MP3 vs. MP4 | The Difference Between MP3 and MP4


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MP3 vs. MP4

People who are fond of listening to music are very well aware of the MP3 file format. It is a more than twenty years old format, which, now, has been succeeded by the MP4.

However, there is just a difference in numbers (3 and 4) in the names of the formats, which might indicate that MP4 is the next generation of MP3. Yes, it is true, but actually, it is not the only difference.

At present, both the MP3 and MP4 formats are available. So what is the difference between MP3 and MP4? Which one is better, and which one should you use?

In this article, I have explained the topic of MP3 vs. MP4 in detail. So just keep reading till the end.

Before moving ahead to understand the difference between MP3 and MP4, it is recommended first to understand what exactly the MP3 and MP4 are. Once you understand what they are, it will be easy to understand the difference too.

MP3 vs. MP4 | What is the MP3 File Format?

There was a time when mainly CDs were used for storing audio information. Then MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3 came into existence, which was developed to store Audio information in digital form. MP3 is nothing but just a short name for MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3. But the size of an MP3 file is smaller than the size of the format that is used in a CD.

Now the question is how the MP3 format manages to end up having a size smaller than the size of the format in a CD. It actually becomes possible with the use of the “Lossy Compression” process, just like the size of the JPEG file is compressed without having any effect on the main content of the image.

When an audio track available on a CD is converted or extracted into the MP3 format, the size gets compressed to almost a tenth of the original size. And no noticeable difference is found between the two forms when listened to by human beings.

In the “Lossy Compression” process, an uncompressed and original audio file (in digital form) is taken, and then some unimportant data is removed from the file without affecting the main and noticeable content.

Thus the size of the Audio file is compressed to a size smaller than that of the format in a CD when it gets converted into an MP3 format. And the audio in the MP3 format just looks like that in the CD format. Keep on reading this MP3 vs. MP4 review.

Sample Rate & Bitrate of MP3

Sample Rate & Bitrate of MP3

When an MP3 is created from a CD or vinyl album, two main parameters need to be decided. These two parameters are the sample rate and bitrate. And these are the parameters that will determine the file size and quality of the MP3 to be created.

As far as the sample rate is concerned, a 44.1 kHz value is generally used. But bitrate can be taken within the range of 8 kbps to 320 kbps. Eight kbps will create the lowest-quality file.

And on the other hand, 320 kbps will create the highest quality. With 320 kbps, the quality will be so high that you will not be able to differentiate between the created MP3 and the original CD.

Moreover, the higher the bitrate, the larger the size of the file will be. So it will be better not to use too high bitrate if you don’t want a very large-sized file. But keeping in mind the quality also, 128 kbps is the minimum recommended bitrate.

That’s because, below 128 kbps, anyone can easily notice the deterioration of the sound quality. Hence you should use a minimum of 128 kbps bitrate or even more than that.

PS: here, we will learn more about how to convert music from Spotify to MP3 with ease.

MP3 vs. MP4 | What is the MP4 File Format?

As mentioned earlier in this MP3 vs. MP4 review, MP3 is an audio file format, and MP4 can store audio and video. And even some other data, like subtitles, can be stored in an MP4 file.

It merely means that if you see a file name with a .mp4 extension without playing it, you cannot know whether it is an Audio or Video. And, just like MP3 is a short name for MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3, MP4 is also a short name for MPEG-4 Part 14.

MP4 is a container, so it is up to you which audio codec is to be used for your audio data. Generally, Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) codec is made used of. AAC is the latest technology of compression.

In addition, in the case of MP4 files, there is an option for ALAC also. ALAC can preserve all the data of a vinyl album or CD, still compressing the original size to smaller. If you are in need of archiving music, it will be a great option for you.

