How To iPhone & iPod AAC vs. MP3: Which to Choose for iPhone and iTunes Share Pin Email Print 45RPM/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images iPhone & iPod Key Concepts Basics Installing & Upgrading Guides & Tutorials Tips & Tricks Switching from Android to iPhone by Sam Costello Sam Costello has been writing about tech since 2000. His writing has appeared in publications such as CNN.com, PC World, InfoWord, and many others. Updated June 24, 2019 85 85 people found this article helpful Many people assume that all digital music files are MP3s, but that's not necessarily true. You can actually choose the file format you want songs to be saved in (in most cases). This is particularly useful when ripping CDs in iTunes or converting high-quality, lossless files to other formats. Each music file format has different strengths and weaknesses—generally involving size and sound quality—so how do you choose which is best for you? Why Different File Types Matter AAC and MP3 are probably the most common file types used with the iPhone and iTunes. They're pretty similar, but they're not identical. They differ in four ways that should be important to you: File size—Both AAC and MP3 are compressed file formats, meaning they balance a song sounding good with making it take up less space on your device. AAC is generally slightly smaller.Compatibility—MP3 is the most common digital music format, so you can count on virtually any device being able to play it. AAC is slightly less ubiquitous, but most devices can play it these days, including all Apple products.Audio quality—How good the music sounds in each file format is key. It can be really tough to distinguish between the two on most devices, but AAC sometimes sounds slightly better.DRM—Digital Rights Management, restrictions put on how you use and share your music, can apply to either AAC or MP3. There's no DRM on files you create, but if you're buying them from a store, it's worth finding out if it's present. Common Music File Types In addition to the two most common file types used on Apple devices, AAC and MP3, these devices also support formats like Apple Lossless Encoding, AIFF, and WAV. These are high-quality, uncompressed file types used for CD burning. Avoid using them unless you really know what they are and why you want them. AAC files are generally higher quality and slightly smaller than MP3 files of the same song. The reasons for this are fairly technical, but the simplest explanation is that AAC was created after MP3 and it offers a more efficient compression scheme, with less quality loss than MP3. Despite popular belief, AAC was not created by Apple and is not a proprietary Apple format. AAC can be used with a wide variety of non-Apple devices, though it is also the native file format for iTunes. While AAC is slightly less widely supported than MP3, virtually any modern media device can use it. Common iPhone Music File Formats Compared Here’s a guide to deciding what file type you’ll want to use in iTunes. Once you’re done reading this, check the step-by-step guide to changing iTunes settings to use the file format you want. AAC AIFF Apple Lossless MP3 Pros Small file sizeHigher quality soundthan MP3 Highest quality sound Highest quality sound Small file sizeMore compatible: works with virtually every portable audio player and cell phone Cons Slightly less compatible; Works with Apple devices, most Android phones, on the Sony PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable, and some cell phones Somewhat less compatibleLarger files than AAC or MP3Slower encodingOlder format Less compatible; Only works with iTunes and iPod/iPhoneLarger files than AAC or MP3Slower encoding Newer format Slightly lower sound quality than AAC Proprietary? No Yes Yes No Recommendation: AAC If you plan to stick with iTunes and an iPod or iPhone for a long time, we recommend using AAC for your digital music. You can always convert AAC to MP3 using iTunes if you decide to switch to a device that doesn't support AAC. In the meantime, using AAC means your music will sound good and you’ll be able to store a lot of it. And remember: You only want to create AAC files from high-quality sources like CDs. If you convert an MP3 to an AAC, you'll lose some audio quality. Continue Reading Want to Know What Makes an MP3 Different From an AAC? What Is the Best Format For Music: AAC or MP3? How to Convert AAC to MP3 With iTunes What's an AAC File and How Do You Open One? Convert iTunes Songs to MP3 in 5 Easy Steps Which Music Formats Are Compatible With iPods? Mystified by Audio File Formats? Here's How They Differ What Audio File Types Can the iPhone Play? Get the Best Sound by Optimizing Your iTunes CD Import Settings Audio Formats: Which One Should You Use? Why Are Some iTunes Songs 'Purchased' and Others 'Protected'? What's an M4A File and How Do You Open One? What Is The ALAC Codec Option in iTunes? Does My MP3 Player Work With Apple's iTunes Store? What Does Rip and Burn Mean for CDs in iTunes? Lossy Audio Formats: Do You Know the Difference?