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what is the difference between mp3 and mp4In our ever-modernizing age, things are constantly changing and being updated.  What the standard was yesterday may not necessarily still be the standard today.  All of these quick changes creates a market with tons and tons of options when it comes to every aspect of our lives.

Music is no exception.  For years, MP3’s were the standard for music files.  Then that all changed as more extensions were developed and released.  Suddenly MP3’s weren’t the only things available.  One of the extensions that came around was MP4.

MP3 and MP4 sure sound similar, one might just assume MP4 is the next step for MP3, but that is not the case.  In fact, they are rather different, with distinct histories and uses.

Let’s examine the difference between mp3 and mp4 by looking at what each file extension is individually.


what is the difference between mp3 and mp4MP3 is short for MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3.  It is used for audio and uses a compression algorithm that introduces loss, meaning it is a “lossy” compression format.  It is one of the most commonly used audio formats available and has been the standard for quite some time.

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Uncompressed audio files are rather large, just look at any WAV file.  This is because sound is very complex and the translation of it into a digital format that a computer can understand takes a lot of data.

MP3 works to make file sizes smaller by using what is called psychoacoustic models.  They get rid of data that most people would not hear because it is too low or high.  By doing this, files sizes can be greatly reduced.  A 128 kbit/s MP3 file is about 1/11th the size of the corresponding file on an uncompressed CD.


what is the difference between mp3 and mp4MP4 is short for MPEG-4 Part 14.  MP4 is based on MPEG-4 Part 12 which was in turn based on Apple’s MOV file type.  MP4 is a container format, meaning it is used to store audio and/or video data, rather than to code the information.  MP4 video and audio can also be streamed over the internet.  This is also true of most other modern container formats.

Because MP4 is a container format, it does not have a standard method of coding the audio or video information.  Instead, codecs dictate how the audio or video will be coded and possibly compressed.  For audio, Advanced Audio Coding, or AAC, is the most popular codec for compressing audio for transfer on the internet.

So What’s the Difference Then?

From these two descriptions, we can note a few major differences.  First, MP3 is an audio compression format used to compress and store audio on a computer.  MP4 is a media container format used to store media of many possible types on a computer.

Therefore, an MP3 file is limited with regard to the method of compression and can only store audio.  MP4 on the other hand, can store video as well as audio.  It can even store subtitles for a video file.  Also, since MP4 is a container, it can store audio and video that have been compressed in different fashions.  In fact, an MP4 file could be audio that has been compressed as an MP3.

These differences make it so that a program that plays an MP3 cannot necessarily play an MP4 and vice versa.  The same goes for portable music players, though there are plenty of software options and portable players out there that can play both, for example Winamp.

Both formats have their uses and things that they are better at than the other.  Do you have any opinions on what each format does better?  Let us know in the comments below.

  1. David Gennaro
    March 22, 2016 at 7:08 pm

    That was great. I've read many opinions previous to your article and that's all they were, opinions.
    Now I know.
    Thank You

  2. RandomX
    March 17, 2016 at 3:17 am

    Umm..I can't seem to find the difference between a 'mp3 player' and a 'mp4 player'. Someone said that the fuze+ was a 'mp4 player' but I think that it's just a mp3 player. Anyone can shed some light on this? Thanks, my google searches turn up nothing but the format 'mp3' vs the format 'mp4' which has nothing to do with the difference between the two different players.
    Thanks again! ^_^~

  3. Mahantesh
    December 20, 2015 at 5:11 am

    Very crisp and clear explanation to understand the differences of these formats. Thanks so much. Very useful

  4. Rich Martin
    June 23, 2015 at 9:15 pm

    Burned a copy of music as an mp3 and it worked in one car but not another. Should I burn another copy as an mp4? Interesting huh? I'm using Windows 8.1, CyberLink Media Suite So I can burn either mp3 or mp4 Thank you

    • jo
      December 7, 2015 at 5:33 am

      Depends if that other car can read mp4 or not. Maybe the stereo is too old to read mp3, and therefore, will not read mp4 either. Change the format to something the stereo can read.

