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A couple of years back MP3 was the most supported format for portable devices. Then Apple came along and wiped the floor of all the portable devices with the iPod as well as the iPhone. They clearly favour M4A (AAC).

When to choose, right now, the 'best' audio codec to encode music to, which would you choose to achieve maximal independence of portable device vendors: MP3 or M4A?

(I am well aware of Ogg (vorbis): no market (maybe this changes with HTML5 and more WebKit on portable devices), I am also aware of FLAC: I dont want to discuss long term storage.)

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Almost all Android devices can play Ogg Vorbis, FWIW. –  staticsan Aug 20 '12 at 7:14
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5 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

If you plan to use your audio files on more than one portable player, especially if you want to use them on future players that you haven't bought yet (so you don't know what formats they will support), MP3 is more or less your only option. Even for players with support for other formats, that support is often incomplete and buggy.

Unless you make sure to only buy Rockbox-compatible players. Then you can use pretty much any format you like.

Of course, the only truly future-proof solution is keeping lossless copies of everything and transcoding to lossy formats for mobile players.

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yah, sadly the last paragraph seems to be the only option in the long term. –  akira Oct 9 '09 at 6:56
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+1 for mentioning roxkbox. I have never bought a portable audio player because of limited format support. I will have a look at it. –  ufotds Jan 4 '11 at 15:11
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MP4 is in very widespread use today. For example, Internet video streams usually come in H.264, which usually uses MP4 for its audio. Almost any modern portable media player is able to play back both MP3 and MP4.

However, there are two things to take into account:

  1. MP4 is the more efficient codec, meaning that it takes less storage space (=bitrate) for the same audio quality (or the same bitrate for better audio quality). So, from a purely quality-oriented point of view, MP4 is plain better and support is widespread enough to give it a go.
  2. MP4 is slightly more complex than MP3, which may lead to a slightly higher computational load and hence, slightly decreased battery life especially on older devices. However, higher bitrates generally decrease battery life, too, so this is only a valid argument for MP3 files and MP4 files of similar bitrates.

Overall, I would use MP4 without hesitation.

(If you want to know more, I posted something about audio quality of MP3s and MP4 files a while ago.)

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MP4 is not an audio format - it is a media wrapper format that can contain video and audio streams or a variety of different types. When they questioner mentions mp4(aac) that is referring to an mp4 container with a single AAC encoded audio stream - you could equally store an MP3 stream in an MP4 file or many other audio encodings such as AC3. The confusion (people thinking MP4 is a distinct audio format) is due to the way some manufacturers market "mp4" capable devices. They are even calling some MP5 players now, which means nothing more than "it goes up to 11!". –  David Spillett Oct 8 '09 at 9:06
    
True. I was speaking about mp4audio, or *.m4a. Could you name it that way? –  bastibe Oct 8 '09 at 13:51
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MP4 is the new MP3 (although as said by other posters, its just the container for AAC audio)

In addition MP4 supports many extra types of streams, including pictures, video and other rich content. True that MP3 supports lyrics and photos via the ID3-Tag, but now its built into the container specs, which means portable players can access the various types of rich content.

Vendor-independent wise I'd say its highly subjective, depending on the player you get, and what content you want to store. Only music? I say MP3 is a safer option... until they stop supporting MP3 on portable devices in 2 decades or so.

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content: "audio codec" –  akira Oct 8 '09 at 10:53
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The independence you're talking about is not restricted by a format but by the device you may (or rather may not) buy. The choice is entirely yours!

And FLAC (or Monkey's Audio) is not about 'long term storage' but all about quality and decent "portable devices" that do support these formats are plenty.

(I certainly do not care much for this 'floor wiping' corporation you felt inclined to mention. :)

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the point of the question was to find out the greatest common denominator, codec wise, so one can go and buy almost any device and it 'will just work'. flac: the amount of items you can store with flac compared with the amount of items you can store with the lossy codecs is rather small. if storage size is not relevant for you, the 'right' answer to my question would be 'wav' because 'lossless' (analog->digital loss aside) and bigger support on a number of devices. –  akira Oct 9 '09 at 6:50
    
and that is exactly why you should make such a question CW, it's about personal preferences, and as for the future support of any format, may i refer you to my crystal ball? :) –  Molly7244 Oct 9 '09 at 9:28
    
oooo, you have a crystal ball? can i borrow? –  quack quixote Nov 2 '09 at 5:27
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MP4/M4A (both are AAC based files) render much better at lower compressions. A 128kB range AAC file stomps mp3 in the dirt in sound quality. Above 220, a little less so, but still way better. If you are trying to cram thousands of songs into a limited storage space, AAC will put a smile on your face. If you have a huge mp3 collection and most of it is above 260kB, don't waste your time converting them; just go with what you already have for now. If you are starting from scratch or are working on a new database (taste in music changed over the years) go AAC. More devices will support them in the future. Several major music hardware manufacturers already include AAC decoding on their devices. AAC -IS- a better compression engine than mp3. There were lots of cassette tapes around at one time; where are they now? In museums. Bye bye mp3.

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