Back when Microsoft was preparing audio files for Windows 95, they used a pirated version of Sound Forge 4.5 (true story!). Apparently even Microsoft employees couldn't stand the $500 price tag... and it was really the only high-end solution.
Luckily for Microsoft, there’s now a great free feature-filled alternative: Audacity.
From the Audacity web sire: "Audacity is a free, easy-to-use and multilingual audio editor and recorder for Windows, Mac OS X, GNU/Linux and other operating systems. You can use Audacity to:
Record live audio.
Convert tapes and records into digital recordings or CDs.
Edit Ogg Vorbis, MP3, WAV or AIFF sound files.
Cut, copy, splice or mix sounds together.
Change the speed or pitch of a recording.
And more! See the complete list of features."
“VLC is a free and open source cross-platform multimedia player and framework that plays most multimedia files as well as DVD, Audio CD, VCD, and various streaming protocols.“
The wonderful thing about VLC is that it is amazingly consistent across the supported platforms (no dependence on OS-level codecs). If you’re looking for a media player that can play anything, and whose UI is not cluttered with a bunch of HTML advertisements trying to sell downloadable content, this is the best player available at any price.