M4A vs MP3: Which Is Better in 2024

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March 7, 2024

As a music fan, M4A and MP3 are the most popular audio formats you can often encounter, especially when you are an Apple device user. Each of the two formats has its own characteristics. M4A is an audio format commonly used for purchasing and downloading music on iTunes. It typically offers higher sound quality and smaller file sizes compared to MP3. On the other hand, MP3 is a more popular audio format known for its widespread compatibility and usage across various devices.

In this article, we will explore the differences between M4A and MP3, discuss which is the better audio format, and how to convert M4A to MP3 or Vice Versa.

What is MP3?

MP3, which stands for MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3, is the most commonly used audio compression format worldwide. With a lossy audio compression method known as Perceptual coding, MP3 files remove audio information not easily perceivable by human ears, aiming to maintain satisfactory audio quality while minimizing file sizes.

Introduced earlier in the industry, MP3 enjoys superior compatibility compared to M4A. It is supported across various operating systems, media players, and music systems, making it a standard in digital audio.

What is M4A?

M4A, short for MPEG-4 Audio, is often considered the successor to MP3. It is typically encoded with the Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) codec, a superior lossy compression algorithm, resulting in smaller file sizes while maintaining higher audio quality compared to MP3 at the same bit rates. Additionally, M4A files can also be encoded with the Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC) in certain cases.

As M4A files don’t have digital rights management (DRM) restrictions, they can be used for music distribution and playback. They are preferred by audio apps on the Mac and iOS App Stores, and supported by Nintendo and PlayStation products. Apple also uses M4A as the primary format for music purchases from the iTunes Store. DRM-protected iTunes music employs an M4P extension.

M4A vs MP3: What’s the Difference?

M4A and MP3 share a lot in common. They both use compression algorithms to strike a balance between audio quality and file size. On the other hand, they also have some differences which set them apart.

M4A VS MP3: Compression

MP3 files generally employ lossy data compression, while M4A can be encoded with both lossy compression (AAC) and Lossless (ALAC).

M4A VS MP3: Quality

M4A files with the ALAC codec offer superior original sound quality. As the successor to MP3, M4A with AAC employs an advanced compression algorithm, resulting in better audio quality compared to MP3 files at the same bit rate. Generally, a 256kbps MP3 will have similar sound quality to a 192kbps M4A.

M4A VS MP3: File Size

Due to the superior codec method, M4A can achieve smaller compressed file sizes at the same bit rate compared to MP3.

M4A VS MP3: Compatibility

MP3 has been an industry standard for a long time and is supported by most platforms and devices. However, M4A adoption has been slower, but it has the potential to keep up with the trend.

M4A vs MP3: Which Is Better?

Here’s a table summarizing the differences between MP3 and M4A, helping you decide which format suits your needs best:

CompressionLossy Lossy (AAC) or Lossless (ALAC)
File Size at the Same Bit rateLargerSmaller
CompatibilityMore compatibleLess compatible

If you’re using Apple devices, M4A is a great choice as it’s natively supported and offers excellent compatibility with macOS applications like iMovie, QuickTime Player, and Final Cut Pro. M4A files can also be played on Android and Windows devices. However, if you encounter compatibility issues with certain devices or applications, MP3 might be a better option due to its wider support.

If your device supports both MP3 and M4A formats, and you prioritize sound quality, M4A is recommended as it often provides better audio quality compared to MP3 files.

How to Convert M4A to MP3 or Vice Versa

In case some devices or applications may not support M4A files, you can easily convert M4A to MP3 using various methods. You can use Music/iTunes on your computer, online converters, third-party tools available on Google Drive, or media players like VLC.

Conversely, if you need to convert MP3 to M4A, you can use the same tools and ensure to select M4A as the output format.

Extra Tip: How to Download Apple Music M4P to MP3?

Apple Music employs a specific audio format known as M4P. Unlike M4A, M4P contains audio content protected by digital rights management (DRM), restricting its usage to authorized devices or software only. If you want to download Apple Music DRM-protected M4P songs to MP3, you can use a reliable and secure tool – the Pazu Apple Music Converter. This converter downloads Apple Music playlists, albums, and songs to MP3, AAC, FLAC, and other popular formats on both Mac and Windows platforms. After downloading, you can freely transfer the MP3 files to your iPhone or Android to enjoy on flights without the Apple Music app.

When downloading Apple Music songs and playlists, Pazu Apple Music Converter preserves the original audio quality, ID3 tags, and metadata, ensuring you won’t lose any important information. The converter has a remarkably fast download speed—almost 10 times faster than comparable software.

Key Features of Pazu Apple Music Converter

  • User-friendly interface
  • 10x Fast Music download speed
  • Advanced DRM removal
  • Lossless audio quality
  • Keep original ID3 tags & metadata
  • Download Apple Music songs, albums and playlists
  • Unlimited downloads
  • Adjustable output options

Follow the tutorial below to download Apple Music to MP3 and enjoy them during your traveling. 

Step 1. Launch Pazu Apple Music Converter

Download, install and run Pazu Apple Music Converter on your Mac or Windows.

Apple Music Converter

Step 2. Choose the output format

The default format is M4A in 256kbps. Apple Music Converter also supports MP3, AAC, FLAC, WAV, and AIFF. Click the gear icon if you want to change the output format or output folder.

Apple Music Converter settings

Step 3. Choose a playlist, artist, or album to download

Follow the on-screen instructions to choose a playlist, artist, or album you want to download.

add Apple Music songs

Step 4. Start to download Apple Music songs

Click the “Convert” button to download Apple Music songs, albums, and playlists to MP3. After downloading, you can play them anywhere you want, even after canceling your Apple Music subscription.

convert Apple Music to MP3

Step 5. Locate the Converted Songs

After the download is complete, click on the clock icon in the upper right corner to view the converted Apple Music songs. To locate the downloaded Apple Music songs:

  • Click the folder icon to open the output folder where the songs are saved;
  • Directly go to the output folder you customized in the previous step.
find downloads

In Conclusion

M4A and MP3 are both popular audio file formats. M4A is preferred for its better quality in a smaller size, while MP3 offers broader support across devices and platforms. Choose the format that suits your needs best. You can also convert M4P files to MP3 or vice versa with several online and local tools. Moreover, if you want to download DRM-protected Apple Music M4P files to MP3, use the Pazu Apple Music Converter to permanently save your favorite songs and playlists on your device.

To get started, download Pazu Apple Music Converter on your Mac or Windows.