What is an MP3 and what does it mean?

MP3 definition

MP3 - MPeg-1 audio layer 3
MP3 refers to an audio file which has been compressed using the MPEG-1 compression standard. Using this standard greatly reduces the physical size of the audio file with little loss of sound quality.

What is an MP3?

An MP3 is an audio file, which can be music or any other audio recording.

The MP3 starts life as a high quality recording which has been compressed (digitally) to allow it to take up less space on a storage device (like your MP3 player or hard drive).

Without this compression the average MP3 player would not hold as many tracks, for example an average 3 minute WAV (another digital audio format) recording is around 30MB, compared to an MP3 recording of the same length coming in at around 3MB. This size advantage has also increased the MP3's use over the Internet, making it the most popular format for downloading music tracks online.

The quality of the MP3 track will not be as good as the original because of the way the track is compressed. The quality of an MP3 file depends on what is called its "sample rate" or "bit rate", which we will summarise now.

MP3 Bit Rate

An MP3's bit rate (or sample rate) refers to the amount of audio information (measured in Kb Kilobits) it reproduces per second. The higher the bit rate the better the quality, but also the size of the MP3 file is increased, meaning the higher the quality, the less you can fit on your storage device.

There is a noticable difference in the quality of the sound produced by MP3s of varying bit rates, especially if the file is played at high volume. If you are compressing the MP3s yourself then experimenting with the bit rate can be useful, to get either better quality reproductions, or more MP3s on your storage device.
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