What is the difference between changing mp3 file extension to .wav and using a converter instead. I am speaking in terms of end result.

I thought mp3 and wav were actual different formats, but an extension replacement seems to be enough to have one or the other.

  • "but an extension replacement seems to be enough to have one or the other." Nope. they are entirely different formats.
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 9:50

1 Answer 1


The difference (in basic terms):

  • .mp3 is a compressed audio format: some of the information from the original signal is thrown away when you create an .mp3.
  • .wav is an uncompressed audio format. The output of the analog-to-digital conversion is stored 1:1.
  • when you use a converter program, it decompresses the .mp3 and creates a .wav file from the audio information in the .mp3 file. The .wav file is much larger than the .mp3 source file.
  • when you change the file name extension of an .mp3 file, the file format and file size do not change.

You don't see the difference because you have an audio player program that will play back .mp3 files even if they have the wrong extension. You don't hear the difference because the conversion from .mp3 to .wav cannot recover the information that was lost when creating the .mp3.

  • 1
    An MP3 "codec" will take mp3 data and transcode it to PCM data (not WAV).
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 9:52
  • Try and be clear about what you are intending to say. Converter programmes will generally contain many different codecs - allowing transcoding between many different codecs and containers. mp3 is just one type of data format. A codec is designed to recognise and decode this data. WAV files can contain PCM and other formats. Codecs don't work with File formats (containers), they work with data formats.
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 10:34
  • 1
    I'm not convinced that level of detail is required to answer this question.
    – Hobbes
    Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 19:50
  • @Mark The file command in Unix tells you the file format of files without the need for a "codec". file can distinguish between WAV and MP3, completely ignoring the file extension. Also for the OP to ask such a question, such details would certainly be overwhelming. Commented Dec 4, 2021 at 2:53

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.