Difference Between MP3 And MP4

Now that you have a basic understanding of what exactly the MP3 & MP4 are, you will not have any difficulty in understanding the difference between both. Below I have listed the most important and key differences for you to have a quick overview:

  • MP3 is an audio file format. It means it cannot handle video files. And on the other hand, MP4 can handle Audio, Video, and even subtitles.
  • MP3 is both a codec as well a file format. And on the other hand, MP4 is a container.
  • As compared to MP3, MP4 better preserves nuances and details in the music with the size of the file.
  • MP3 is an abbreviated form of MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3. And on the other hand, MP4 is an abbreviated form of MPEG-4 Part 14.
  • The option of ALAC is available for MP4, but it is not available in the case of MP3.
  • All music players are not compatible with MP4. But, on the other hand, almost all types of music players available today can support the MP3 format easily.
  • MP3 came into existence in 1994, and MP4 was released in 2003.
  • The space occupied by the MP4 files is more than the space occupied by the MP3 files.
  • ISO developed the MP4 format. And MP3 has been developed by some engineers from Fraunhofer, IRT, and Society & Phillips.
  • MP3 files have the extension as .mp3. And MP4 files may be found with various types of file extensions.
  • If you compress an MP3 file, it will cause you to have a lower quality. And on the other hand, lossless compression will be there in case of compression of MP4 Audio files.

Which One is Better: MP3 or MP4?

Which One is Better: MP3 or MP4?

In this MP3 vs. MP4 review, when it comes to quality, MP4/AAC is far better than an MP3 with a similar size. That’s because AAC is the latest technology of compression (as mentioned earlier also). Moreover, the audio or music file that has been archived in MP4 with the use of ALAC is much better than an MP3.

The reason is that ALAC can preserve all of the details of a vinyl album or CD (as mentioned above) while still reducing the original size of the data. Moreover, such an MP4 can be converted into MP3 anytime you require it. But in the case of MP3, it is never possible to convert it back into MP4.

Also, if you wonder how to convert H264 to MP4, this guide is just for you.

Which One Should Be Used: MP3 or MP4?

If you are using an old-fashioned portable music player, you should use an MP3 file format. That’s because such a music player may not support MP4/AAC format. And on the other hand, MP3 files will play well on any type of device that can play digital music.

Moreover, if you have a large collection of audio files in MP3 format that you have produced at 256 kbps or even higher, you should keep them in the same format.

But, in case you are planning to transform analog data into digital files or planning to create some CDs from scratch, I would recommend you to go for MP4. An MP4 with an ALAC codec will be the best option to go for.

And whenever required, this format can be anytime converted into any lossy format of your choice, like MP3. Let’s go on with this MP3 vs. MP4 review.

File Metadata In MP3 & MP4

It is worth noting that the music player applications or apps that we use on our smartphones can only support the files that can support metadata. It simply means that the files that don’t support metadata cannot be played on such applications.

Keeping this fact in mind, both the MP3 & MP4 file formats have been developed in such a way that both formats support metadata. That’s why mobile music player apps support files with such formats.

As far as the MP3 file format is concerned, it makes use of ID3 tags. With these tags, information like song title, album, artist, track number, and album artwork can be stored easily within the file.

Similarly, on the other hand, MP4 files are also capable of making use of the metadata. An added advantage of the MP4 file format is that it also introduces XMP.

Here XMP is the abbreviated form of an Extensible Metadata Platform. XMP is considered to be highly suitable with the container format of MP4. And it is compatible with a large number of types of files like JPEG, PDF, PNG, GIF, WAV, PSD, TIFF, PostScript, Adobe Illustrator, etc.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. Q: Can MP3 files contain video content? A: No, MP3 files are solely designed for audio playback and cannot contain video data.
  2. Q: Is MP4 a suitable format for audio-only files? A: Yes, MP4 files can store audio-only data and offer additional features such as album art, metadata, and chapter markers.
  3. Q: Which format is better for streaming music online? A: MP3 is commonly used for streaming music due to its smaller file size and wider compatibility across devices and platforms.
  4. Q: Are there any legal restrictions on using MP3 and MP4 files? A: Yes, it is essential to respect copyright laws and licensing agreements when using MP3 and MP4 files. Obtaining content from authorized sources is crucial.
  5. Q: Will MP3 and MP4 formats become obsolete in the future? A: While new formats may emerge, MP3 and MP4 are expected to remain relevant due to their widespread usage and compatibility.

Final Words

I hope the information provided above is enough to make things clear for you on the topic of MP3 vs. MP4. And, now, you must have a clear understanding of what exactly the difference between MP3 and MP4 is and where you should use which one.


Ten years of experience in information and computer technology. Passionate about electronic devices, smartphones, computers, and modern technology.