Standing for MPEG 4 Audio, the M4A format never took off like MP3. Apple did their best to support the format by selling M4A music in the iTunes store, but for the average listener, MP3s remain the most convenient way to hear digital music. More devices and software accept MP3, and even though the quality isn’t as high, the format wins because it’s everywhere. Thankfully, it’s easy to convert M4A files to MP3, so there’s no need to purchase two versions of a song.
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Using iTunes (Mac/Windows)
Apple’s ubiquitous music player is one of the best M4A converters, and since you probably already have it installed on your computer, you won’t need to download additional software.
With the latest update to iTunes, file conversion is as easy as Control-clicking on a M4A song and selecting “Create MP3 Version”. For more control over how songs are imported, select Preferences from the iTunes drop-down menu and then click on Import Settings. You’ll have the option to choose between low (128 kbps), high (160 kbps), higher (192 kbps), and custom MP3 quality.
We recommend 192 kbps for general listening, but you can choose even higher bitrates (i.e. 320 kbps) with the custom setting. Even if you want to save file space, 128 kbps is noticeable worse than 192, so it’s generally not worth the tradeoff. Now, any M4A files you convert using “Create MP3 Version” will have the bitrate you assigned. The new MP3 file will appear below the original song.
M4A songs downloaded from Apple’s Music Store before 2009 will have DRM protection, so they’re not able to directly convert to MP3.
Using an Online Service
Websites like Cloud Convert offer an alternative to iTunes, allowing you to convert M4A files without using software. First, click the “Select Files” button and choose which M4A file you’d like to convert. There should be a drop-down menu of audio output formats, so make sure to select MP3 from the list.
By default, Cloud Convert uses a 250 kbps bitrate for MP3s, but you can change it by clicking on the wrench icon. When you’re happy with the settings, click the “Start Conversion” button. It should only take a few seconds to convert the song file, and then you can download the MP3 version by clicking the green Download button.