Audio Format Showdown: M4A vs. WAV and How to Convert

When it comes to audio formats, two popular options that often come up are M4A and WAV. Both formats have their strengths and weaknesses, and understanding the differences between them can help you make an informed choice for your audio needs. Furthermore, there might be instances where you need to convert audio files from one format to another. In this article, we will compare M4A and WAV and guide you on how to convert between them.

M4A: The Compressed Format

M4A, which stands for MPEG-4 Audio, is a file extension used for audio files encoded with the Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) codec. Developed by Apple, M4A is primarily associated with iTunes and is widely supported by Apple devices and software. One of its key advantages is its compression, which allows for smaller file sizes without significant loss in audio quality. This makes it ideal for streaming and storing large audio collections on devices with limited storage capacity.

However, the compression comes at a cost. M4A files are lossy, meaning that some audio data is discarded during the compression process. While the loss in quality is generally minimal and often imperceptible to the average listener, audiophiles may prefer lossless formats like WAV for the utmost audio fidelity.

WAV: The Uncompressed Standard

WAV, short for Waveform Audio File Format, is an uncompressed audio format that preserves all the original audio data. Developed by Microsoft and IBM, WAV files are known for their high quality and accuracy. They are commonly used in professional audio production, mastering, and archiving due to their lossless nature.

The main advantage of WAV is its fidelity. Since it retains all the audio information, WAV files offer the best possible quality, making them suitable for critical listening and audio editing purposes. However, this fidelity comes at the cost of larger file sizes. WAV files are typically much larger than their compressed counterparts, requiring more storage space and potentially affecting file transfer and streaming times.

Converting between M4A and WAV

There may be times when you need to convert audio files from M4A to WAV or vice versa. Fortunately, there are several tools available for this purpose. Here are a few common methods:

1. iTunes

If you are using iTunes, converting between M4A and WAV is straightforward. Follow these steps:

  1. Open iTunes and go to "Edit" > "Preferences" (Windows) or "iTunes" > "Preferences" (Mac).
  2. In the "General" tab, click on "Import Settings."
  3. Choose either "WAV Encoder" or "AAC Encoder" from the "Import Using" dropdown menu.
  4. Select your desired audio quality settings.
  5. Close the Preferences window and go to your iTunes library.
  6. Right-click on the M4A file you want to convert and choose "Create WAV version" (or vice versa).

2. Online Conversion Tools

Numerous online audio conversion tools allow you to convert between M4A and WAV without installing additional software. Simply upload your file, select the desired output format, and download the converted file. Some popular online converters include Zamzar, OnlineConvert, and Convertio.

3. Dedicated Software

If you prefer offline solutions, various audio conversion software programs are available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Examples include dBpoweramp (Windows), XLD (Mac), and fre:ac (cross-platform). Install the software, import your audio file, choose the output format, and convert.


Choosing between M4A and WAV depends on your specific needs. If you value smaller file sizes and convenience, M4A is a suitable choice. On the other hand, if audio quality is paramount and storage space is not a concern, WAV provides an uncompressed, lossless option. When necessary, converting between M4A and WAV is relatively easy, whether through iTunes, online tools, or dedicated software. Consider the pros and cons of each format and select the one that aligns with your requirements for the best audio experience.

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