Difference between MP3 and M4A

Difference between MP3 and M4A

Everyone loves to listen to good music and great podcasts. It is even getting better because there are now available audiobooks. They can be accessed through mobile phones, laptops, PCs, etc. The downside is that a few of us know the formats through which these are all available. Before you can access them, they go through the process of compressing and later stored in different forms such as MP3, M4A, and MP4 among others.

Both formats once compressed are available in audio form only.

MP3 Vs. M4A

The difference between these two audio forms is the quality of the sound. MP3 when compared to the M4A has very poor audio quality. The MP3 came into the market first. M4A, therefore, is a successor of the MP3. MP3 compresses the audio files in a larger size as compared to the ones compressed through the M4A.

Comparison between MP3 and M4A:

  • The mime type for the MP3 files is audio/MPEG while that of M4A files is audio/m4a
  • MP3 was developed by the Fraunhofer society while M$A was developed by ISO.
  • Audio files or data in MP3 are compressed through lossy while those in M4A use the lossy or lossless compression method.
  • Mp3 is used in the compressing of existing audio formats while M4A uses an application called iTunes to compress the files.
  • Mp3 was extended from Mp2 while the extended form of Mp4 is called QuickTime file format.

What is Mp3?

MP3 is also known as MPEG-1 Audio Layer III or MPEG-2 Audio Layer III. It is an application that compresses and stores files in digital forms. Among so many popular audio files in the market, the MP3 format is available in the market. MP3 popularity is decreasing by the day with rising audio file formats. However, most people still prefer it. It was brought to being by the Fraunhofer Society.

Mp3 does not support any other file formats except audio files. Since it compresses the audio files in extremely large files, it alters the audio quality. One exceptional feature of MP3 is its ability to compress files and get about a tenth of the space that was there initially.

Mp3 was extended from an initial audio file form known as the Mp2. The MP2 contains the same MIME type which is audio/MPEG.

The advantages of using the MP3 Format include:

  • Users are able to share files on different platforms with no restrictions.
  • Mp3 allows a high compression of files, which in return makes it easier for storage space.
  • You can easily download files in MP3 format from the internet.

Apart from these advantages, there is one downside to using MP3 file formats:

  • As compressed files get larger, the audio quality is compromised.

What is M4A?

This is a file format also known as MPEG-4. It is mostly known as the MPEG-4 container format. It is an extension from the official file format, m4a. The MIME type for this file format is audio/M4a.

ISO developed MP4 with an intention of encoding songs in either Lossy Advanced Audio Compression or encoding the same in Apple using the Apple Lossless Compression. MP3 is believed to have been succeeded by the AAC format.

M4A comes with a few advantages that include:

  • Compressing files in lossy quality. When files are compressed in this size, audio is not compressed and this means it retains its quality.
  • Users can directly use the compressed audio files as their ringtones without restrictions. All a user needs to do is change the name of the file extension from M4A to M4R.
  • Generated files do not come with any protection or restrictions. As such, they can easily be shared and streamed. No license or payment is required to share or stream them.

The M4A also has its own share of disadvantages that include:

  • Limitations of products that it is compatible with. It can only be used on Apple products.
  • M4A does not support formats that are in video form.

Difference between MP3 and M4A

  • MP3 is a file extension of mp3 while M4A is a file extension of m4a.
  • Mp3’s MIME type is audio/Mpeg while M4A can be referred to as audio/m4a.
  • Fraunhofer Society was the people who created Mp3. M4A on the other hand was created and developed by ISO.
  • The algorithm used to compress files in the MP3 format is called lossy while M4A files can be compressed by either lossy or lossless.
  • The Mp3 format compresses audio files that are already in existence and are also regular while M4A is used by the Apple company for songs that are found on iTunes.
  • Mp3 is said to have been an extended format of Mp2 while M4A is said to have been extended from QuickTime file format.


In conclusion, we can confirm that both Mp3 and M4A are audio formats, which both have a provision for audio files only. MP3 comes in one format which is the MPEG while M4A has a capacity that supports audio formats only.

Mp3 can be referred to in another term as MPEG-2 while M4A can be referred to as MPEG-4.

The two audio formats were developed at different times and by different people and thus serve different purposes. Fraunhofer Society created and developed the Mp3 audio format while M4A was created and developed by ISO.

M4A completely ruled over the market after its development. This is regardless of the fact that it is only supported by Apple and compresses audio files only. There is no limit to the size of audio files that you can compress with M4A. The audio quality is on top of its game.

Mp3 on the other hand operates differently. The larger the compressed file, the more the audio quality is tampered with.

While one could confuse these two audio formats, they have major differences. One, the M4A does not support any files that come with video. However, when compressing the audio files, it does not matter the size. The sound quality will still be great. Mp3 on the other hand completely alters the quality of the sound like the size of the audio file to compress increases.

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