Difference Between MP4 and WAV

MP4 vs WAV

MP4 and WAV are two file types used in computers, to store media files. They are developed in the 1990`s and early 2000`s, but still remains popular media file formats. MP4 is used for both audio and video while WAV can only be used for audio.


MP4 is a file container format developed by the Moving Pictures Experts Group for the International Standards Organization, and it is based on the QTFF. In fact the initial release of the format was nearly identical to the QTFF. Still they share the same structure, but MP4 has moved up the timeline and developed into a more advanced container. It is now a major component of the ISO base media file format standards.

Widely used data streams in the MP4 file format are MPEG-4 Part 10 (H.264) and MPEG-4 Part for video and Advanced Audio Coding for audio streams. Subtitles use the MPEG-4 Timed Text data stream.

Since the initial development was based on the QTFF, much of the structure of MPEG-4 is the same. In an Apple environment (MacOS or iOS), these file formats can be used interchangeably. The file format can be changed without actually re-encoding video. The MP4 has the advantage of being able to stream over the internet while QTFF does not support this. Also, MP4 is supported by most of the OS platforms and video editing software. The community around the standard has grown, and contributions from the community have ensured the progress of the standard in the industry; something QTFF does not enjoy due to its proprietary nature.

MPEG4 files use the .mp4 extension in general, but depending on the application extension used may differ. For example the audio only file can use the .m4a extension. Raw MPEG4 video bit streams are given the .m4v extension. The video file formats used in the mobile phones are also a development from the MPEG4-12, and they use the .3gp and .3g2 extensions. Audio books use the .m4b extension because variation in the code allows bookmarking the audio file.


WAV or Waveform Audio File Format is a file format developed by Microsoft and IBM for PCs, and it is a derivation from the Microsoft Resource Interchange File Format (RIFF). This method stores media files as data chunks. A WAV file is generally a RIFF file with a single “WAV” chunk which consists of two sub-chunks called fmt and data. WAV is the main audio file format used in windows based software for quality audio.

WAV is a lossless file format; therefore, no compression is done during the encoding of the data stream in linear pulse code modulation. Raw and uncompressed audio files are often generated in WAV format in windows. It can be easily manipulated and edited, and professionals prefer WAV for higher quality. Despite its primary usage as uncompressed file container, WAV can hold compressed audio too, compressed by the Windows Audio Compression Manager.

Due to uncompressed file encoding, the WAV files tend to be large; therefore, not a popular file format for transferring over the internet. However, it remains popular due to its simplicity and quality.

MP4 vs WAV

• MP4 and WAV are two media file formats. MP4 can contain both audio and video, and additional bit streams such as text. WAV is an audio file format.

• MP4 was developed by the Moving Pictures Experts Group (MPEG) of ISO while WAV was developed by Microsoft and IBM.

• MP4 is based on the Quick Time File Format, and it is an industry standard. WAV is a derivation from the Microsoft RIFF and initially a proprietary format. But it later became an industry standard due to its popularity.

• MP4 is a lossy file format using compression during the encoding. WAV is a lossless file format and uses linear pulse code modulation format. If needed, compressed audio can be used in a WAV file, but it is not a common practice.

• Due to data compression, MP4 files are smaller compared to WAV. But WAV has better quality.

• MP4 files are used in file transfers over the internet while WAV files are less likely to be used in the same capacity because of the larger file size.