Sound output settings on Windows
Jason Fitzpatrick / How-To Geek
An M4A file is a type of audio file that can be lossy or lossless (depending on what codec it was encoded with). "M4A" stands for "MPEG-4 Audio", which is basically an MP4 file without video data.

You can open an MP4 file using almost any media player, from VLC to iTunes to the Media Player app on Windows---and more.

An M4A file is an audio file—not to be mistaken with an audiophile—which is an appreciator of music and acoustics of all kinds. Like many other types of audio files, ones with the M4A extension can be opened with multiple programs that you can easily download or may already be on your computer.

What Is an M4A File?

Files with the extension M4A are compressed audio files that are contained in the MPEG-4 format. They are encoded with either the AAC (lossy) or ALAC (lossless) codecs.

M4A is similar to MP4, another type of MPEG-4 file that can store both audio and video information. However, the M4A file type can only ever store audio information. An M4A is always an audio file, while an MP4 is a video file (of course, it can have audio, too.)

If an M4A file has been encoded with AAC, that means it lost some of its data (lossy compression). This is usually done to keep files smaller and more manageable. Alternatively, M4A files can also be encoded with ALAC, which means that almost no data was lost (lossless compression). Though the latter results in higher-quality audio, the files are larger. With that said, audio files don’t usually get that big compared to video files and other types of data.

What Does M4A Mean?

As we mentioned before, M4A is contained in the MPEG-4 format. Specifically, M4A stands for “MPEG-4 Audio”. The “MPEG” part is an acronym for the Moving Picture Experts Group. The “4” part means that it is the fourth iteration of the MPEG file type, which is the most recent as well as the type that retains the highest audio and visual quality.

This group was responsible for the standardization of many commonly used file types. In turn, this made it easier for people to exchange audio and video files in a way that maintained high data quality. These days, they’re still hard at work developing media coding formats, systems, and tools to support said formats, as well as much more.

MPEG's roadmap for the next few years.
We’ll be keeping our eyes open for those holographic media tools. MPEG

How to Open an M4A File

You can open an M4A file in basically any media player, from VLC to iTunes to the Media Player app on Windows. Whatever device you’re using, it almost certainly has a preinstalled app that will open an M4A file.

The program VLC being open.
Good ol’ VLC. It’ll open anything from an M4A file to a physical tin can! Well, not really, but it’s arguably the most robust program for opening audio and video files out there—and has been for a while.

How to Convert an M4A File to an MP3 File

Conversely, it’s arguably quicker and easier to use a website to convert audio files. Here are three free and efficient ones (that we’ve tested and used multiple times) for doing so:

While MP3 is a more convenient file type in which to store audio data—it’s historically more widely supported—keep in mind that this file type uses lossy compression. This means that your audio file will get stripped of some of its data, and its audio quality decreases as a result.

If you don’t want the quality of your file to go down, don’t convert M4A files to MP3 format. Once the quality is lost, you won’t get it back—even if you convert those MP3 files into a lossless format.

How to Convert an M4A File to a WAV File

Instead of going from M4A to MP3, we recommend that you convert your audio files into a lossless format, such as WAV. When you go from M4A to WAV, your file loses barely any data, which retains the audio quality.

You can use the same websites we mentioned in the previous section for M4A to WAV conversion. We’ll link you to the dedicated pages all setup and ready to go for doing so:

On one final note: We recommend not compressing your files unnecessarily. In an era where we have access to some of the best possible free tools for media manipulation, there’s no good reason to decrease the audio and visual quality of our files.

Profile Photo for Reyadh Rahaman Reyadh Rahaman
Reyadh has been writing full-time for years, covering technology and video games at websites like VGKAMI and Game Rant. When he's not writing technical articles for various publications, he's working on his fiction novels, playing video games, or reading up on interesting topics. Reyadh studied Broadcast Television/Videography at Humber College in Toronto, Ontario.
Read Full Bio »