Convert m4a to mp3 with iTunes

Dec 3, 2009 - 115 Comments

itunes-apple-music You can convert m4a music files to mp3 format very easily by using the same program that creates m4a files… iTunes! Yes that’s right, iTunes can double as a music file conversion program, and in this case it’s one of the easiest ways known to convert m4a to mp3 that doesn’t require any additional software downloads.

This audio format conversion trick works in all versions of iTunes on any computer whether it’s an OS X Mac or Windows PC.

We’ll walk through each necessary step to convert m4a files to mp3 format with the iTunes application, let’s begin the tutorial.

How to Convert m4a to mp3 with iTunes

The first thing you’ll need to do is launch iTunes and change the default file type for imported audio:

  1. Open iTunes if you haven’t done so yet
  2. Go into the iTunes Preferences and under ‘General’ settings you will see an ‘Import Settings’ button, click that and you will see a screen like the one shown below. In this drop down menu, select MP3 Encoder and click ‘Ok’
  3. m4a to mp3 convert itunes
    With this selected, iTunes will create mp3 files rather than m4a

  4. Now converting any of your existing m4a files to mp3 files is very easy and you can do it directly within iTunes. Simply select a song that you know is in m4a format, and right-click the song to bring up a menu. With the song selected, navigate to “Create MP3 Version”
  5. convert m4a to mp3 with itunes

Now give your computer a few seconds to convert the m4a file to mp3, it will appear at the top of the playlist, and also within the iTunes music folder, which by default is located in ~/Music/iTunes/

That’s it! Now you can convert those pesky m4a files to mp3 with ease.

Do keep in mind that m4a is the the new default format for iTunes and it produces high quality music files, so many users will want to keep them as is, and sometimes you’ll find audio files that must be converted to m4a first before iTunes will read them, which could then be converted to mp3 as described here.

Of course, since not all devices and hardware can read m4a, sometimes the mp3 conversion is necessary for that alone, and some users simply prefer the mp3 format in general for broader compatibility.

You’ll find that iTunes has many tricks up it’s sleeve beyond conversion of audio files like this, if you’re interested check out some other iTunes tutorials and news here, it’s a surprisingly powerful app with a myriad of uses.

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Posted by: David Mendez in iTunes, Mac OS X


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  1. rice says:

    awesome! thanks a million i hate m4a format this is great. mp3 rules!

  2. jpmrb says:

    Yeah, let’s replace an audio compression scheme with an older inferior one! Way to go, yeah!

    • Mike says:

      tell us another way to play them besides IPOD

    • cbenci says:

      The could be other reasons to want to do this apart from audio quality – such as wanting to play the files on a different device.

      Foolish comment.

    • That guy says:

      I can hear the sarcasm through your words. You should be a writer.

      Anyways, people would want to change their files into an mp3, though inferior, because some applications such as editing software ( I’m looking at YOU, corel videostudio express!)

      will not recognize an m4a file.

      I hope this helped you understand.

      And if you don’t understand this ending, go ask your parents. Not saying you’re living with your parents…

      It’s a joke… Y’know, an 80’s reference….?

      Why do I try to be funny?

    • Rarmissa says:

      Seriously, dude. If you have anything other than like a mac or iPod, m4a WON’T play. I actually want to hear my music on the go.

  3. papaya says:

    To convert already compressed audio file is resulting much worse quality of the file.
    Compressed m4a file is first transformed to aiff and that file is transformed to compressed mp3.

  4. Bryan Simms says:

    I don’t see much point unless you have an mp3 player that won’t support the aac format. I’d like to find an easy way to convert my wma files to aac or mp3

    • Joe Rioux says:

      The POINT is to convert the proprietary Apple format to a format that is non-proprietary. Then you can share and copy your damn files that you PAID FOR, as much as you like, without iTunes Nazi madness trying to tell you that you can’t.

      • Gazzer says:

        Except m4a is not a proprietary Apple format – get your facts right. Another one that thinks AAC stands for Apple. No, m4a is actually less patent encumbered that mp3 is. Godwin’s law strikes again.