  5. Chris
    May 22, 2015 at 8:38 pm

    Thank you very much for this enlightening explanations! At least I know now how to pose my question!
    I got here trying to figure out how to extract the audio from a DVD by using VLC.
    I suppose I could use for a first step the profile "mp3 (mp4)". This writes a file with the extension *.mp4, while choosing mp3 only leads to a file with the extension *.ts, which is totally unfamiliar to me.
    But how do I extract the mp3 from the container mp4, so that it can be played by an mp3-player?
    Would this be a helpful expansion of this article?

  6. marilyn chauvin
    May 21, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    I'm a 68 yr. old computer dummy. But when this showed up on my tablet I was amazed!!!!!!!!!!!!I love this,no more trying to decide how to download anything!!!!!!LOVE THIS, MARILYN

  7. he5rdn
    May 18, 2015 at 3:49 am

    so, which one should i use. MP3 or MP4? if I want to burn it to a CD or record it to tape player? cause i cant stand modern devices.

    • jo
      December 7, 2015 at 5:34 am

      What's "it"? If you have older devices, then use mp3 or older. Obvious. Do some research.

  8. Trimbun fausting achmed ali mochamed
    May 12, 2015 at 4:27 pm

    This article help alot. very thanks, because, i wondred if the diference was realy big, but i guess that it wasnt that big, thanks for ur help i feel blesed to have peple like u help us that dont have very good teknolchgi knoladge, very thanks again :)

  9. Scorpion
    May 9, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    That guy Ringo Starr what a douche. Use the name of a famous Beetle and then make comments like that. Found your response very helpfull. Thanks

  10. Imogen
    March 28, 2015 at 9:33 am

    So if i were to download a music video on youtube but only wanted the sound i would use .mp3?

  11. Jessica
    March 17, 2015 at 3:06 am

    Thank you for this article. I've been searching for almost an hour trying to figure out the difference between mp3 and mp4. This was the first site that explained it in an easy-to-understand way.

  12. Anonymous
    March 17, 2015 at 3:05 am

    Thank you for this article. I've been searching for almost an hour trying to figure out the difference between mp3 and mp4. This was the first site that explained it in an easy-to-understand way.

  13. Lee
    March 16, 2015 at 11:00 am

    More savvy now than before read the article, but reminds me of Texas joke: Question - What's the difference between an orange? Answer - (thumb and first finger close together, not touching, measuring...) About that much.

  14. jimmy
    January 8, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    thankyou so much .. this is a amazing article ..

  15. mamerica
    January 7, 2015 at 2:48 pm

    There are always people who think that passing on a little knowledge somehow makes them less knollegeable. I imagine Ringo is one of them. He has deep-rooted insecurity and identity issues that we probably won't be solving anytime soon.

  16. Greg ALLEY
    December 29, 2014 at 7:29 am

    As a so-so user I appreciate the explanation. So many people "ass u me" one is literate when actually ignorant of pertinent facts. Ignorance can be cured but one cannot fix stupid. Thank you much.

  17. tongjoophoon
    December 15, 2014 at 3:35 am

    Simple but concise article, well done.

  18. Lisa
    December 19, 2009 at 7:49 am

    Count me as another who says articles like this are why I subscribe to your feed. Keep it up!

  19. andjoh
    December 18, 2009 at 5:58 am

    It is useful to have these type of articles and good to see it. I was linked here from a retweet and I've retweeted it myself. Say if I googled for this question it may not come to an answer that easy. Like when I tried to explain to a friend the difference between .jpg and .jp2 and couldn't find a straight explanation in any search.

    I hope you tagged this post straight to the point Mike so the bots know I'm searching for the difference between mp3 and mp4 ;)


    • Mike Fagan
      December 18, 2009 at 9:31 am

      Thanks for the support!

