Skip to content

MP3 vs MP4: Key differences

  • by
  • 4 min read
Was removing the headphone jack a step in the right direction?

If you’ve ever downloaded or consumed local media on your phone or computer, you must have come across the MP3 and MP4 file formats. They’re by far one of the most common multimedia file formats to ever exist. 

In this article, we’re going over both these formats and pointing out the key difference.

Understanding the origin

Both these file formats originated from MPEG. MP3 is short for MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3. Owing to the format’s simplicity, lack of errors and overall computational efficiency, the format was adopted in the public domain in 1993. 

MP4, on the other hand, stands for MPEG-4 Part 14. The standard is based on Apple’s QuickTime MOV format, except it includes support for other MPEG features. The file type first entered the public domain in 2001 but saw a re-release in 2003, which is commonly used to this day.

Now it might just seem like that MP4 is just an upgraded MP3 file, but they both have their own specific uses and advantages. 

Also read: Top 5 YouTube to MP4 video converters

What is the difference between MP3 and MP4?

Here are some of the key differences between MP3 and MP4.

Use cases

First and foremost, let’s talk about the use case for both formats. MP3 is an audio coding format, while MP4 is more of a digital multimedia container format. This means that while MP3 can only store music files (eventually becoming the de facto standard for music), MP4 files can store audio, video, images, subtitles and even text — relying on specific codecs to help determine how the coding and compression will be handled.

Content quality and File Size

MP3 allow users to tradeoff content quality for file size. This means that if you want better quality, you can pick a file with a higher bitrate (and a larger file size). On the contrary, you can use lower bitrate files for small file sizes with worse audio quality.

MP3 vs MP4: Key differences and which one to use when
Bitrate dictates the audio quality in MP3 files.

Another reason MP3s are so popular is that they use lossy compression. Doing so decreases the file size significantly while the audio quality remains relatively unaffected. 

MP4 files take a different approach towards storing data. As mentioned above, MP4 files are containers that store the data of a file instead of storing its code. While this gives the format a lot more flexibility, it also accounts for larger file sizes. Since MP4 files require codecs to function, depending on the file you have and the codec you’re using, content quality can differ. 

File Metadata

File metadata is an essential aspect of multimedia files, as, without it, media players and home media servers would be pointless. 

MP3 files use ID3 tags, which can store information such as song title, artist, album, track number and even album artwork within the file itself. The tags are saved at the end of the file’s code and are extracted by decoders and media players to identify the file.

MP3 vs MP4: Key differences and which one to use when
MP4 file metadata showing all the details about the file.

MP4 files implement metadata in the same way, except they also introduced the Extensible Metadata Platform (XMP). XMP Metadata is suited for MP4’s container style storage, compatible with file types such as PDF, JPEG, GIF, PNG, HTML, TIFF, Adobe Illustrator, PSD, WAV, and PostScript.

MP3 or MP4: Which one should you use when?

The answer is pretty simple. If you want audio files to cram on your smartphone or portable media player, MP3 is the way to go. However, if you’re looking to save video, or stream your content over the internet or do just about anything that requires more than audio, MP4 is the obvious choice.

Also read: Top 7 sites to convert Youtube videos to MP3

Yadullah Abidi

Yadullah Abidi

Yadullah is a Computer Science graduate who writes/edits/shoots/codes all things cybersecurity, gaming, and tech hardware. When he's not, he streams himself racing virtual cars. He's been writing and reporting on tech and cybersecurity with websites like Candid.Technology and MakeUseOf since 2018. You can contact him here: