Audio is stored or transmitted in a number of different formats. Examples of these audio coding formats include M4A, MP3, AAC, and FLAC. These formats are determined by how you intend to use the audio file.
For instance, Soundcloud allows the upload of a number of formats. They however recommend uploading lossless files such as FLAC. Some audio file types are widely known and used while others are a bit rare. MP3 formats for example, are popular due to their wide usage and formats such as FLAC & WAV are popular among experienced audio editors.
M4A (MPEG-4 Audio) files are not as common however, many DAW programs such as Audacity, Audition, and Garageband can help convert them into different formats. Sometimes people have trouble opening M4A files. In this article, I will walk you through importing an M4A file and then converting it into MP3 and WAV formats. So let’s get right to it.
Opening M4A in Audacity
A number of Audacity users have issues with importing M4A files. An error occurs when trying to import an M4A file. If you tried importing the file you may have had a pop-up box like the one here.
Click OK to close the pop-up box. Next click on Edit followed by Preferences. Alternatively, you can use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+P.
In the dialogue box that opens click on the Libraries tab. On the right side of this dialogue box, you will notice that the FFmpeg Library Version is not found. Click on Download.
Clicking on Download will redirect you to your browser. You will land on the Audacity FFmpeg installation page. The installation instructions are categorized based on the different operating systems. Here are the links for Windows and Mac respectively.
FFmpeg libraries are grouped based on the version of Audacity that you are using. To know your version, click on Help followed by About Audacity.
This pop-up box will appear and the highlighted number is your version.
On the download page make sure you download the file that matches your Audacity version. After downloading install the file. Restart Audacity.
Now try importing the M4A file. This time you will not experience an error importing it.
Convert M4A to MP3 in Audacity
MP3 is the most popular coding format as it is widely used. It is a compressed format. Therefore, when converting an M4A file to MP3 one is aiming for a universal consumption of the audio file as well as having smaller-sized files.
To convert an M4A to MP3 in Audacity follow this process:
Click on File followed by Import and Audio or Use keyboard shortcuts Ctrl + Shift + I
After the file is open, double-click on the waveform to select it.
Click on File. Hover your cursor on Export. A dropdown list will open. Click on Export as MP3.
This dialogue box will open. Type the desired name under the File name.
Under this, you will see a Save As Type slot. Make sure it is set as MP3.
Further down there are Format Options. This section is highlighted in the image below.
There is the Bit Rate Mode which offers four different options to control the differences that you have among the quality and size of all your file exports. A constant bit rate is an ideal choice as the audio will not be fluctuating as a result of online algorithms. Bitrate is used more commonly in a playback/streaming context.
For Quality, figures beyond 128 kbps can be used for music while the lower figures can be applied to files with voice solely. Streaming services have limits to bitrates eg Spotify limiting the bitrate of audio files to 160kbps for free users and 96kbps for mobile users. If you get the premium subscription, you’ll get 320kbs audio streaming capability. While a higher bit rate is going to give you better audio quality, your file size is going to increase.
Finally, the Channel Mode will determine if your MP3 file should be mono, or how the stereo channels of an MP3 will get encoded. To encode use Joint Stereo or Stereo options. To export to mono, use the Force Export To Mono option.
Pick Stereo since both channels (left and right) will be encoded separately.
Click on the Save button to finalize.
A progress bar will appear briefly depending on the size of the file. Once it has finished, you will now be having an MP3 file.
Convert M4A to WAV in Audacity
A major disadvantage of M4A files is their incompatibility with a number of devices. M4A is compressed. Wav files on the other hand are uncompressed files making them larger files with better quality. This format is compatible with a number of devices. Therefore this conversion is meant to get a file that is compatible with a number of devices and get better audio quality.
To convert an M4A file to WAV in Audacity, launch the program. Click on File followed by Import then Audio to browse and import the M4A file. Alternatively, you can use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Shift + I.
Select the file by double clicking on the waveform. Next click on File. Hover your cursor on Export. A dropdown list will open. Click on Export as WAV.
This dialogue box will open.
Type how you wish to name the audio file under the File Name. Make sure the Save as type is set as WAV (Microsoft). Click Save to finalize.
Having an understanding of the use of the audio file is important in the decision process of settling on an audio format. Sometimes conversion does not make much sense to an average listener. The bitrate technicalities are not of importance to the average listener.
Audacity provides you with a quick way to convert your audio files. The conversion process is not internet reliant. It is a fast process. Despite this article focusing on M4A to MP3, and M4A to WAV there are other formats that you can work with. The ability to convert to a number of formats makes it a more resourceful digital audio workstation.
Unlike other digital audio software, Audacity does not allow you to choose a format beforehand. Picking an audio format can only be done after the recording is complete not when you begin a recording session.
Apart from saving the audio files using the aup3 extension, Audacity allows saving audio files in a number of audio coding formats. The DAW supports the following file types: MPEG-4 Audio (.m4a), MP3 files (.mp3), Windows Wave Format (.wav), Audio Interchange File Format (.aiff), AU files (.au) and Ogg Vorbis (.ogg).