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Difference between Mp3 and Mp4 Audio File Formats


Digital audio files are available in many different formats. Two of the most commonly used audio file formats are MP3 and MP4. If you are ripping (copying) music from a CD, it is usually converted into one of these formats, and most programs allow you to chose which format is used. When you download music from any of the available online media sites, the songs will automatically download in a preselected file format.

However, before you click that “rip” or “download” button you may want to consider whether you are downloading audio files in the format that best suits your needs. If you fail to get music in the right file format, the new songs may not play on some of your hardware or software. Understanding the difference between MP3 and MP4 files could save you from future incompatibility problems.

MP3 Audio File Format:

The MP3 is arguably the most useful format for digital music. MP3 files will play on almost any new portable player, such as the immensely popular Apple iPod, or the Zune, which is Microsoft’s portable player. MP3’s will play on most new home and car stereos, and are also compatible with most computer software.

One important aspect of the MP3 format is that they will usually even play on many of the older devices. However, you may need to determine whether an MP3 is encoded with a constant bit rate (cbr) or variable bit rate (vbr). If you have older equipment, you may want to avoid vbr files.

New equipment can play both cbr and vbr MP3 files. In the long run, if you want your music to play any time, any where, on any equipment, then you should rip or download your music in the MP3 format.

MP4 Audio File Format:

The MP4 file format is also known as the M4a format. The MP4 is most common in connection with Apple. If you rip CD’s or download music using iTunes, chances are you have a lot of MP4’s. The MP4 files are often a little smaller in size than MP3 files, allowing you to fit more music on your computer or player. Other than the smaller size of MP4s, there’s no real advantage to this format.

In fact, there are potential disadvantages to using the MP4 format. MP4 files can have digital rights management (DRM) incorporated in them, which is a type of “copy protection.” DRM can cause problems when attempting to backup your files or move them to a new computer. In the past, if you chose to switch from an Apple computer over to a Windows based PC, your MP4 files would be incompatible. Fortunately, Microsoft has fixed the incompatibility problem in the new Windows 7, and Mp4 files have complete functionality. The Microsoft Zune player also works with Mp4’s.

The MP3 and MP4 file formats are two of the most commonly used formats for audio files.  Understanding the difference between MP3 and MP4 file formats can prevent many potential problems and allow you to make the best of your digital music library.