by Anthony 

June 3, 2021

If you've been using a Mac for some time then you're probably quite familiar with the M4A format. Back in the day before we all started streaming our Music, if you owned a MAC it’s highly likely you either purchased your music from iTunes or spent countless hours importing your CD collection. Either way, the result audio files were stored on our Mac in the M4A file format.

This was fine if you were locked into the Apple ecosystem, you could play your M4A files on all your Apple devices. However, as soon as you switched to playing your music on something other than an Apple product, invariably you ran into problems. Many devices didn’t recognize the M4A format, only supporting MP3 and other formats.

M4A has since become more universal and will play on most devices including Windows 10. However, if you are still looking to convert your audio files to WAV, then this is how you do it. 

I’ll start by showing you how to do it in Audacity on Windows but then I’ll show you how to do it in another, far simpler. free app on Windows 10. We’ll then switch over to Mac and I’ll show you how to convert your m4A files in Audacity for Mac, which as you may expect is very similar to the process on Windows, and I’ll also show you how to do it using Apple Music. Follow the steps below or watch the video.

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Before Converting M4A to WAV in Audacity on Windows PC

By virtue of the fact, you’re reading this article, you are probably already aware that Audacity throws up an error when trying to open an M4A file. This is because the AAC codec used by the M4A file format is not part of the Audacity installation. To resolve this, as the error stipulates, we need to install the optional FFmpeg libraries.

Audacity error because ffmeg library in not installed

How to install the FFMPEG library in Audacity on Windows

1. Click on Edit from the File menu and go to Preferences.

2. Click on Libraries in the Preferences menu

3. Click on the Download button to open Audacity’s support pages.

libraries menu page in audacity preferences

4. We’re now required to traverse a few support pages to find the installation file.

5. Choose the link which reads, “FFmpeg installation section”.

01-ffmpeg link for windows on audacity webpages

6. Click on another link to, “Installing FFmpeg for Windows.”

02-ffmpeg link for windows on audacity webpages

7. Then click the link to, “Download FFmpeg.” 

03-ffmpeg link for windows on audacity webpages

8. Click on another link to, “Installing FFmpeg for Windows.”

9. Finally, we land on the correct page where we can download the installation file. 

04-ffmpeg link for windows on audacity webpages

10. You have the option of downloading either the zip or the executable.

11. Download the Executable.

12. Once downloaded, start the installation. 

13. Follow the prompts by clicking Next and click Finish. 

14. Back in Audacity, click on Locate. 

15. Audacity will already know where to look for the library files.

16. You will know the FFMpeg library has installed correctly because Audacity will display the version number of the FFmpeg library currently installed.

ffmpeg version displayed in audacity

Converting M4A to WAV in Audacity in Windows

Now that we have installed the correct library for Audacity to be able to read M4A files, we can convert our M4A audio file.

1. Click on File and Open in the File menu and navigate to your M4A file.

2. Alternatively, drag and drop your M4A audio file over the Audacity window.

3. You should see the waveform appear in Audacity.

4. Click on File in the File menu.

5. Choose Export and Export to WAV.

export to wav menu option in audacity

6. Choose a location to save your file.

7. I like to choose the 32-bit rate.

8. Click Save to begin the Export.

9. Your new WAV file will be saved to the location you specified.

How to Convert M4A to WAV using Sound Converter

Unfortunately, unlike Mac, Windows doesn’t have a built-in tool for converting audio files, hence why we need to use apps like Audacity. Audacity is an amazing free tool; however, it can seem intimidating for non-audiophiles and the technically challenged among us. If you’re looking for a free, simple-to-use tool that ‘does what it says on the tin’ and no more, then I recommend an app called ‘Sound Converter’ available on the Microsoft App Store.

Here’s how to start using Sound Converter to convert M4A files to WAV on Windows.

