What program do I need to play WMA files?

What are WMA Files?

WMA (Windows Media Audio) is an audio file format developed by Microsoft as an alternative to MP3 and other audio formats at the time. Originally introduced in 1999, WMA is based on the Advanced Systems Format (ASF) container format and uses advanced audio codecs to compress audio at high quality while keeping file sizes relatively small.

The “WMA” in WMA stands for Windows Media Audio. WMA audio files can contain various lossy and lossless audio codecs for optimal quality and compression, including WMA audio, WMA Pro, WMA Voice, WMA Lossless, and others. These codecs compress the raw audio data in different ways to reduce file size for convenient distribution, while aiming to preserve as much quality as possible.

Through its advanced compression and streaming capabilities, WMA became a popular format for encoding and distributing music and other audio content online in the early 2000s. Over time, other formats like MP3 and AAC have largely overtaken WMA, but WMA files are still widely supported by software and devices today.

WMA Advantages

WMA has several notable advantages over other audio formats like MP3 and AIFF:

Small File Size

WMA files achieve excellent audio compression, resulting in much smaller file sizes compared to formats like MP3, with similar or better sound quality. The compression techniques allow the same audio track to take up significantly less storage space.

DRM Support

The WMA format includes native support for Digital Rights Management (DRM). This allows content creators to control and limit how their copyrighted audio files are used. DRM can manage access control, set usage restrictions, and enforce licensing terms.

Wide Device Compatibility

WMA has widespread device and platform support. It can be played in Windows Media Player on Windows, in iTunes on macOS, and on many portable media players, smartphones, TVs, car stereos, and other consumer electronics.

WMA Disadvantages

WMA has several disadvantages as an audio format:

Firstly, it is a proprietary format owned by Microsoft. This means that support and compatibility rely on Microsoft’s decisions. Though Microsoft regularly updates the WMA format, there is no guarantee they will not withdraw support in the future.

Secondly, WMA files have wider compatibility issues compared to popular formats like MP3 and AAC. While most modern devices can play WMAs, some older hardware is unable to support the format.

Finally, WMA’s compression, even at higher quality settings, may result in lower audio quality compared to lossless formats like FLAC and WAV. So for archival and audiophile purposes, other formats provide superior sound quality.

Playing WMA Files on Windows

The most straightforward way to play WMA files on Windows is by using the built-in Windows Media Player application, which comes pre-installed on most Windows versions. Windows Media Player will play all versions of WMA files, including lossless WMA files, making it a versatile media player for the format (source).

To play a WMA file in Windows Media Player, simply open the application, go to the Library section, find the WMA file you want to play, double click on it or right click and select Play. You can also drag and drop WMA files directly into the Windows Media Player window.

In addition to the default media player, there are several popular third-party media players that can play WMA files on Windows, including:

  • VLC Media Player – a free, open source, cross-platform media player.
  • MediaMonkey – an advanced digital media player and media library application.
  • Winamp – a customizable media player with support for plugins and skins.
  • AIMP – an audio player focused on high-fidelity sound.

Most alternative media players for Windows offer greater format support, customization options, library management features, and tools for tagging and organizing your WMA files compared to Windows Media Player.

Playing WMA on Mac

Playing Windows Media Audio (WMA) files on a Mac can pose challenges since the format is developed by Microsoft and not natively supported on macOS. However, there are a few options to play WMA files on a Mac.

The easiest way is to install the Windows Media Components for QuickTime from Microsoft. This will allow QuickTime and iTunes to recognize and play WMA files. However, this component is not supported on the latest macOS versions.

Alternatively, you can use the popular open source media player VLC to play WMA files. VLC supports most media codecs out of the box. Just install VLC, open a WMA file, and it should play without issues.

Finally, there are also some third-party macOS apps on the Mac App Store which can play WMA files, like WMA Player Pro. These apps may offer added functionality but generally come with a price tag.

Playing WMA Files on Linux

There are a few options for playing WMA files on Linux operating systems. You will need to install additional codecs in order to decode and play WMA files properly on Linux.