  20. Toney Starks
    December 9, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    Very useful

    • Mike Fagan
      December 9, 2009 at 5:30 pm


  21. Stefan
    December 9, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    I'm another one of those 'savvy but didn't know this stuff' tech types. Can you recommend sites that explain these and other differences to beginners? I'm often having to do conversions from, say, Quicktime or MP4 to .wmv. And while I can do it (usually) successfully, I don't really know what's going on. For instance, in a conversion such as the above I sometimes lose audio, and don't know why that time but not other times...

    • Mike Fagan
      December 9, 2009 at 1:52 pm

      You can never really go wrong with the basics. Wikipedia is nice,but can sometimes get a little technical. also has some nice article and is definitely worth a look. You can never go wrong just Googling "difference between A and B." Thanks for the comment.

  22. Aibek
    December 9, 2009 at 5:20 am

    Hey Mike

    Great pos. Well explained!

    • Mike Fagan
      December 9, 2009 at 1:34 pm

      Thanks Aibek!

  23. Albert
    December 9, 2009 at 4:19 am

    I enjoyed this article! I have always found the container-codec relationship somewhat confusing. Thanks!

    • Mike Fagan
      December 9, 2009 at 1:33 pm

      Glad it was enjoyable!

  24. Crazy Dave
    December 9, 2009 at 12:27 am

    Thanks for this article... I am one of the dumb people who thought that MP4 was an update on MP3.... :)

    • Mike Fagan
      December 9, 2009 at 12:46 am

      Yeah. That's another common mistake. Glad to help clear that up.

  25. Crazy Dave
    December 9, 2009 at 12:27 am

    Thanks for this article... I am one of the dumb people who thought that MP$ was an update on MP3.... :)

  26. Inger
    December 9, 2009 at 12:13 am

    I´m one of the "not-so-savvy" readers and I appreciate your easy explanation. Thanks!

    • Mike Fagan
      December 9, 2009 at 12:18 am

      No problem Inger. Glad you found it useful!

  27. San Diego John
    December 8, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    Yeah, I consider myself fairly savvy. But if asked, no, I wouldn't have been able to explain the difference. Besides, I often take things I read here and forward them to friends or family. This is written clear and simple enough that it would be an easy way to explain the difference to even my not-so-savvy friends.

    As to the others, here goes. A text file is just words and a jpeg is an image. An iPhone dropped in the ocean is toast. And unlike the Russian Revolution, your Grandma is obviously well remembered.


    • Jackson Chung
      December 8, 2009 at 4:03 pm

      Thanks John. You're right. Not many people know that MP4 isn't a codec, it's a container. A frequent misnomer.

    • Jameson
      February 3, 2015 at 8:02 am

      Thanks! You said it!

  28. Ringo Starr
    December 8, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Good stuff. Hey, maybe next you can enlighten us on the difference between a .txt and a .jpg? Or an iPhone and a toaster oven? Or my grandma and the Russian Revolution?

    MakeUseOf primarily targets people with at least SOME savvy--hell, you yourself posted on how to make Atari 2600 games! I'd think this info would already be buried into the minds of the people who frequent this site. If I'm wrong, though, sorry. It just struck me as a strange thing to post about.

    • Jackson Chung
      December 8, 2009 at 4:01 pm

      Hey Ringo,

      Thanks for your comment. Please do not assume to know our reader base. We may have frequent readers who are savvy but we must also think about the others who may be wondering about the difference.

      Technology Explained articles are meant to target these topics and elaborate on subjects which not everyone may be familiar with.

      • Ravi
        December 9, 2009 at 7:02 am

        Ringo Starr, I couldn't disagree with you more.

        Technology Explained articles have actually become my favorite part of the site -- I learn a lot from the more advanced ones and I pass along some of the simpler ones (like this) to less technologically-inclined friends.

        Thanks Jackson!

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