Epitaxial AIN thin films grown on sapphire, silicon and silicon carbide substrates were studied using x-ray double crystal diffractometry and transmission electron microscopy to compare the structure, residual stress and defect concentration in these thin films. The AIN thin films was found to have a wurtzite type of structure with a small distortion in lattice parameters which results in a small residual stress of the order of 109 dynes/cm2 in the film. The strain due to lattice parameter mismatch between the substrate and film is too small to account for the residual stress present. The calculated stress from the difference in thermal expansion coefficients between the film and substrate agrees well with the experimental values. Both the x-ray and transmission electron microscopy measurements indicate a low defect density in the AIN thin film grown on 6H-SiC substrate which could be attributed to the small difference in lattice parameters between AIN and 6H-SiC. The defect density in the AIN thin film grown on other substrates were considerably higher. This is the first report of the successful growth of single crystal AIN thin films with such a low concentration of defect density.