  5. Sam says:

    I don’t have the option to create an mp3 version.

  6. […] specify another choice. I chose m4a because it’s easily readable by iTunes which can then be converted to MP3, AAC, M4R (ringtone), WAV, or whatever other audio […]

  7. John says:

    Anyone with a ps3 needs to convert to mp3.

  8. price says:

    THanks a lot, this was incredibly helpful

  9. Alexandra says:

    Yeah, I just have “convert to AAC version” which also doesn’t work with my mp3 player.

  10. PR says:

    THANK YOU! This is so helpful and easy to follow. Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

  11. Keryl says:

    Thanks sooo much. I have an MP3 player that will only play mp3 or wma, but I want to keep it because it has a built-in microphone. i’ve spent ages trying to work out how to conert files – your instructions are easy.. Brilliant.

  12. Steve says:

    Those of you saying you only have a Convert to AAC option didn’t follow all the steps above. You need to go into settings and change the default import settings to MP3 encoder.

  13. Jeff says:

    This worked perfectly. Thanks.

  14. nicole says:

    omggggg your a lifesaver thank you soooo much

  15. Jessica says:

    When I pull up my preferences, there is NOTHING anywhere with the option to change it to import mp3. The option isnt even there!

  16. way2go says:

    thanx. Happy new year

    • Autumn says:

      Thanks so much. It wasn’t clear as a bell and I almost gave up.. heh heh… but I kept at it and I met with success. Thanks. Now hopefully I can Listen to Ray LaMontagne in my truck! :D

  17. Adam says:

    Thank you very much. One of my players will not play AAC (m4a) so this is very useful. Exactly why I try to get my music from Amazon or Walmart where they still use mp3.

  18. Becca says:

    Edit – Preferences – General – When You Insert A CD/Import Settings – select “MP3 Encoder”

    For those of you who couldn’t follow the authors instructions. :)

  19. Becca says:

    Thank you very much, author! Saved me from purchasing a $39/year converter. Blah!

  20. Tim says:

    To the OP, that was too easy, ta muchly!!

  21. Joana says:

    I am really in debt to you for this post! Thank you so much for doing this, to people like me that are so technology impaired these tips are life savers!!! I bought my son a fisher -price mp3 player and all his music was on my i-tunes so it was all in (m4a)!!! and i had not the slightest clue how to fix it!!!

  22. Ori says:


  23. CJ says:

    This is terrific. Very straight-forward and clear instructions…and it worked!! Thanks!

  24. Mike says:

    Take that Playstation 3…you will play my music when I tell you to.

  25. Stan says:

    This does not work for m4a files which are protected.

  26. SB says:

    You are so awesome!! I love you for this!

  27. Adam says:

    Thanks for the help, and btw, Grizzly Bear is my favorite band. I’m super jealous you have Horn of Plenty remix CD. The original is my favorite by them.

  28. Thanks…seriously thought it would be a pain. Probably was the easiest thing I have ever done thanks to you. Check out the mp3’s on my website!

  29. diana says:

    You are a life saver!!! Thank you so much for teaching me how to navigate itunes.

  30. Smiler says:

    Ahh! Thanks so much :) Having purchased a few songs off itunes, I still wanted to play them off Windows Media Player but it never did like the M4a format so had to find some way of converting it :)
    Thanks again

  31. Mihir says:

    Thank u. This was very helpful. Good work.

  32. Amy says:

    Great info, but this only works for songs imported from CDs, not songs downloaded from the iTunes store.

    • Phil says:

      @Amy: had the same problem.
      You should try to copy the purchased songs into a playlist or the the general all music section. Mark the song(s) and right click and choose convert to MP3. It’s a step extra but should work and you do not have to use external software once you have changed the settings to MP3 as described above.

  33. Phil says:

    Easy to do and does not require to download fishy softwares.
    @Amy: had the same problem.
    You should try to copy the purchased songs into a playlist or the the general all music section. Mark the song(s) and right click and choose convert to MP3. It’s a step extra but should work and you do not have to use external software once you have changed the settings to MP3 as described above.

