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Does WAV Support metadata? The short answer to that question is NO. However, I’ve dedicated the rest of this article to explaining why you’d want to consider working with AIFF (in addition WAV). I’ll also be demonstrating how to embed “temporary” metadata to WAV/AIFF files and how to take advantage of acoustic fingerprinting technology.
By now, you should be aware that WAV files cannot hold metadata. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t “attach” metadata using ID3 Tags (more on this later). Another alternative you could consider is acoustic fingerprinting technology like Acoustic ID (more on this later). On the other hand, you could simply choose to work with Apple Interchangeable File Format (AIFF) since it possesses the ability to hold “permanent” metadata (unlike WAV). Regardless of the method(s) you decided to work with, we’ll be covering everything in this article so that you can make well-educated decisions!
- WAV vs AIFF
- What are ID3 Tags?
- What is AcousticID (acoustic fingerprinting)
- Do WAV files have ID3 Tags?
- WAV metadata editor (that supports ID3 Tags)
- Does AIFF support metadata?
- AIFF metadata editor (that supports AcousticID)
- What are the disadvantages of AIFF?
- Using MusicBrainz Picard to manage your music metadata and database
WAV vs AIFF
Is one really better than the other? It depends who you ask, but I’d argue that AIFF is superior to WAV because it has the ability to store metadata “permanently” (that means within the file). The only way to “attach” metadata to WAV files would be to use ID3 Tags.
In terms of sound quality, WAV and AIFF are identical.
They’re both lossless which means there’s NO file compression whatsoever.
So, you may be wondering why we’re still using WAV if AIFF is clearly the better choice. We need to understand that the music industry has only recently undergone one of the biggest changes in its ENTIRE history.
I’m talking about the rise of music streaming services (Spotify, Apple Music, etc…).
More specifically, I’m talking about the introduction of “high definition” music. Certain marketplaces already offer digital copies of lossless music, but the music streaming services will soon be following suit.
Prior to all of this, compact discs (CDs) were the only medium that offered “high definition” music in digital format…
In those days, metadata was written directly to the CD (not the WAV files).
If you’ve ever imported music from CDs, you know that the metadata doesn’t follow.
That’s why I’ll be proposing the use of AIFF instead of WAV. We’ll be talking more about the specifics as the article develops but first, we need to consider how to accommodate any current WAV assets that you may have gathered over the years.
That’s where ID3 Tags and acoustic fingerprinting comes into play!
What are ID3 Tags?
From what I understand, ID3 Tags are simply containers of metadata that can be “attached” to audio files. However, this isn’t the same process as embedding metadata INSIDE an audio file. That’s why WAV files have a significant drawback when compared to AIFF files.
Just keep in mind that both of these file formats can work with ID3 Tags.
ID3 Tags can be read by most media players and devices such as…
- Windows Media Player
- Creative Zen
- Samsung Galaxy
- Sony Walkman
The tag itself is either inserted before or after the audio file. However, any other files derived from this original file won’t “inherit” the metadata from the previous file. That’s when things could afford to become more efficient.
By using AIFF files instead, you could always refer back to the original metadata.
This original metadata can be used to create subsequent ID3 Tags for other file formats.
If you’ve been using WAV up until this point though, you may find it difficult to convert your entire musical database to the AIFF file format. It could take hours to sift through thousands of tracks!
That’s why we’ll be considering AcousticID (acoustic fingerprinting) in the next section.
What is AcousticID (acoustic fingerprinting)
AcousticID is the way of the future and will forever change music metadata. It’s very similar to the technology used in apps like Shazam. The only difference is we’re the ones that will be “fingerprinting” our own music and submitting it.
The MusicBrainz metadata database is currently one of the most significant.
Audio files can be scanned using their FREE open-source software. If the search returns with no results, you can then proceed to submitting your project’s AcousticID along with the corresponding metadata using the application.
Once your track has been registered in their database, you’ll never need metadata again!
Okay you’ll still be USING metadata, but you’ll only need an audio sample of your song to identify using the MusicBrainz database. That means that the second-time around, your track will be recognized by the software (as long as you’re online).
That means that your audio will be recognized REGARDLESS of file format.
If you haven’t caught on yet, this is really beneficial for anyone wanting to embed metadata to their entire musical database without needing to manually input the data into each individual file.
I highly recommend working with AcousticID regardless of the file formats you use.
It just makes your job (or someone else’s) that much easier!
Do WAV files have ID3 Tags?
Instead of working with “permanent” metadata, you’ll need to settle with ID3 Tags if you’re planning on sticking to WAV files. You’ll also need the appropriate software that’ll allow you to create those metadata containers.
However, is that really the most efficient method?
