With the digital revolution that swept the world, there was a flood of new audio and video file extensions that were developed. One such format is M4A, that has led to a considerable amount of confusion among people who are not familiar with Apple's media applications.
It is a lossy compression file format that is used for audio files. It is actually the same format as MP4, but named differently to distinguish purely audio files from MP4 files (which are audio or video files). So M4A stands for MPEG-4 audio files encoded in AAC (Advanced Audio Coding), packaged inside an MPG envelope.
Advanced audio encoding (AAC) is the encoding technology that includes other file extensions, besides M4A, like M4B, M4P, M4R, M4V, 3GP, AAC, and MP4. Files with all these extensions are compact and are widely used by various media player programs.
The M4A file type is also known as an Apple lossless audio file. The beauty of the AAC format is that it gives you excellent audio or video quality, though the size of the files encoded in AAC is a lot smaller than other bulky file formats. These files are often used in streaming online audio.
Due to compactness of the files, they are often used on portable music devices that have a limited space. However, if you are using an audio player, that is not compatible with M4A, you might want to convert it to other compatible file formats.
How to Play it
M4A files are created by Apple Lossless Video Codec. It can be played by many programs like iTunes, Apple Quicktime Player, and Windows Media Player (with appropriate codec installed). It is the default format used on Apple iPods and iPhones.
Any program that has compatibility with the Apple Lossless Audio Codec can play these files. The VLC media player, an open source application, can also play these files.
If you do not have a compatible program that can play these files, you can always convert M4A to MP3 or WAV format, using appropriate software programs. This can be done using Apple's iTunes program if you are a Mac user.
To convert these files to MP3, download iTunes, and install it from the official Apple website. It is a freely-downloadable program that has an inbuilt facility to convert M4A files to other formats.
Apple iTunes has the facility to directly convert them into WAV, when it imports those songs in the iTunes library. To do that, you only need to change the importing format to WAV. However, WAV is a comparatively bulky format and you might consider converting it to other compressed file formats like MP3.
In case you do not have iTunes, you can use other freely downloadable programs that can convert these files into any other file format. Search for 'M4A Converter' on the Google Search Engine. Just make sure that these programs are genuine, before downloading them.