What Is An MP3 File (And How Do I Open One)?

A file with the .mp3 file extension is one of the most commonly distributed audio files used today. The MP3 file was created by the Moving Pictures Experts Group (MPEG) and is abbreviated from MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 Audio Layer 3.

What Is An MP3 File?

An MP3 file is an audio file that uses a compression algorithm to reduce the overall file size. It’s known as a “lossy” format because that compression is irreversible and some of the source’s original data is lost during the compression. It’s still possible to have fairly high quality MP3 music files, though. Compression is a common technique for all types of files, whether it be audio, video, or images to reduce the amount of storage they take up. While a 3-minute lossless file, such as Waveform Audio file (WAV), can be around 30 MB in size, the same file as a compressed MP3 would only be around 3 MB. That’s a 90% compression that retains near CD quality!

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All that compression doesn’t come without some drawbacks, though. While you’re gaining much needed hard drive space, you lose some quality of sound when converting from a lossless file format.

One of the main issues comes in the form of bit rate—basically the amount of actual audio information that gets produced every second. That bit rate is measure in kbps (kilobits per second), and the higher the bit rate, the better quality sound you’re going to hear. MP3 compression removes the parts of the audio file that human ears have a harder time hearing— the highest and lowest ends. For the average music listener, the loss in quality generally isn’t that noticeable.

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How Do I Open An MP3 File?

As mentioned earlier, MP3 is the most widely used audio file format and because of this almost all audio playback applications are able to open MP3 files—possibly even your eReader.

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Windows and macOS users are able to play MP3 files right out of the box without having to install any third-party software. In Windows 10, MP3s are played by default in the Windows Media Player; in macOS, they’re played in iTunes.

All you have to do is double-click on the MP3 file you want to listen to and by default, your audio player will open the file and start playing.

If, however, you prefer a different audio player than either of those, changing the association of a file is a simple process on either Windows or macOS. And you most likely won’t even have to do that. When you install a new music app, the chances are high that the new app will claim the association with MP3 files during installation.

Brady Gavin is a passionate writer, tech aficionado, and a programmer at heart. He enjoys traveling and experimenting in the kitchen with international flavours. When he's not enjoying the blazing sun in Vietnam, you'll find him writing away in a coffee shop, sipping on an iced Vietnamese coffee to cope with the heat. Like any good Canadian, he loves hockey and a strong IPA.