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 (the regular WMA format is lossy). WMA Voice, targeted at voice content, applies compression using a range of low bit rates.
The first WMA codec was based on earlier work by Henrique Malvar and his team which was transferred to the Windows Media team at Microsoft. Malvar was a senior researcher and manager of the Signal Processing Group at Microsoft Research, whose team worked on the MSAudio project. The first finalized codec was initially referred to as MSAudio 4.0. It was later officially released as Windows Media Audio, as part of Windows Media Technologies 4.0. Microsoft claimed that WMA could produce files that were half the size of equivalent-quality MP3 files; Microsoft also claimed that WMA delivered "near CD-quality" audio at 64 kbit/s. The former claim however was rejected by some audiophiles. RealNetworks also challenged Microsoft's claims regarding WMA's superior audio quality compared to RealAudio.
Although earlier versions of Windows Media Player played WMA files, support for WMA file creation was not added until the seventh version.
All versions of WMA released since version 9.0 - namely 9.1, 9.2 and 10 - have been backwards compatible with the original v9 decoder and are therefore not considered separate codecs. The sole exception to this isthe WMA 10 Professional codec whose Low Bit Rate (LBR) mode is only backwards compatible with the older WMA Professional decoders at half sampling rate (similar to how HE-AAC is backwards compatible with AAC-LC). Full fidelity decoding of WMA 10 Professional LBR bitstreams requires a WMA version 10 or newer decoder.