MP3 vs M4A: Difference and Comparison

Everyone loves to listen to songs and podcasts. Nowadays, audiobooks are also available on mobile phones, laptops, PCs, etc. But least of us know the format of these files and audio.

They are compressed and stored in the file extension format of .mp3, .m4a, .mp4, etc. The format of both files is compressed lossy and supports audio-only.

Key Takeaways

  1. MP3 is a compressed audio format that uses lossy compression to reduce the file size, while M4A is a compressed audio format that uses advanced coding algorithms to produce better sound quality.
  2. MP3 is compatible with most devices and software, while Apple devices and software mainly use M4A.
  3. MP3 is an older format and has lower sound quality, while M4A is a newer format and provides better sound quality at lower bitrates.

MP3 vs M4A

MP3 is a digital form of storing an audio file. The file extension of the MP3 file is ‘.mp3’. The developer of this file format is the Fraunhofer Society. Audio file size can be reduced in this format. M4A is another audio file format. The file extension of the M4A file is ‘.m4a’. Apple mostly uses this file format. The developer of this file format is ISO.  

MP3 vs M4A

MP3, also known as MPEG-2, is a way of storing or representing audio digitally. It was developed to compress the audio files into a tenth of the space to decrease the file size. But as MP3 decreases the size of the audio file, the quality of the audio is compromised with it.

M4A is also known as MPEG-4 audio. It was developed to challenge the MP3 quality just without compromising its sound quality. M4A is a type of file that only supports the audio-only format.

Being an unofficial file, M4A is unable to support the videos. It is also considered the successor of the MP3 files.

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonMP3M4A
File Extension .mp3.m4a
MIME Typeaudio/mpegaudio/m4a
DeveloperIt is developed by the Fraunhofer Society.It is developed by ISO.
AlgorithmIt is compressed lossy.It may use lossy compression or lossless compression for the audio files.
PopularityIt is used for the existing audio formats.Apple uses this format popularly for songs on iTunes.
Extended FormThe extended form of MP3 is mp2.The extended form of M4A is the QuickTime file format.

What is MP3?

MP3 is also known as MPEG-1 Audio Layer III or MPEG-2 Audio Layer III. To be stated as it is a way of storing or representing audio files in digital forms. It is one of the audio file formats which is present in the market.

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Although the MP3 audio format’s popularity may have decreased, it is preferred many times. The Fraunhofer Society developed it. 

It supports only audio file formats. MP3 allows a high compression of the audio file size, deferring the audio file’s quality. The special feature of the MP3 is that it helps in decreasing the size of the audio file to almost about a tenth of the space earlier.

The extended form of MP3 is mp2, and the file extension for the same is .mp3. The MIME type for the same is audio/MPEG.  

The advantages of using MP3 format are listed below –

  • It allows its users to share audio files on different platforms.
  • MP3 allows a higher compression of the file size, so it provides easier storage on a device.
  • The audio files in the MP3 format are easily downloaded from the Internet.

The disadvantage of using the MP3 format is listed below –

  • The quality of the audio is compromised.
mp3 1

What is M4A?

M4A is also known as MPEG-4. It is said to be in a MPEG-4 container format. The official file extension of the M4A format is .m4a. The MIME type for the same is audio/m4a.

ISO or Apple Inc develops M4A and uses the audio file format to encode songs either in Lossy Advanced Audio Compression (AAC) or in the Apple Lossless Compression (ALC) Codec (ALCC). The AAC format is believed to be the successor of the MP3.   

The advantages of using the M4A format are listed below –

  • It compresses the file in lossy quality, the smaller size, and the audio is not compromised at all.
  • It allows their users to set it to ringtone directly. This can be done by changing the file extension’s name from M4A to M4R.
  • The files generated aren’t protected, so they are easily streamed and shared with no license or payment required. 
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The disadvantage of the M4A format is listed below – 

  • It is only used in the products of Apple Inc., such as iPods, iTunes, and other devices.
  • M4A does not support video formats.

Main Differences Between MP3 and M4A

  1. The file extension for MP3 is .mp3, while the file extension for the M4A is .m4a.
  2. The MIME type for the MP3 is audio/Mpeg, while the M4A is known to be audio/m4a.
  3. MP3 was developed and created by the Fraunhofer Society, while M4A was developed and created by ISO. 
  4. The algorithm of file compression for the MP3 is lossy, whereas the file compression for the M4A is either lossy or lossless.
  5. MP3 format is used in present existing regular audio files, whereas the Apple company uses M4A for the songs in iTunes.
  6. The extended form of MP3 is said to be mp2, while the extended form of the M4A is said to be the QuickTime File Format.
Difference Between MP3 and M4A



Last Updated : 14 October, 2023

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25 thoughts on “MP3 vs M4A: Difference and Comparison”

  1. This article provides great information about the advantages and disadvantage of MP3 and M4A formats. It really helps understand the differences between the two.

  2. The details about the developers and algorithms used in MP3 and M4A formats demonstrate the level of research in this article.


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