As previously mentioned, derivative versions of your original audio file won’t “inherit” the metadata from the WAV file embedded with an ID3 Tag. It’s the same principle as ripping CDs; there’s no metadata that follows.
This means that your metadata could potentially get lost along the way…
Remember, you’ll need that metadata to make sure you’re receiving your royalties and being found by potential listeners. MILLIONS (yes, you hear that right) of dollars of royalties are lost yearly because of improper metadata and meta tagging.
Think of it like sending a message in a bottle.
The ID3 Tag is like the bottle, but the “permanent” metadata of AIFF files is like the message inside the bottle. Even if the bottle breaks, the message is still salvageable.
However, there are times when you may not have the option.
In those cases, make sure to embed your WAV files with ID3 Tags.
WAV metadata editor (that supports ID3 Tags)
There are many applications that now support ID3 Tags for WAV files. However, the application I’ll be recommending for acoustic fingerprinting DOESN’T support metadata for WAV files. In other words, you’ll be needing one of these applications AND the other one.
Here are some of the best WAV metadata editors:
Just make sure to check your work. Once they’ve been processed, test your files by playing them in various media players and devices to see if the metadata is present.
Does AIFF support metadata?
One of the biggest advantages of AIFF is that it supports metadata. More specifically, it supports “permanent” metadata which gives us much more flexibility. The ability to input more information is essential for those of us managing musical databases.
In other words, AIFF is ideal if you’re planning on creating your own musical database.
The original file always retains the original metadata in “chunks”:
- Common Chunk
- Sound Data Chunk
- Marker Chunk
- Instrument Chunk
- Comment Chunk
- Name Chunk
- Author Chunk
- Copyright Chunk
- Annotation Chunk
- Audio Recording Chunk
- MIDI Data Chunk
- Application Chunk
- ID3 Chunk
That’s a lot of rich metadata…
You’ll also notice that some of these “chunks” make reference to features present in Apple’s Logic Pro music production software. It’s not surprising that Apple’s file format benefits users of its proprietary software.
However, the most important “chunks” are those that make reference to ISRC/ISWC.
Embedding those codes properly can make the difference between you receiving your royalties or NOT receiving your royalties. The rest of the metadata determines whether you’ll be found or WON’T be found by your listeners.
I’m just pointing that out for those of you wondering why any of this matters…
Anyway, that’s really important for those of us that rely on our royalties to pay the bills (or SOME of the bills). That’s why I think working with AIFF (and WAV) is best. It’s also possible to embed an additional ID3 Tag to each file, hence the “ID3 Chunk”.
AIFF metadata editor (that supports AcousticID)
The AIFF metadata editor I recommend is MusicBrainz Picard because it’s FREE/open-source and allows you to register your tracks as AcousticIDs. It’s the best way to start creating your professional musical database (or for your clients).
You’ll also need to create an account on their website.
Of course, there are plenty of other tools out there for AIFF files. You could even modify your tracks’ metadata in iTunes, but I’d prefer using something more sophisticated…
Just remember to make use of ID3 Tags as well.
Once you’ve got your AIFF files organized, you can use the AcousticID scanner to embed the rest of your files formats (except WAV) with metadata. However, keep in mind that Picard will be able to read your WAV files, it just won’t be to write them.
What are the disadvantages of AIFF?
One of the biggest disadvantages of AIFF is that it isn’t as compatible as WAV. For example, using AIFF outside of an Apple-based operating system will require specific programs (like VLC) to read them.
Windows Media Player and certain devices cannot read AIFF files.
That’s why WAV files have been the preferred file format for lossless audio.
However, we need to consider why we’re using AIFF in the first place. It’s most likely not to listen to music on your Android smartphone. It’s most likely because you want to create some kind of musical database whether it’d be stored locally or in the cloud.
You also need to keep in mind that you won’t be using AIFF for every situation.
That’s why mastering engineers (good ones, anyway) provide you with multiple versions of the same file in different formats. If you’re mastering your own tracks, make sure to develop good habits like bouncing your projects as both WAV and AIFF.
Will that take more storage? Yes, it’ll take double the storage space.
The most important part of creating your musical database is having access to everything you need. It’s especially true if you’re managing these databases for clients. It’s essential to get all of this right from the start or you’ll be creating lots of trouble for “future you”.
Either way, the advantages of AIFF far outweigh its disadvantages.
I personally use WAV and AIFF, but always rely on my AIFF files to reference metadata.
Using MusicBrainz Picard to manage your own music metadata and database
Your royalties are at risk. Your intellectual property is at risk. The music industry is still facing one of its biggest problems; music metadata.
Seriously, MILLIONS of dollars have been lost…
That’s why I encourage you to use software like MusicBrainz Picard to take control of your intellectual property. We want it to perform its best in search engines and to earn as much “mailbox money” as it can.
