What's the Difference Between MP3 and MP4?

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iStock

You have a favorite podcast. Maybe you keep an extensive (and legally-acquired) music library. Sometimes those audio files have an MP3 format noted. Other times, it might be designated MP4. Should you be concerned over audio quality? Is MP3 vs. MP4 a comparison you should worry about making?

First, let's take a quick look at the basics: MP3 stands for MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3. The format was approved in 1991 as a way for audio to be compressed and reduced to a file that was more easily transmitted online. In the simplest definition, MP3s keep their size to a minimum by reducing the information, or sound, that the human ear can’t pick up on. While there were MP1 and MP2 file formats, MP3 improved on the compression and became the standard in audio files that could be shared without sacrificing a noticeable amount of quality in the process—though that is, obviously, highly subjective.

In 2003, the MP4 format was finalized. Short for MPEG-4 Part 14, it’s based on the Apple QuickTime MOV format. While MP3 and MP4 comfortably coexist, there are some significant differences, with the most prominent being MP4’s versatility.

MP3s are generally audio-only files; the format is not able to handle video or imaging. MP4, on the other hand, is a multimedia facilitator. It can handle video, stills, subtitles, or text because it’s a “container” format that stores data rather than just code.

Debating the versatility merits of MP3 vs. MP4 doesn’t really answer the question of which is better for audio purposes or whether you should seek out one type over the other. For audio, the reality is that neither one offers a superior sound experience on format alone. “Lossy” audio, or audio that loses information so it can be reduced in size, is the case for both MP3 and MP4. MP4, however, makes use of codecs that may compress files in different ways. So, while MP4 is not inherently a superior format for sound, it has the capability to offer an upgrade in quality depending on how it’s being used. MP4s typically have the ability to take advantage of Advanced Audio Coding, or AAC, which can encode audio at a higher bitrate (the data used) than MP3s can, and usually sound better even if the bitrate is the same. AAC is what you’ll find in Apple’s iTunes store.

Naturally, a recording is only as good as the source material. If your favorite podcast is taking place in a poorly arranged studio setup, it doesn’t matter what format it’s being offered in. And if you're listening on a pair of cheap earbuds while jogging, you're less likely to hear major differences in audio than if you were using a sensitive pair of headphones.

Still, as with most tech innovations, the standards are always changing; in May 2017, the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits—the group that helped to develop the MP3 technology—claimed that the format is essentially dead and announced that its "licensing program for certain MP3 related patents and software of Technicolor and Fraunhofer IIS has been terminated."

You may want to consider converting from one file format to another if your phone or other playback device only supports one type. Otherwise, audiophiles truly concerned about sound quality should probably disregard any MP3 vs. MP4 discussion and opt for FLAC, WAV, or other files that are “lossless.” They’ll take up a lot of storage space due to a lack of compression, but they’ll typically sound better than the rest of the internet’s alphabet soup.

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What’s That Thing That Hangs Off a Turkey’s Face?

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iStock.com/JZHunt

That thing is called a snood. And it's there to let the other turkeys know that its owner is kind of a big deal.

When a male turkey—known as a tom—wants to mate, he faces two hurdles. One is his potential mates, the female turkeys (a.k.a. hens). In the realm of turkey mating, the hens wield the power of choice and the toms have to get their attention and win the opportunity to reproduce. Come mating season, a tom will strut around, gobble, puff out his chest, fan his tail, and drag his wings to attract the hens, who then pick which of the toms they’ll mate with.

The second problem for a tom looking for love is the other toms in the area. They’re all competing for the same limited number of hens. Sometimes a good mating display isn’t enough to win a mate, and toms will attack and fight each other to secure a hen. 

This is where the snood comes in. That goofy-looking piece of dangling flesh helps a tom both with choosy hens and with competition from rival males. Having a long snood almost always means that a hen will want to mate with him and that another tom will back down from a fight.

DUDES AND THEIR SNOODS

When two toms are trying to establish dominance, they’ll size each other up. Then they'll either fight, or one will flee.

In the late 1990s, Richard Buchholz, an animal behaviorist who focuses on turkeys, wanted to figure out which, if any, characteristics of a tom turkey could predict how they fare in dominance fights. That is, did bigger turkeys tend to win more scuffles? Did older ones? He also wanted to see if the turkeys used any of these predictive cues when sizing each other up. He looked at various characteristics of dominant toms that fight and win, and compared them to those of subordinate toms that lose fights or run from them. Of all the characteristics he looked at, only “relaxed snood length” seemed to be a reliable predictor of how a tom would do in bird-vs-bird combat. The dominant males, the ones who won fights and got a choice mate, had longer snoods.

With that in mind, Buchholz looked at how toms reacted to other toms with snoods of varying sizes. The birds tended to avoid confrontation with other males with longer snoods, and wouldn’t even feed near them. A big snood, this suggests, says to the other turkeys that this is a tom you don’t want to tangle with. Buchholz noted that snood length correlates with age, body mass, and testosterone, so, to competitors, the snood could be a good indicator of a tom’s aggressiveness, age/experience, size, and overall condition and fighting ability.

IN THE SNOOD FOR LOVE

Once the males have established who’s going to have a chance to mate, the final choice goes to the hen. While the mating display is the main draw for getting a hen to check him out, a tom’s snood helps him out again here.

Like it did for the other males, a tom’s snood signals a lot of information to a female assessing potential mates—it indicates how old and how big he is, and even says something about his health. In another study, Buchholz found that longer-snooded toms carried fewer parasites. If a hen wanted to choose a mate with good genes that might help her offspring grow large, live long, and avoid parasites, a tom’s snood is a good advertisement for his genes. In that study, hens showed a clear preference for toms with longer snoods. In another experiment years later, Buchholz found that healthy hens again showed a strong preference for long snoods and that hens with their own parasite problems were less picky about snood length and checked out more potential mates—perhaps, Buchholz thinks, because the hens recognized their own susceptibility to infection and were willing to invest more time searching for a tom with genes for parasite resistance that would complement their own—but still showed some preference for longer ones.

While a snood might look goofy to us, for a turkey, it’s integral to the mating game, signaling to other toms that they should get out of his way and letting hens know that he’s got what they’re looking for.

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An earlier version of this article ran in 2013.

What's the Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing?

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iStock

For carbohydrate lovers, nothing completes a Thanksgiving meal quite like stuffing—shovelfuls of bread, celery, mushrooms, and other ingredients that complement all of that turkey protein.

Some people don’t say stuffing, though. They say dressing. In these calamitous times, knowing how to properly refer to the giant glob of insulin-spiking bread seems necessary. So what's the difference?

Let’s dismiss one theory off the bat: Dressing and stuffing do not correlate with how the side dish is prepared. A turkey can be stuffed with dressing, and stuffing can be served in a casserole dish. Whether it’s ever seen the inside of a bird is irrelevant, and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be met with suspicion, if not outright derision.

The terms are actually separated due to regional dialects. Dressing seems to be the favored descriptor for southern states like Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, while stuffing is preferred by Maine, New York, and other northern areas. (Some parts of Pennsylvania call it filling, which is a bit too on the nose, but to each their own.)

If stuffing stemmed from the common practice of filling a turkey with carbs, why the division? According to The Huffington Post, it may have been because Southerners considered the word stuffing impolite, and therefore never embraced it.

While you should experience no material difference in asking for stuffing or dressing, when visiting relatives it might be helpful to keep to their regionally-preferred word to avoid confusion. Enjoy stuffing yourselves.

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