Sound is one of many motivations today, whether it’s a song asking you to do an extra performance at the gym or a podcast you like to relax with after a long day of training or job.
As sound continues to transform, so do digital file formats. While not the only file format, the term MP3 has become synonymous with digital music in the same way Google has done with browsing the web, which is not surprising given that the file format is now taking over 20 years.
At that time, it was preceded by other file formats, including MP4. But while the increase in the number from 3 to 4 in the name suggests that MP4 is easily the next generation of MP3s, more to it.
Is an MP4 file superior to an MP3? Should I stop using MP3? And what exactly are the differences in general? So many good questions, which we will try to answer using as few geek languages as possible.
Table of contents
What is MP3?
Before we start to outline the differences between MP3 and MP4, let’s take a quick look at the MP3 file and how to use it. MP3 is a short-form of MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3.
It was designed to provide us with a way to store audio data in digital form. Still, with smaller file size than the formats used by CDs at the time.
MP3s accomplish this using a psychological trick: they start by taking an uncompressed source digital audio file (like an MP3 file on a CD) and then cautiously remove pieces of data in a way that the human ear does is unlikely to understand.
This is a procedure known as “lossy compression.” This is the same trick that JPEG files use to reduce the size of images without affecting the essential details, making them look as authentic as the original.
The same applies to MP3 files: although they take up only a tenth of the storage space of audio tracks on CDs, most consider them a satisfactory listening experience.
Are all MP3s the same?
No, and differences can be noticed. When you create an MP3 from any source, be it CD or even vinyl, you choose the data transfer rate and sample rate;
These two values will determine the size of your MP3 based on the size of the file, but more importantly, the quality of the sound, relative to the font you are using.
Most MP3 files are created with a sample rate of 44.1 kHz, especially when converted from a CD, as this is the equal sample rate used to create an audio CD.
On the other hand, the baud rate can be set between 8 kbps and 320 kbps. The difference between the two is considerable: at 8 kbps, your music will sound slightly better than an AM radio with poor reception.
With 320 kbps, most people will be unable to distinguish between MP3 and CD.
If file size is a significant concern, as it was when MP3 became popular, you can hit as little as 128kbps before it notices audio degradation.
In the early days of MP3, 128 kbps was preferred because it was compatible with most MP3 players, such as iPod.
However, today it would be rare to find a digital music player that cannot handle all MP3 transfer speeds, not even VBR (or variable bit rate) MP3 that uses different speeds during different track parts personalized musical. Whether the complexity of the sound increases or decreases.
What is MP4?
MP4 is a short-form of MPEG-4 Part 14. Unlike MP3, which is used solely for audio, MP4 is a container file used to store video, audio, or other data, such as subtitles.
This makes it a bit difficult to know precisely what MP4 is. If you notice one called “Rocky.mp4”, is it a Rocky movie, or is that the movie’s main theme? Or is it something else?
To reduce the confusion, Apple has decided to start using the .m4a file extension for MP4 files that only contain audio .m4v is sometimes used to indicate that it is a video.
But since these are agreements and not rules, the only natural way to find out is to try opening the file with an MP4 compatible media player or viewing the file’s contents.
But what does this have to concern with MP3 files, you might be wondering? MP3 is both a file format & a codec, which means that audio can only be processed using the lossy compression described earlier.
Since MP4 files are containers, you can choose from several different audio codecs depending on your needs. Usually, people will use the AAC (Advanced Audio Encoding) codec.
It is a lossy compression codec just like MP3, with the same rate capabilities for quality but better preserving detail and nuance of music of the same file size as MP3.
However, Apple’s high-definition audio codec, ALAC, is also an option for MP4 files, preserving all the details of a CD or a vinyl album while maintaining smaller file sizes than the original, making it a good choice ability to archive music.
MP3 vs. MP4: What’s the difference, and which is better?
Most experts would say that an MPC audio encoded audio file sounds better than an MP3 of similar size. This makes sense because AAC is a newer compression technology. However, it would be helpful to determine where and how you plan to play your music files.
There are still people who stick with old portable music players that still work fine, but they may not be MP4 / AAC compatible. An MP3 file is almost assured to work on any device that plays digital music.
It’s also worth noting that 320kbps MP3 MP3s will likely sound the same as 320kbps MP4 / AAC.
If, as we suggested above, you intend to archive your digital or analog music, an MP4 that uses ALAC is much better than an MP3.
As a lossless format, ALAC not only preserves all the details of your source material but also allows you to create an MP3 (or MP4 / AAC) whenever you want if you need a smaller, more portable version.
The reverse is not valid: once an MP3 is created (and parts of the original audio data are removed in the compression process), they cannot be recovered by converting them to MP4 / ALAC.
This creates a larger file of the same quality as the MP3.
The main differences between MP3 and MP4 in tabular format
|BASIC COMPARISON||MP3 FORMAT||MP4 FORMAT|
|Abbreviation of||MP3 is the abbreviation of MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3.||MP4 is the abbreviation of MPEG-4 Part-14|
|Development||MP3 format was developed by a team of engineers from Philips, CCETT, IRT, Fraunhofer Society, and MPEG (Moving Pictures Expert Group).||The MP4 format was developed by the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) technical program.|
|Description||MP3 is an audio encoding format used to compress audio files for storage or transmission over the Internet.||MP4 is a digital media storage format, commonly used to store digital audio and digital video and subtitles and pictures, and allows their transmission over the Internet.|
|Year Of Release||Released 1994.||Released 2003.|
|ISO Standard||ISO standards are ISO / IEC 11172-3, ISO / IEC 13818-3.||The ISO standard is ISO / IEC 14496-14.|
|MP3/MP4 Player||MP3 devices allow you to play songs, listen to the radio, record or playback pictures, as well as color LCD effects.||MP4 players have a 65000 or 256000 color display, allowing you to play audio, video, photos, recordings, web browsing, and instant messaging.|
|Capability||The MP3 function can only handle one type of media, which is the audio file.||MP4 can handle a variety of media such as audio, images, video, and text.|
|Compression Technology||Uses a lossy compression algorithm. ||Uses AAC (advanced audio encoding) and AVC (advanced video encoding).|
|Extension||This is an MP2 extension.||It is an extension of Apple’s Quicktime-tech.|
|Application||Almost all music devices support MP3 files.||Only iPod and iPhone support MP4 files.|
So which one to use?
If you have a vast collection already of MP3 audio files and were created at 256kbps or higher, keep them. You probably won’t notice much improvement in sound quality when re-encoding a CD with an MP4 file unless you use high-end audiophile equipment.
Otherwise, if you plan to copy new CDs from scratch or convert analog sources to digital sources, MP4, especially one that uses a lossless ALAC codec, is the way to go.
You will essentially have a perfect digital file which you can then convert to select lossy formats, including MP3 if you are concerned about compatibility with older devices.
Lossless MP4 files take a lot more space, but they are worth it if you have free hard drive space.
Conclusion: Main Difference Between MP3 and MP4
The main difference between MP3 & MP4 is that MP3 format only processes audio, while MP4 format processes audio, video, text, and images.