I also encourage you to use AIFF as your main file format.
However, I’d still use WAV in addition. I usually bounce one of each for my masters.
Everything else can be derived from your AIFF file and whenever possible, opt to use that original file. Just be aware that some distributors and/or platforms aren’t compatible. That’s why you want to equip yourself as best as you can.
Acoustic fingerprinting is the way of the future.
Make sure to check out MusicBrainz Picard and start contributing to the MusicBrainz Database!
If you’re finding any of this overwhelming, you can schedule your 1-on-1 session with me so that I may guide you through the process step-by-step over Zoom. Decibel Peak can also take that burden off of your shoulders if you’d rather entrust that responsibility to someone else.
Thanks for reading. I hope that today’s article was informative!
Thanks for the great article to help explain what’s been a bit of a mystery to me. A question… if you embed metadata in an AIFF file and then your music distributor converts it to a wav file, is the metadata stripped off or not? I know they would typically add their own metadata, but will the original still be there as well?
It wouldn’t matter because the music distribution service will most likely use its own metadata system.
At most, the upload client would read the metadata from the file and save you some time. Personally, I haven’t seen a music distribution service that offers this feature.
Most of the time, you’ll…
1. Upload your file (wav, aiff, mp3, flac, etc…)
2. You’ll manually enter your metadata (track name, album title, etc…)
3. You’ll upload your album artwork
I hope that clarifies the process for metadata when using a music distribution service.
If you have anymore questions, don’t be shy. Thanks for stopping by!
Very detailed and specific information.
It’s my pleasure. Thanks for reading!
[I can’t seem to originate a comment, only reply]
This is excellent information on metadata capabilities. I knew WAV didn’t fully support tagging, but not the particulars.
That said, I’d argue the FLAC format is the superior format, and offers lossless file compression to boot! FLAC supports full ID3 tagging, takes far less space than either WAV or AIFF, and can be played universally. Actually, just like AIFF can’t be played on certain platforms, FLAC cannot be played natively on Apple products. That brings up ALAC which is the reverse of FLAC: ALAC cannot natively be played on non-Apple products.
Personally, I feel Apple has such an exclusionary approach to their software and iOS as a whole, I am not a fan. Apple locks down their operating system because why exactly? I can’t configure that on an iPhone but I can easily do it on Android? Oh, and I can find plenty of decent free apps on the Google Play store but you expect me to pay how much for a similar app on Apple Play? Just no. Then take their devices: Who asked for the 3.5mm port to be removed from their phones? How many times have you or someone you know lost their Lightning (a senseless proprietary connector) to 3.5mm dongle, or not been able to listen to something because their battery is low and they cannot charge and play at the same time without another specific dongle? Although I don’t have the same issues with OSX on Apple’s desktop hardware, I will say they’ve also systematically removed ports (Ethernet, Firewire (which was partly their concept from the start!), USB, SD card slot, VGA, HDMI, etc.) from their devices over the years without any apparent reasons but to sell you their overpriced dongle and cause you great inconvenience in the process. And will that dongle always work? Well, only if you paid for the official Apple or a certified MIFI one that costs more than it should. Otherwise they’ll write their code to exclude your dongle’s compatibility for their next OS update. Attempting to get back on topic, why can’t you play a FLAC file in iTunes (or Apple Music or whatever they’re calling it now)? Because Apple doesn’t want you to.
There’s one more point that also happens to be anti-Apple or pro-Android: “…why we’re using AIFF in the first place. It’s most likely not to listen to music on your Android smartphone.” Actually, I have normal 16/44 files as well as 24/96 high-res all in FLAC format and .DSF DSD files on my Android phone & tablet. I hook up a USB C to USB A adapter (yes, it’s a dongle, but it supports flash drives, mice, keyboards, has an HDMI output, and supports charging with the same USB C connector), and connect my ifi USB DAC & headphone amp to listen to files up to DSD512 resolution. I can stream my entire collection ripped in FLAC or DSF from my NAS with Neutron Player, an excellent music player app. I doubt this can be done on an Apple device without the official Apple Camera Connection Kit just to get you to a USB connector, and jumping through several other hoops.
Bottom line: FLAC, or if you must, ALAC, are both superior to WAV and AIFF.
I appreciate your opinion on the use of FLAC/ALAC.
However, the truth is that we don’t work with FLAC/ALAC in the industry. When you submit audio for broadcast (or anything really), they’re expecting a WAV file.
If we’re talking about music streaming though, lots of music distributors now have the option to upload FLAC.
You choose what works best for you, but it also depends on the application. Most of the time though, your audio files don’t even need metadata. If you’re uploading to a music distributor, you’ll need to input the metadata manually anyway.
Thanks for your input, wishing you all the best!