  34. Vanessa says:

    This was exactly what I needed! Thanks alot! It was sooo easy!!!

  35. Mark says:

    Finally a good use for that awful piece of software.

  36. Jerome says:

    Thank you so much, gracias Dios te bendiga, God bless you a lot. Eres el mejor!

  37. Jen says:

    Beautiful! Thank you.

  38. Karen says:

    Thank You So Much! It was a breeze….

  39. LD says:

    Great instructions. So clear. Many thanks.

  40. Steve says:

    “jpmrb says: Yeah, let’s replace an audio compression scheme with an older inferior one! Way to go, yeah!”

    I just found this thread and the tip was REALLY helpful thanks, To jpmrb – you’re a smarty-pants dickhead with limited imagination as to why others might want to to this. Go back to your colouring-in book and return when you’ve grown up a little – moron.

  41. Julia says:

    very helpful. Thanks :)

  42. Michael says:

    Thanks, easy to follow but just causes iTunes to crash each time I click on the ‘MP3 version’ option.

  43. Rebecca says:

    Thank you so much! I was ready to go nuts when my phone wouldnt play m4a files…

    Got them transferred now, you’re a star!

  44. Caron says:

    Thank you for this information Mac OS X and Becca it was very helpful…

  45. Gage says:

    Too easy. Thanks for the great info.
    worked a treat

  46. rob says:

    does anyone know how to compress an mp3 file? any safe free software out there for this?

  47. Jay says:

    Thank you very much!! for your help.
    I resolved. here I posted the same in Korean at my blog ;

  48. Marco - Italy says:

    Many tanks! you saved me!

    • Anonymous says:

      TANKS?! you mean that you’re going to drive a freakin TANK to him because of what he said?!


      Yes, I made a spelling mistake in my comment (below) too, so jk. =)

  49. Amy says:

    i feel really thick because everywhere i’ve been people have managed to work it out, but on lion that’s not how my system preferences looks. when i press system prefs > general, there is absolutely nothing on import format. it just lists appearance choices… i’m so lost! haha.

  50. TRS says:

    I am on iTunes & this option is not there. What next?

    • jim says:

      For 10.5, go under ‘general’ then click on ‘import settings’, make sure you’re using the MP3 Encoder, then right click on the songs you want to convert and click ‘create MP3 version’

  51. Alan says:

    Cheers Davit, that has been very helpful. :-)

  52. Wes says:

    This was so much help! It saved my butt on a school assignment.

  53. Robbie says:

    Thanks so much! That was TOO EASY!

  54. Tuts says:

    Thanks Heaps!! Great Tip and very well presented.

  55. al says:

    i can’t right click on the song on my mac .. should i be able to?

    • Anna says:

      Yes you should. Well I have Mac and I was able to right click…maybe you don’t have right click enabled on your computer?

  56. Anna says:

    Thanks so much!!!!!!!!!!! Thanks for spending the time to write this on here! You’ve just REALLY helped me!

  57. Gul says:

    THANKS David!

    It was soooo simple!
    For those who could not find it under ‘General’tab (like me)..
    Open Music/Edit/Preferences/Advanced/Importing. You will see an option ‘Import Using’ with drop down menu. Select ‘Mp3 encoder’ in the menu. Click ‘OK’.

    Have fun converting!


  58. Anonymous says:

    *Facepalm… I should have seen that button RIGHT THERE IN FRON OF ME a while ago… I was so worried that I had wasted money on songs that I couldn’t send to my Sansa Zip Clip MP3 player. Thank you for the simple directions to save me from worrying.

  59. Lisa says:

    thank you SO MUCH! This was driving me crazy!!! you rock!

  60. Thank you so much! Now I don’t feel like downloading iTunes was a waste of time. This was very helpful!

  61. dlm415 says:

    thank you very, very much.

  62. Farfor says:

    awesome! job

  63. Abbas says:

    Thank you very much!

