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Reading and Writing WAV Files in Java

Earlier this year, we looked at how to read and write wav files in C++ and VB.Net, and C/C++ is really the natural choice for this kind of file IO (for a number of reasons that we won’t go into here). Nonetheless, not everyone uses C or C++ for computer music software. Increasingly, programmers are turning to Java.

There are a number of libraries available for reading and writing wav files, however, to really understand the format, it’s necessary to get your hands dirty. So in this article, we are looking at reading and writing wav files in Java, which is not as easy as it may seem.

Java Numbers

The problem is that Java has no unsigned types. In other words, all numerical types in java can hold either positive or negative numbers. There are no types that are designed for only positive numbers.

This doesn’t sound like a big deal unless you know a little bit about how negative numbers are represented in most programming languages. The most important thing to know is that most languages represent negative numbers, in a way that is incompatible with the way they represent only positive numbers. More specifically, wav file headers represent numbers as unsigned bytes, whereas java represents numbers using a format called Two’s Complement.

The practical implications of this are simple: you can’t use java’s built-in IO functions for reading wav headers. You have to read the data as bytes, then do the conversion in a subroutine.

Understanding this problem is hard, but luckily, working around it is relatively easy. In our solution, we made 2 changes. First, we stored all of our numbers with more bytes than are necessary in other languages (to ensure that we are storing the correct numbers). So for each 2-byte number, which would usually be stored by a short, we used an int, and for each 4-byte number, we used a long. Then we added 4 extra subroutines to do the conversions for us. These routines are at the bottom of

// these two routines convert a byte array to a unsigned short
public static int byteArrayToInt(byte[] b)

  int start = 0;
  int low = b[start] & 0xff;
  int high = b[start+1] & 0xff;
  return (int)( high << 8 | low );

// these two routines convert a byte array to an unsigned integer

public static long byteArrayToLong(byte[] b)
  int start = 0;
  int i = 0;
  int len = 4;
  int cnt = 0;
  byte[] tmp = new byte[len];
  for (i = start; i < (start + len); i++)

    tmp[cnt] = b[i];
  long accum = 0;
  i = 0;
  for ( int shiftBy = 0; shiftBy < 32; shiftBy += 8 )

    accum |= ( (long)( tmp[i] & 0xff ) ) << shiftBy;
  return accum;

// returns a byte array of length 4

private static byte[] intToByteArray(int i)
  byte[] b = new byte[4];
  b[0] = (byte) (i & 0x00FF);
  b[1] = (byte) ((i >> 8) & 0x000000FF);
  b[2] = (byte) ((i >> 16) & 0x000000FF);

  b[3] = (byte) ((i >> 24) & 0x000000FF);
  return b;

// convert a short to a byte array
public static byte[] shortToByteArray(short data)

  return new byte[]{(byte)(data & 0xff),(byte)((data >>> 8) & 0xff)};

WAV File Specification

Again, we are using a VERY basic version of the wav file format for this example. This won’t read many wav files, it will only read what are referred to here as canonical wave files. Basically, old fashioned wav files (before the chaos introduced by 24 and 32 bit recording).

If you want to read more complicated wav files, you may want to check out what’s written here and here, although you really need to look at the actual specification (and you had better have some free time).

The Source Code

To use the source code, just unzip all the files into the same directory, and then use the batch files I created called compile.bat and run.bat. Of course, I am assuming that you have the latest version of java installed.

Download the source code for reading and writing wav files in java here.


  1. Speaker-to-Animals Speaker-to-Animals

    I wish you had linked to the earlier C++ version in this article. Do you have a link to the original wavio? It would be much appreciated….

  2. Grateful Living Grateful Living

    Thanks so much for taking the time to do this, it helped a LOT. Not just with WAV files, but in understanding the issues involved when working without unsigned types. Well done.

  3. Grateful Living Grateful Living

    PS – adding this right after line 180 in (“String dataChunkID = …”) allows your code to also open WAV files with Metadata (important since the ubiquitous Audacity writes metadata):

    if (false == dataChunkID.equals("data")) {
    System.out.println("NOT a traditional WAV file, searching for data...");
    while (false == dataChunkID.equals("data")) {
    dataChunkID += (""+(char)inFile.readByte());
    dataChunkID = dataChunkID.substring(1);

  4. “Earlier this year, we looked at how to read and write wav files in C++ (…)”

    Were is this post, were you explained how to read/write wav files in C++?
    Your site REALLY needs a search function.

  5. can u any link where one example of reading and writng of wav file solve

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