How Many Songs Does a Gigabyte of Storage Hold?

Music Storage on Phone
Source: Pixabay

It's not uncommon for portable devices to sport large storage capacities that support dozens of gigabytes of available data storage. This amount of space is ideal for carrying around a good selection of your digital music library along with other types of media files. Although these larger-capacity devices remove much of the challenge of hardware storage limitations, it's still helpful to ballpark the number of songs you can stuff in your remaining free gigs of space.

Length of Songs

Most contemporary popular music clocks in between three and five minutes of length, so most online estimators assume files of roughly that duration. However, you may have other things in your collection that can skew your estimations such as remixes or digitized 12-inch vinyl singles. These can be significantly longer than the usual song length—as can be orchestral works, operas, podcasts and similar content.

Bitrate and Encoding Method

The bitrate used for encoding a song has a large effect on file size. For example, a song that is encoded at 256 Kbps yields a larger file size than the same song encoded at a bitrate of 128 Kbps. The encoding method can also affect how many songs will fit on your portable device—variable bitrate files generate a smaller file compared to constant bitrate files.

One reason the VBR vs. CBR question matters is that VBR files generally produce better sound and sometimes result in smaller files if the audio properties of the original sound support it, but they decode more slowly and thus some playback devices cannot handle them. CBR is universally accepted despite known limitations in acoustic quality.

Audio Format

Choosing an audio format for your particular portable is also an important factor to consider. The MP3 standard may be the most widely supported audio format, but your device may be able to use an alternative format that produces smaller files. AAC, for example, is regarded as being better than MP3. It typically produces higher quality audio and is more efficient at compression. This format could give you more songs per gigabyte than if you use MP3 alone.

Other formats, like Windows Media Audio, Ogg Vorbis, and the Free Lossless Audio Codec, can yield smaller file sizes with richer acoustic properties than MP3, but MP3 as a standard—except for Apple, which relies on AAC—means you can always play an MP3 but perhaps not any of the other types, depending on the hardware you're using.

Examples

Assume a smartphone with 4 GB of available data storage. If your pop-music library averages 3.5 minutes per song, at 128 Kbps each in the MP3 format, then you'll have a bit over 74 hours of music available, good for nearly 1,280 songs.

With the same amount of space, your collection of symphonies clocking in at 7 minutes per track at 256 Kbps yields a bit more than 37 hours of music, a total of 320 songs.

Conversely, a podcast pushing out monaural sound at 64 Kbps and running for 45 minutes per episode gives you 150 hours of talking over 200 shows.

Alternatives to File Transfers

It's less common to download audio files to portable devices, as it was when devices like the iPod or the Zune led the market, as streaming services like Spotify and Pandora become more common on smartphones. If you're running into a space crunch, consider ditching the file library and matching your MP3s with a streaming service. You'll get the benefit of your music without losing space on your smartphone—plus, you can often download specific playlists to get you through those times when you don't have cell or Wi-Fi signals.

Other Considerations

The MP3 format supports tags and album art. Although these assets aren't generally large, they do add a bit of extra padding to individual file sizes.

Particularly with podcasts and other spoken-word tracks, a file collapsed from stereo to mono takes up less space, often with little effect on the listening experience.

Although it's up to audio producers to select the right audio format and bitrate for their music, if you need to shave off some megabytes off your MP3 collection, take advantage of software that dynamically re-sizes MP3s or other audio files.