  64. kc says:

    Thank You!

  65. AH says:

    Thanks for advice, has worked a treat.

  66. Charlie says:

    It appeared to work but the converted version did not appear in my play list. Where to look?

    • Janice says:

      I know this is an older query, and I hope you’ve found the answer by now.

      I convert from a playlist, like you. The converted files appear in the main Music library, right at the top.

  67. matias nieves says:

    graciasss loco un groso!!

  68. shell says:

    Thank you soooooo much

  69. Davud says:

    Hey thanks for that works great :)

  70. Alicia says:

    you are wonderful you child of god. this is the only helpful place for information. thank you thank you!

  71. Lea says:

    Thanks :) That helped a lot

  72. Priyanka Tiwari says:

    .m4a files have always been supported by iTunes.

  73. George Mclaren says:

    As noted, you can simply use iTunes, which is free.
    And there are many other converters that are also free.

  74. Zora Ahmed says:

    Only when you import CDs.
    As you are doing it, they will be added as M4A.

  75. Pink says:

    :3 Thank you so much <3 This helped a bunch <3

  76. kds says:

    Hi, I’ve adjusted the iTunes settings as you described and after right clicking on the first song I need to convert to mp3 I got the error message: “{song}” could not be converted because protected files cannot be converted to other formats.

  77. ltt says:

    little to the left of subject. What is the best software to convert an m4a file to written text?

  78. Darla says:

    THIS IS AWESOME! Seemed quite unfair that I purchased them and couldn’t use them on anything but Itunes/apple……love you!!!!

  79. jplox says:

    cant believe it was so easy.. thank you for sharing this very useful info

  80. Tania says:

    Great instructions so easy so simple. Thank you so much.

  81. Jeanette says:

    I did the conversion from m3a to mp3. It said it was going through the process. I did 100 songs. Then when I wanted to burn the mp3 versions to a CD, it said it couldn’t because the songs are not in mp3 format. What the hell did I do wrong????

  82. Jeanette says:

    ooops. typo. that should say m4a.

  83. Stuart says:

    Best advice, thankyou. Tried in VLC & didn’t work. Finally a reason to use an Apple product.

  84. Russ in OR says:

    @kds: You can’t convert files protected by DRM. Your best bet is to burn them to CD then rip them back into mp3.

    @Jeanette: The conversion doesn’t replace the song. It makes another copy in mp3. You need to find those.

  85. Jen K. says:

    Great advice, works like a charm! iTunes will create mp3 copies in the same folder, I move those copies to my mp3 player and all is well. Many thanks~

  86. Gigi says:

    THANK YOU!!! you’re a life saver! my file was due today but i didn’t know how to reduce the size but you seriously saved me :)

  87. Nikki says:


  88. Juan says:

    Great stuff – thank you for sharing!

  89. April says:

    I followed the instructions and the m4a is converted to mp3 however, when I tried to import the mp3 it to my movie maker it could not be imported. What am I doing wrong? Please help. Thanks!

  90. Bronwyn says:

    Thank you so very much. I have spent hours trying to down load and work out how to do this but with your help it took , literally, a minute.
    Very precise directions, thanks again.

  91. Bronwyn says:

    I need to do it so as to play USB sticks on my new car radio. Thank you again.

  92. Barry says:

    Mavericks gives you an amazing 3kb “mp3” file, which i assume is just a symlink to the original m4a, FFS!

  93. Rawrel says:

    Nice!! It works!!
    Itunes 12.1 and Mac OS X 10.5

    Thank you very much!

  94. Dave says:

    I have converted my music from .m4a to .mp3 with the purpose of loading a USB so that I can listen to my playlist in my car. However, when I copied the converted files to the USB, they automatically reverted to the .m4a format. Does anyone have a suggestion on how I can get my music onto the USB in a usable state? Mac OS 10.10.5 iTunes

  95. VARYA says:

    thanks for the article, it was so useful for me!!!!

  96. Sux says:

    Does NOT work in iTunes 12.9.x on PC with Windows 8/10!

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