What Is an MP3 File?

How to open, edit, & convert MP3 files

What to Know

This article describes what MP3 files are, the best ways to open one, and how to convert one to M4A, WAV, and other formats.

What Is an MP3 File?

A file with the MP3 file extension is an MP3 Audio file developed by the Moving Pictures Experts Group (MPEG). The abbreviation stands for MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 Audio Layer III.

An MP3 file is normally used to store music data, but there are lots of free audiobooks that come in this format, too. Due to its popularity, a variety of phones, tablets, and even vehicles provide built-in support for playing MP3s.

What makes MP3 files different than some other audio file formats is that their data is compressed to reduce the file size down to just a fraction of what formats like WAV use. This technically means the sound quality is reduced in order to achieve such a small size, but the tradeoff is typically acceptable, which is why the format is so widely used.

Screenshot of several MP3 files in Windows 10

How to Open an MP3 File

You can play MP3s with lots of different computer software, including the default music player in Windows, VLC, iTunes, Winamp, and most other music players.

Apple devices like the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch can play MP3 files without a special app, like from right within the web browser or Mail app. The same is true for Android devices, Amazon Kindle, and others.

If you're trying to find out how to add MP3s (or other supported audio formats) to iTunes so that you can sync them with your iOS device, see our guide on importing music into iTunes.

Do you need to cut, or shorten an MP3 file instead? Skip down to the section called "How to Edit an MP3 File" for ways you can do that.

If you find that an application on your PC does try to open the file but it's the wrong application or you'd rather have another installed program open it, see our How to Change the Default Program for a Specific File Extension guide for making that change in Windows.

How to Convert an MP3 File

There are lots of ways to save MP3s to other audio formats. The Freemake Audio Converter program is one example of where you can convert it to WAV, WMA, AAC, and other similar formats. Plenty of other MP3 converters can be downloaded through our list of free audio converter software programs.

Most of the programs seen in that list can also convert MP3 to M4R for an iPhone ringtone, but also to M4A, MP4 (for making a "video" with just sound), WMA, OGG, FLAC, AAC, AIF/AIFF/AIFC, and many others.

If you're looking for an online MP3 converter that's easy to use, we recommend Zamzar or FileZigZag. All you have to do there is upload the file to the website and then choose the format you want to convert it to. You'll then have to download the converted file to your computer in order to use it.

The Bear File Converter is another online tool that lets you save your MP3 file to the MIDI format as an MID file. You can also upload WAV, WMA, AAC, and OGG files. The file can come from your computer or a URL if it's stored online.

Trying to "convert" a YouTube video to MP3? There are lots of options for this, which we've covered in our YouTube to MP3 guide.

Although this technically isn't considered "converting," you can upload an MP3 file directly to YouTube with web services like TunesToTube and TOVID.IO. They're meant for musicians who want to advertise their original music and don't necessarily need a video to accompany it.

How to Edit an MP3 File

A website that can quickly trim an MP3 file to make it not only smaller in size but also shorter in length, is MP3Cut.net. Some other editing tools there include a volume, speed, and pitch changer.

Audacity is a popular audio editor that has lots of features, so it's not as easy to use as the one we just mentioned. However, it's great if you need to edit out the middle of the MP3 file or do advanced things like add effects and mix multiple audio files.

Editing MP3 metadata in batches is possible with tag editing software like Mp3tag.