Difference Between MP3 and M4A

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


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

MP3 vs M4A

The difference between MP3 and M4A is that MP3 has a low quality of audio as compared to the quality provided by M4A. The MP3 came before the M4A in the market, and hence, M4A is supposed to be the successor of the MP3. The audio file size of the MP3 files is large, while M4A compresses the audio file with the same bit rate but in a smaller size.

MP3 vs M4A

MP3, also known as MPEG-2, is the way of storing or representation audios digitally. It was developed to compress the audio files in 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 with 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 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 the audio files in digital forms. It is one of the audio file formats which is present in the market.

Although the popularity of the MP3 audio format may have decreased still it is preferred many times. It was developed by the Fraunhofer Society. 

It supports only audio file formats. MP3 allows a high compression of the audio file size, deferring the quality of the audio file. The special feature of the MP3 is that it helps in decreasing the size of the audio file to almost about the 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.
  • As MP3 allows a higher compression of the file size, therefore 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 a MPEG-4 container format. The official file extension of the M4A format is .m4a. The MIME type for the same is audio/m4a.

M4A is developed by ISO or Apple Inc 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 directly set it to ringtone. This can be done just by changing the name of the file extension from M4A to M4R.
  • The files generated aren’t protected, so they are easily streamed and shared with no license or payment required. 

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 of 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 of 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 M4A is used by the Apple company 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


  1. https://qubeshub.org/publications/142/1
  2. https://qubeshub.org/publications/389/1
  3. https://www.learntechlib.org/p/28936/
  4. http://festvox.org/blizzard/bc2017/UTOKYO_Blizzard2017.pdf
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