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Difference Between MP3 and AAC

mp3_logoMP3 vs AAC

MP3 is already a quite well known audio codec that is used mostly in mobile media players, which has now been dubbed as MP3 players, due to the significant reduction in file size it offers. AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) was a later addition to the MP4 standard and presents multiple and substantial improvements to the MP3 standard. Since both are lossy formats, it is therefore understood that they both sacrifice parts of the original audio data in order to come up with a much smaller file size. The key difference is in the quality of the recording after it is encoded with either AAC or MP3.

AAC has corrected a lot of the shortcomings of MP3 when encoding sound files and this has been duly noted both by technical people and casual listeners. The difference is so significant that it is not uncommon for people to equate the sound quality of an MP3 file coded with a specific bit rate with an AAC encoded file with a much lower bit rate. The difference in quality gets more pronounced as you go down to lower bit rates; 128kbps and lower.

The general advantage of the MP3 format is in its popularity. Because it was the first one to be introduced, it has become widely accepted by most software and hardware music players. AAC only gained popularity when Apple adapted it as the default format for its iPod music player and the music files sold in its music store. Before that, most portable music players, like those created by Creative, only supported MP3 files and not AAC. Now, most modern players being produced have added support for AAC and this gap is slowly beginning to close.

When choosing a file format for storing your music files, it is no longer under debate that AAC would be the clear winner. But before you encode your files to AAC, you should first examine if your existing devices are able to work with this format, as low quality is always better than not playable. When looking for a new player, its always better to find one with AAC support even when you have no intention of converting your files to AAC any time soon.

1. MP3 and AAC are both lossy file formats for audio recording
2. AAC is generally better than MP3, more so at lower bitrates
3. The MP3 format has more support, especially in portable devices, compared to AAC

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  1. I’ve done extensive personal testing of AAC, WMA, mp3 and mp3PRO. This is what I’ve found:

    1. mp3 requires more bits to equal the same quality as the newer codecs: AAC/WMA/mp3PRO.

    A. 4 MB “standard” mp3 (128 kbps, constant-bit-rate) equals ..
    B. 3 MB 96 kbps, cbr AAC/WMA/mp3PRO

    In other words, the newer codecs are all roughly 30% better.

    2. Copy Protection.

    The overwhelming reason why mp3 is still popular is because of its LACK of copy protection.

    3. At super-low bit rates, i.e. 32 kbps cbr, AAC and mp3PRO seem to be the best.

    4. Most like original.

    For critical listening, i.e. “audio snobs” like me, I’ve found that mp3s at 160/192kbps sound the best .. period .. regardless of the AAC/WMA/mp3PRO setting used. It is “warmer” and more faithful to the original WAV file. The newer codecs tend to “lack air” and sound “more metallic”. However, the average person can’t tell the difference.

    5. Favorite.

    I like mp3PRO the best. It has the best of both worlds: mp3 compatibility AND newer algorithms/smaller file sizes of AAC/WMA.

    6. AAC Popularity.

    The reason AAC is gaining in popularity is solely because of iTunes. In fact, there is a firmware update to the Nintendo Wii that makes it play AACs and dumps mp3 playback.


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