The M4A file format isn’t exactly a household name, coming in far behind the vastly more popular MP3 format. However, it’s not irrelevant. Apple’s iTunes store — a dominant force in digital music distribution — offers DRM-free music as M4A files alongside AAC, and so it’s not impossible that you’ll find yourself with a track in M4A format that you’ll want to play somewhere other than iTunes.
Considering that MP3s are universally recognized by devices and media players of virtually all stripes, we thought you would benefit from a guide on how to convert M4As to MP3s. Follow these steps to make your purchased iTunes M4A tracks available as MP3 for universal playability.
How to convert M4A files to MP3 using iTunes (Windows/Mac OS X)
Although iTunes isn’t the only desktop app capable of converting M4A files to MP3, it remains one of the best (and most recognizable) choices out there. It’s easy to use, too.
Step 1: Open import settings
Click the Edit menu item and select Preferences. The General tab should be opened by default, otherwise, click on it. Then, click Import Settings “OK” button.
Step 2: Adjust import settings
Click the drop-down to the right of Import Using and select MP3 Encoder. Keep in mind that you can also adjust the bit rate at which your songs will be encoded. The higher the bit rate, the better your tracks will sound, and so of course, the lower the bit rate, the worse your music will sound. And so, why would anyone ever select low bit rates? The reason is simple: the higher the bit rate, the bigger the file. While that’s not as much of an issue as it once was given the increase in storage space since encoding began, some people do own mobile devices with limited space and so in some cases, every saved bit can help.
If space is tight, then we recommend you go with 128kpbs encoding, if you can swing it. If you think you need to go lower (or want to hear how lower bit rates change sound quality), then click Custom next to Setting in the Import Settings window. Then, select the bit rate of your choice from the Stereo Bit Rate drop-down. You can fine tune other settings here as well, or revert to defaults. When you’re done, click OK, and then click OK again.
Step 3: Convert
Once you apply the Import settings, select the file you wish to convert in your music library, then click on the File menus, then Convert, and then Create MP3 Version. iTunes will create and automatically place an MP3 version of the song directly beneath it.
Converting your M4a files to MP3 using Cloud Convert (Web-based)
Cloud Convert, Zamzar, and Online Convert are three web sites that allow you to convert files for free without having to install any software. You simply upload the files you wish to convert, and then the site then converts them for you. You can then download the newly-converted files — no toolbars or add-ons required.
We’re going to demonstrate how to use Cloud Convert. This minimalist site allows users to convert files of all types, from audio files and videos to Word documents, and more.
Related: How to convert FLAC files to MP3
Step 1: Select your M4a file
Head to the main Cloud Convert homepage, click the gray Select Files button, and then select the desired M4A file you wish to convert. Alternatively, click and drag the file you wish to convert from its saved location into the site’s conversion window. Clicking the Select Files button directly will open up a File Explorer view of your system, from which you can select your file. If you click the down button, then you can select from a number of other sources such as DropBox, Google Drive, OneDrive, Box, and a URL.
Step 2: Customize your output settings
Once you’ve selected your file, you’ll be presented with the conversion options screen. Click on the file format arrow, and select the mp3 option from the list of audio formats. Unless specified, Cloud Convert will automatically convert your file into an MP3 at a variable bit rate of between 220 kbps and 250kbps. Much like iTunes, you can click the wrench icon next to the drop-down menu to adjust the file’s output settings. From there, you can change the number of audio channels, the sampling frequency, and more. Once you’re satisfied with your settings, click the blue Okay button in the bottom-right corner.
Step 3: Convert
Click the red Start Conversion button on the right-hand side. When the conversion process finishes, which should take about 10 seconds with most files, your file will be available for download.
Step 4: Download
The green Download button indicates that your MP3 file is available. You can click directly on the button and your file will be saved in your default downloads folders. Options available from the drop-down arrow include creating a QR code for downloading to a mobile device. If you click on the Create Archive button drop-down, you can include your files in a compressed file of a variety of types.
This article was originally published on August 2, 2014, and updated on November 1, 2016 by Mark Coppock to reflect recent software changes.