MP3 ID3 Tags Question + Moving to a Different File Format

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Being an iTunes user for years, I only recently found out what ID3 tags versions are on MP3 files, as I was playing the exact same MP3 file on different music players, and some players would display different info in several fields.

I was informed that this is due to the file having saved different info in its other ID3 versions, and other players reading that other version instead of the one iTunes reads and displays.

For example, on iTunes, the album field would show up as “The White Album” and on another player it would show up as “THE BEATLES - The White Album [jpn]”.

(1) I was told one ID3 version of the MP3 file had saved the first one (and that’s what iTunes was reading and showing) and another version had saved the second one (and that’s what the other player was set to display). The file was exactly the same, it’s just that the music players were reading a different ID3 version. Did I get it right?

(2) M4A files have only one version of tags, which means that (for example) the album field is going to be the same throughout the file, and when played in other players it’s always going to be the same. Correct?

(3) I really want to get rid of this multiple ID3 version tags. While I know that I can use software to strip my MP3’s from the ID3 versions I’m not using, I’d prefer to get rid of the MP3 file format altogether. Is there aaany way to convert my MP3’s into M4A’s without losing quality? I was told there isn’t, but has anyone figured a workaround?

(4) (a) If not, what if I converted them to the lossless format FLAC? Would there be any quality loss after converting?
(b) Does FLAC have multiple tags versions stored in them like MP3’s? Or is it always just one tag version, like M4A?

(5) Would converting MP3 to FLAC and then to M4A make any sense in terms of minimalizing (or even eliminating) quality loss? I mean instead of just MP3 straight to M4A.

Thank you very much for your time. Please feel free to answer any of my questions you feel like. Or you can also suggest anything else that didn't cross my mind and just might work for me.

You must be right about .M4A having only one set off tags.

But for removing one set of tags or the other from your .MP3 without affecting the sound in any way, use something like MP3Tag.

Our you should rather use both ID3 tag versions for compatibility with more hardware, but with consistent data, also with MP3Tag, or also with foobar2000 media player, for instance.


If you’re using Picard, note that there are some attributes that don’t have tag mappings for iTunes MP4 and therefore won’t get saved to .m4a files (see; ). For me the lack of a way to map ‘performer’ rels was a dealbreaker.


Yes, there will be quality loss, and no, there is no workaround. Both MP3 and AAC ( which is the codec used by lossy M4A files) apply a lossy compression. If you decode the audio data from a lossy format and encode it again in a lossy format you will cause some additional loss.

Exception would be if you encode to lossless M4A files also know as ALAC or to FLAC (also lossless). You would not gain back any loss of quality, but you would not add additional loss either. But file size will increase significantly, so in the end you will have bigger files with the same quality as the much smaller MP3 files you had before.

The other question of course is if you would notice the quality loss when converting your MP3 files to lossy M4A. If you have reasonable high quality MP3s and convert to a proper quality M4A you will probably not notice the difference. But that depends on your hearing and audio equipment, best to try and listen yourself.

I personally wouldn’t bother, there is nothing wrong with having MP3 files, they are widely supported. And if you use a proper tagging tool it can write consistent data to both ID3 v1 and v2


MP3 and M4A are both lossy formats. What this means in detail is that they make decisions about throwing away audio data that is unlikely to affect what you can actually hear. That process works very well, as long as you’re starting from the original data.

The two different formats use different models to determine what data to throw away and what to keep. When you start with an mp3 and covert to m4a, you now have a file that’s missing all the data that mp3 threw away, plus the data that m4a threw away. There will be some overlap, but not entirely. You also can’t usually encode from mp3 -> mp3 or m4a -> m4a without losing information, because the format won’t make exactly the same decisions each time, so data will be lost with each re-encoding. There’s no workaround for this because that data is just gone.

When we say that FLAC is lossless, we mean that it compresses the data without throwing anything away. You can convert from mp3 to flac without losing information, but you won’t get back any of the information that mp3 threw away, and it’ll take up a lot more space on your computer. It’s also not a great idea to store data that’s been through a lossy stage in FLAC because you might forget and then re-encode it to mp3 or m4a again, degrading the quality more than you meant to.


I can see you have got confused, and the extra advice has confused things more.

For your tag cleanup just follow @jesus2099 suggestion and use MP3tag. You can then see what exactly is going on. I expect it is only a couple of albums that are messed up.

Once you have MP3TAG installed, drag and drop an album onto it. Then use the VIEW menu to select EXTENDED TAGS. This lets you see everything that is tagged in that one file, allowing you to fix what you don’t like.