The easiest way is to install the ubuntu-restricted-extras package which includes codecs for various proprietary media formats including WMA:

sudo apt-get install ubuntu-restricted-extras

Alternatively, you can install just the WMA codec packages such as w32codecs or w64codecs depending on your system architecture.

Once you have the proper codecs installed, media players like VLC or audacious should be able to play WMA files without issues. VLC in particular handles WMA files well across Linux distributions.

Using open source media players instead of proprietary ones will ensure you don’t run into codec or format limitations when playing WMA files on Linux.

Playing WMA on Mobile

iOS devices such as iPhone and iPod do not natively support playing WMA files due to format incompatibility. Meanwhile, most Android devices are able to play WMA files out of the box without any conversion needed. However, there are some exceptions.

On an iPhone or iPod Touch, you’ll need to first convert your WMA files to a compatible format like MP3 or AAC for playback. Some recommended options for WMA to iPhone conversion include:

iMyFone TunesMate – This application allows you to easily convert WMA files to MP3 in just a few clicks. Connect your iPhone, add WMA files, and convert them on-the-fly for immediate playback or syncing with your device library.

Wondershare UniConverter – Another program that enables batch conversion of WMA audio to formats playable on iPhone. Provides additional options like trimming, metadata editing, preset quality levels, adding effects, and more for optimum audio customization.

For Android, most modern devices from Samsung, LG, Sony, Motorola and others are capable of directly playing back WMA audio files without any conversion required. However certain older models or devices with custom ROMs may lack compatibility. For those, an Android audio conversion app can be used to convert files from WMA to MP3 format if needed.

Playing WMA in Car Stereos

The ability for car stereos to play WMA files depends on the specific model and its supported formats. Many newer car stereos, especially since 2010, often support playing WMA files directly from CDs or USB flash drives.

According to the owner’s manual, car stereos that list “WMA” under supported formats should be able to directly play unprotected WMA files without needing format conversion (Source: Steel Guitar Forum). However, some car stereos may only support certain WMA codecs and not lossless WMA files.

If your car stereo does not recognize WMA files, even new models, you may need to convert the WMA files to a compatible format like MP3 beforehand. The Classic Bluetooth Car Stereo by Auxx, for example, supports common formats like MP3, WAV, and FLAC but does not list WMA support (Source: Amazon).

So in summary, the ability to play WMA files depends entirely on your car stereo model and supported formats. Check your owner’s manual or the product specifications to confirm compatibility. Converting to a more widely supported format may be necessary in older car stereos without native WMA playback.

Converting WMA to Other Formats

Converting WMA files to more popular formats like MP3 and lossless formats like FLAC or ALAC enables playing WMA files on more devices and retaining audio quality when desired.

Converting WMA files to MP3 is recommended for wider compatibility across devices. Nearly all modern audio players support MP3, including phones, tablets, computers, stereos, and more. The steps for converting WMA to MP3 include:

Converting WMA files to lossless formats like FLAC or ALAC retains full audio quality, although file sizes increase dramatically. This conversion makes sense for archival purposes to preserve maximum fidelity.


When choosing a media player to play WMA files, there are good open source options available for most platforms. Here’s a summary of suggested media players for different devices and operating systems:

On Windows, the default Windows Media Player comes built-in for free and handles WMA playback well. Other options include VLC Media Player, MediaMonkey, and Winamp.

On the Mac, VLC Media Player is an excellent open-source, multiplatform choice. Alternatives include QuickTime Player which comes pre-installed on MacOS or MPlayerX as a free video player.

For Linux distributions, VLC Media Player is most commonly recommended. Audacious is another open-source option specifically tailored for audio formats including WMA.

When using mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, various apps from different app stores can handle WMA playback depending on the mobile OS. VLC for mobile is a cross-platform choice otherwise specific options like WinAmp for Android or iTunes for iOS may work better.

As for car stereos, compatibility varies so check your car stereo manual. Using a portable device paired by Bluetooth or aux input cable are simple ways to play WMA files in vehicles without native support.

Converting WMA files into more universally compatible formats like MP3 can help maximize device support and portability when needed.

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