1. Open the Microsoft App Store.

2. Search for Sound Converter.

Sound Converter app page on the Microsoft app store

3. Click Get and Install.

4. Once installed, launch the app.

5. Click on the arrow button to get started.

6. Add the M4A file by dropping it over the app.

7. Choose your conversion settings. 

sound converter app wav settings

8. I’ll choose WAV and High.

9. Decide what you want to do with the original file. 

10. I’ll leave the setting as ‘Do Nothing’.

11. Click next.

12. The file will begin converting.

13. You’ll find the new WAV file in the same folder as the original M4A file.

I'm sure you’ll agree, isn't that far easier than using Audacity?

Before Converting M4A to WAV in Audacity on MacOS

As with Windows, Audacity on Mac requires the same FFmpeg libraries installed optionally to open M4A files. Installing the FFmpeg library is much the same process as described above. 

How to install the FFMPEG library in Audacity on Mac OS

1. Start by clicking on Audacity in the File menu.

2. Choose Preferences. 

3. Click on Libraries in the menu

4. Click on the download button. 

5. As before we then have to navigate through several web pages to find the actual installation file. 

6. Click on the link to the ‘FFmpeg installation section for MAC’.

7. Click on the link to, 'installing FFmpeg for Mac'.

8. Go to the Downloads page.

9. Click on the link to, 'install FFmpeg for Mac'.

10. Once downloaded follow the steps to install the application.

11. When finished, click Close.

12. Close the browser window and go back into Audacity.

13. In the Library options in Preferences, click on Locate.

14. The locate button should be above the download button.

15. Audacity will automatically locate the newly installed library.

successfully imported the ffmpeg libraries into audacity on mac

16. Click No, to manually search for the library.

How to Convert M4A to WAV in Audacity on MacOS

Having installed the FFmpeg library we’re now ready to begin converting our M4A file to WAV.

1. Drag and drop the M4A audio file into Audacity.

2. Or click File and Open in the File menu and browser to the M4A file.

3. If it opens correctly you will see the waveform appear in Audacity.

4. Click on the File menu and choose Export and Export to WAV. 

export to wav menu option in audacity on mac

5. Choose a location to save your file.

6. I like to choose the 32-bit rate.

7. Click Save to begin the Export.

8. Your new WAV file will be saved to the location you specified.

How to Convert M4A to WAV in Apple Music on macOS

If you find using Audacity convoluted and unnecessarily complicated, thankfully there’s a much easier way that doesn’t require installing any additional software and the answer is Apple Music. The Apple Music app is able to convert audio M4A files to WAV.

1. Open up Apple music 

2. Add your m4a file to the music library by dropping it over the app. 

3. Click on ‘Songs’ in the left menu.

4. Select the song you just added or want to convert.

5. Click on File in the File Menu.

6. Choose Convert followed by Create WAV version.

The create a wav version menu option in apple music

7. The WAV version will appear in your library next to the original file.

8. Right-click and choose Show in Finder, to find the file location.

Can You Convert M4A to WAV Using Windows Media Player?

In my quest to find a built-in audio file convert in Windows, I had hoped Windows Media Player might be the answer but sadly no. In Windows 10, Windows Media Player has been superseded by Groove Music Player, a sadly useless piece of bloatware. While Windows Media Player did offer a “rip’ function, it was created for copying to and from CDs, so entirely useless for our needs.

Does converting M4A to WAV reduce quality?

Converting M4A to WAV should not reduce the quality of audio but equally, it will not improve it either. Any conversion of audio from one format to another can never reproduce or recreate sound that was lost in the initial recording process.   

Summary - The best way to convert M4A to WAV.

That concludes our look at converting M4A to WAV in Audacity. If you’re an audiophile, Audacity has all sorts of functionality for editing audio files. However, as mentioned in this article all the options can be intimidating. For that reason, if all you’re interested in doing is converting M4A to WAV and nothing else, you needn’t look any further than the free Sound Converter app for Windows and Apple Music on macOS.

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