Select all the tracks in a single album and press EXTENDED TAGS and now you can correct the album name for all of them in one hit.

Picard can be used to attempt to automatically fix the tags in an album, but I think it is probably a bit too much of a confusing overkill for what you need to do.

Certainly ignore any idea of converting MP3 files to something else. This will only exaggerate the confusions


Yes, as a simple rule, you should never convert a lossy compressed file (.mp3, .m4a, etc.) to anything, ever.

If you were born in the late 70’s, it’s like if you copy an already copied VHS, it’s terrible (quality‐wise). :wink:

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I see.

I will be using M4A and FLAC from now on when ripping CD’s.

Can you guys confirm, that M4A and FLAC have only one metadata tags version?

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It’s the case, indeed. :slight_smile:
But .MP3 has many more compatible devices.
And the old version of ID3 is also there for legacy compatibility, it does not support Unicode.
So basically, you store limited size non‐unicode text in one version for older devices and full texts in the other for modern devices.


Just to experiment and see for myself:

How would I go about converting MP3 into M4A, with the least quality lost possible?

Is the built-in ‘Convert to AAC’ procedure on iTunes adequate, or is there any better alternatives for this purpose?

Was thinking to convert some MP3’s (regardless of their kbps) into 320 kbps M4A’s and see for myself. I might not even be able to tell the difference after all.

Let me know, thank you.

I guess if you use iTunes then you don’t really worry about loss of quality anyway. So punch away at the “convert to AAC” buttons and get things in a state that is happy for you.

Personally I used to use MP3. I ripped 300+ CDs to MP3 320kbps / VBR and messed around with the quality settings. All seemed good on my computer speakers and the cheap HiFi in the house. Finished ripping and tagging everything after a year or so…

And then I replaced my HiFi. Got much better quality speakers. £2000 worth of HiFi upgrade. And suddenly I could hear that mushy mess of compression that MP3 causes. I tried to listen to Dark Side Of The Moon - but it just sounded underwater. Grabbed the CD and all was good with the HiFi. Phew!

So I ripped CDs to FLAC instead. And it sounds identical to the CD to me. I learnt my lesson - always rip in high quality.

I have disposed of those old MP3 files.

If you try to convert a heavily compressed MP3 file to FLAC or M4A or anything else then you will never put back the quality that has already been lost. Once it is compressed no magic can put back the missing bits.

If you are converting MP3 files then do check what quality they are to start with. If you have 128kbps files then they will still sound the same when converted to 320kbps M4A’s.


Do you say you can hear a difference between 320kbps MP3 and FLAC? You must have something like the absolute hearing (absolute pitch) if you can hear any difference. Some sources say, the difference is that tiny that it is virtually impossible (but not completely) to hear a difference. And if you can hear it, then only on very special edge cases.
Of course it depends on the quality of the source, the MP3 encoder and the quality of the speakers/ear phones you use, but generally I doubt that most of us would hear any difference between 320kbps MP3 and FLAC.

Nevertheless you are right about ripping to a lossless format like FLAC. You can always make a lossy copy (like MP3 or any other format) from FLAC. But you can never make a “better”/lossless copy from a lossy MP3.

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Yes, I can hear the differences (and I am in my late 40s). And it is down to the speakers. Also the type of music I listen to does have the kind of details that gets lost in compression. Dark Side of the Moon being a very good example to test a HiFi with. It is also funny as has meant each time I took a leap up in the quality of my HiFi kit I kept hearing more and more in that album.

For me there is a clear point when quality and size of speakers start to show up the lack of range. I agree, if all you ever do is use iPhone headphones or computer speakers then the differences are hard to hear. When I did the rips to MP3 I was using some Active Warfdale speakers. Got some warning that something was wrong when listening to tracks on my mate’s KEFs. But the differences screamed when I dropped £2K on new HiFi separates.

I see those online opinions about how it is “impossible to tell”. We are all different. We all have different needs. It is all opinions - no one is right or wrong.

Try going to your local HiFi store with some of your favourite albums in your pocket. In both original CD format and as MP3 files. Then go have a play in their demo room with kit way over your price bracket. It can be surprising what is not picked out on simple speakers. (And no, I am not one of those nutters who spends hundreds on special cables… I don’t believe the myths)

This is the important bit. As long as you know you can’t put details back, then try flipping standards to make your library more consistent to the way you use it. Get hold of MP3TAG and you can take control over those few rogue tags you have. Reorganising a music collection is a never ending addiction :grin: