About M4A Format
M4A is a file extension for an audio file encoded with advanced audio coding (AAC) which is a lossy compression. M4A was generally intended as the successor to MP3, which had not been originally designed for audio only but was layer III in an MPEG 1 or 2 video files. M4A stands for MPEG 4 Audio. The M4A file type is primarily associated with ‘MPEG-4 Audio Layer’. Files in .M4A format are actually the audio layer of (non-video) MPEG 4 movies. M4A is slated to become the new standard for audio file compression. This format is also known as Apple Lossless, Apple Lossless Encoder, or ALE. It is a new codec designed to provide lossless encoding in less storage space.
Both M4A and MP3 file extensions are used for audio-only files. Audio-only MPEG 4 container files usually have an M4A file extension. M4A files are unprotected. Protected files usually have an M4P file extension. AAC or M4A file quality is better and file size is smaller compared to MP3 files.
Programs that open M4A files include iTunes, Quicktime, Windows Media Player, and Roxio Popcorn, Toast and Creator. Some media players will only play the format when renamed to MP4.
.MP4 versus .M4A
M4A stands for MPEG 4 Audio and is a filename extension used to represent audio files.
The existence of two different filename extensions, .MP4 and .M4A, for naming audio-only MP4 files has been a source of confusion among users and multimedia playback software. Some file managers, such as Windows Explorer, look up the media type and associated applications of a file based on its filename extension. But since MPEG-4 Part 14 is a container format, MPEG-4 files may contain any number of audio, video, and even subtitle streams, making it impossible to determine the type of streams in an MPEG-4 file based on its filename extension alone. In response, Apple Inc. started using and popularizing the .m4a filename extension, which is used for MP4 containers with audio data in the Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) or its own Apple Lossless (ALE, ALAC) formats. Software capable of audio/video playback should recognize files with either .m4a or .mp4 filename extensions, as would be expected, since there are no file format differences between the two. Most software capable of creating MPEG-4 audio will allow the user to choose the filename extension of the created MPEG-4 files.
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