How to play WMA files

In this guide we will go through the options to play WMA audio files. WMA is one of the most popular audio codecs, only behind MP3 and possibly now AAC. There are many programs that can do this, and we will go over the easiest as well as the standard program, Windows Media Player.


Before getting started it is important to read up a bit on what exactly WMA is.

WMA stands for Windows Media Audio. It is a proprietary audio format owned by Microsoft, part of Microsoft's Windows Media technology.

Initially intended to combat the increasingly popular MP3 format, WMA was supposed to be Microsoft's answer to digital music. With the massive influx of constant bitrate, high quality, low file size MP3s flooding the Internet, it soon became clear to Microsoft that they would not be a direct competition for the format.

Thats not to say Microsoft didn't put their heart and soul into development of this audio format. Its configurable to be cbr, vbr and lossless audio encoding for a wide variety of options.

Encapsulated in an ASF container, WMA has one ability that seems to attract more and more businesses and allows this format to stick around. Thats the easy inclusion of DRM or Digital Rights Management directly into the WMA file. This ASF container also gives the WMA two file options. (.wma for strictly audio and .asf for features simliar to ID3 tags in MP3s)

Now that you are more acquainted with what the format is we can get started on how to play it back on your PC.

The Easiest Method

The easiest method is of course to use Microsoft's proprietary media player, Windows Media Player. Windows Media Player comes pre-installed on every Windows machine and will play WMA right out of the gate. Because many Windows users already use WMP as their de-facto media player, it may be smart just to use WMP to playback your WMA files. However, there are many other options if you do not like to use Windows Media Player or prefer another player.

Download the latest WMP here at AfterDawn: Download Windows Media Player here.


The second most popular media player must be Apple's iTunes, especially with the spectacular popularity of the Apple iPod line of devices. iTunes plays WMA files, but first it will transcode them on the fly to its own proprietary AAC codec. This is a nifty feature if you sync to your iPod on a regular basis as the iPod will not read WMA files if they have not been transcoded. iTunes is just as popular if not more than WMP and will play WMA files after they are transcoded (very quick process) making it a viable alternative.

Download the latest iTunes here at AfterDawn: Download iTunes here.

But I don't like Apple or Microsoft!

If you just made that statement or simply like more lite programs that do not take up as much resources, you are in luck. There are two excellent alternatives out there for users like you, and each will play WMA files without a hitch.


WinAmp is a lighter, more open media player that plays mostly all types of music formats, and WMA is no different. No transcoding or plug-ins necessary. Just add to the media library or double click and play away.

Download the latest WinAmp from Afterdawn: Download WinAmp here.


Foobar is open source, extremely light and will play any audio codec you throw at it. It was an excellent range of plugins as well, but WMA playback is native, as of version 0.9. Foobar is another great alternative to the "big boys" of media players if you don't like all the bloat.

You can download the latest version of Foobar here at Afterdawn: Download Foobar 0.9 and above here.

Other Methods

There are also a few video players that playback WMA files without a hitch, via drag and drop or through opening the file. These players are VLC, MPlayer and RealPlayer. You can download each of these here at AfterDawn as well.

Download VLC here.

Download MPlayer here

Download RealPlayer here

Of those three, I would highly recommend VLC as it is an excellent multimedia player overall.

Finishing Up

Ok now that you have learned a few methods to play back your WMA files and learnt a bit about the actual meaning behind the file type, it is your choice to choose what software you want to use as your audio or multimedia player. If you are going based on my recommendations, then I use WinAmp for my audio files. For me it works excellent. If you have any questions please post them in our Discussion Forums. I hope this guide has been informative. Enjoy :)

Version History

v1.0 -- First Version Published-- by DVDBack23 (27/07/2008)
Written by: Andre Yoskowitz