M4A vs. MP3: Is There An Audible Difference?

If you like listening to digital music, then you are most likely familiar with various types of audio files. Not long ago, MP3 was the clear choice for compressed audio files but now, there’s a new kid on the block: M4A, which is made popular by Apple in applications such as iTunes, stacks up against the venerable MP3.

M4A vs. MP3: What’s The Differences?



M4A format is widely used by Apple for unprotected music downloaded from their iTunes Music Store (DRM protected music uses M4P extension). Audio within the M4A file extension is typically encoded with AAC lossy compression, though lossless ALAC may also be used. In general, compared with MP3, the quality of M4A is better and its file size is smaller than MP3 file. It aims to overtake mp3 and become the new standard in audio compression. It is very similar to mp3 in many ways but developed to have better quality in a same or even lesser file size. M4A format was first introduced by Apple. The format type is also known as the Apple lossless Encoder (ALE).

MPEG-4 files with both video and audio normally use .mp4 file extension but when it is intended for audio only, the file will generally have an .m4a extension. On Windows, M4A format can be opened via the following applications: QuickTime player, Roxio creator, Winamp, MS Windows Media Player, KSP Sound Player, and Apple iTunes. On Mac, Apple iTunes, QuickTime Player, and Roxio Toast 10 Titanium.


MP3 is the most well-known digital audio format. It was also one of first compression formats on the scene and became hugely popular among music lovers/collectors. Its mainstream success is so tremendous that the file type is capable of being played anywhere and with almost any hardware or software. It employs a lossy compression technique known as perceptual coding or perceptual noise shaping that selectively eliminates sounds that are considered to be beyond the auditory resolution of most people.


  1. Obviously, MP3  remains to become more popular of audio formats including the lesser known M4A.
  2. M4A is developed to have better audio quality in a lesser space than the MP3.
  3. Mp3 had reached the distinction that it can be played anywhere, with almost any playback device while M4A has not reached that point just yet.
  4. MP3 was the first to come out and M4A was partly developed to actually take away MP3’s throne as the most popular audio format.
  5. M4A is actually an audio-only Mpeg-4 compression file.

Which to Choose?

I would recommend that you should mainly consider your player and your preference when choosing the format. If you have an iPod and mostly listen to your music through it, then go for the M4A. However, if you don’t want to limited your listening only on iPod, iPhone and other Apple products, then use MP3 which is more universally playable.

Zoey Wesson

Zoey Wesson is passionate about providing digital media solutions to people who want to create innovative content via Apple music conversion, online audio recording, etc.