows Media Audio 8 at equivalent data rates.
The Windows Media Audio 9 codec (WMA 9) supports variable bit rate encoding (VBR), which enables even higher quality audio at smaller file sizes by automatically varying the encoding bit rate according to the complexity of the audio data. With VBR, the encoding bit rate increases to capture complex sections of data and then decreases to maximize the compression of the less complex sections, producing compact, high-quality compression.
WMA 9 is backward-compatible with previous Windows Media Audio-compatible decoders, which means that WMA 9 content can be played with previous versions of Windows Media Player or older consumer electronic devices that support Windows Media. As with all Windows Media 9 Series codecs, it supports the Windows Media digital rights management platform, which is used to securely package and distribute copy-protected digital media.
Windows Media Audio 10 Professional
Windows Media Audio 10 Professional (WMA 10 Pro) is the most flexible Windows Media audio codec available – supporting profiles that include everything from full-resolution 24-bit/96 kHz audio in stereo, 5.1 channel, or even 7.1 channel surround sound, to highly efficient mobile capabilities at 24 Kbps to 96 Kbps for stereo, and 128 Kbps to 256 Kbps for 5.1-channel sound. WMA 10 Pro offers incredible quality for consumers using high-fidelity hardware and 5.1 channel surround sound-equipped computers -– and for consumers playing audio content on their mobile devices. WMA 10 Pro supports streaming, progressive download, or download-and-play delivery at 128 to 768 Kbps.
When using 5.1 surround sound audio compressed at 384 Kbps with WMA 10 Pro, most listeners cannot discern any differences between the compressed music and the original pulse code modulation (PCM) files. WMA Pro also offers dynamic range control using the maximum and average audio amplitudes that are calculated during the encoding process. Using the Quiet Mode feature in Windows Media Player 9 and later, users can hear either the full dynamic range, a medium difference range up to 12 decibels (dB) above the average, or a little difference range up to 6 dB above the average.
If a user tries to play back a file that was encoded using the 5.1 channel, 24-bit, 96 kHz sampling capabilities, but does not have a system or sound card that supports multi-channel or high-resolution sound, multiple channels are combined into stereo audio (for example, 16-bit, two channel audio), ensuring that users get the best playback experience their systems can provide.
Windows Media Audio 9 Lossless
The audio quality of content that is compressed using this codec is the best of all Windows Media Audio codecs. It creates a bit-for-bit duplicate of the original audio file so that no data is lost, which makes it ideal for archiving content masters.
Depending on the complexity of the original, content will be compressed at a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio. Although this is lower than the ratio achieved with other Windows Media Audio 9 Series codecs, it provides the same benefits of compression while leaving the data intact.
Like Windows Media Audio 9 Professional, the Windows Media Audio 9 Lossless codec also offers dynamic range control using the maximum and average audio amplitudes that are calculated during the encoding process. Using the Quiet Mode feature in Windows Media Player 9 and later, users can hear the full dynamic range, a medium difference range up to 12 dB above the average, or a little difference range up to 6 dB above the average.
Windows Media Audio 9 Voice
This low-bit-rate codec is primarily targeted for speech content, but performs very well with mixed-mode content that includes both voice and music. In voice mode, the codec takes advantage of the relatively less complicated and narrower frequency range of the human voice to maximize compression. In music mode, the codec operates like the standard Windows Media Audio 9 codec. Encoded content can be configured to switch between voice and music modes automatically.
The Windows Media Audio 9 Voice codec offers superior quality for low-bit-rate streaming scenarios (less than 20 Kbps), such as radio broadcasts, advertising, e-books, podcasts, and voiceovers. The voice codec can also compress content to as low as 4 Kbps at 8 kHz.
Download free samples:
You can visit this Microsoft site for free WMA sample downloads.
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