Digital audio involves an array of audio file formats, each with distinct specifications and use cases. One of these file formats is M4A, commonly associated with Apple. Although M4A is a popular choice among audio files, there is often confusion about whether or not it is a lossless format. This article seeks to clarify this matter and delve into the workings of the M4A format.
What is M4A?
M4A stands for MPEG 4 Audio. It is a file extension used in Apple’s iTunes and devices for audio files. The MPEG (Moving Picture Experts Group) developed this format as part of the MPEG-4 Part 14 specification, commonly known as MP4. The .m4a extension specifically denotes the audio component of these files, separating it from the video content that also falls under the MP4 umbrella.
Is M4a lossless?
Yes, M4 can be lossless, where all the original data can be fully restored from the compressed data. Apple uses this audio file extension for lossy AAC audio very often.
In answering whether M4A is a lossless format, it’s essential to understand the distinction between ‘lossless’ and ‘lossy’ compression.
‘Lossless’ compression refers to a process where all the original data can be fully restored from the compressed data. This means that the quality remains unchanged even after the file size has been reduced, and no data is lost in the compression process. Examples of lossless formats include FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) and ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec).
In contrast, ‘lossy’ compression is a process where some data is discarded during compression, resulting in a smaller file size but with a loss in quality. The goal here is to eliminate less noticeable data to the human ear. MP3 and AAC (Advanced Audio Codec) are examples of lossy formats.
Technically, M4A as a container can hold different types of audio codecs, both lossy and lossless. For example, when the M4A file contains AAC is considered lossy. However, when the M4A file holds ALAC, it’s lossless. The M4A extension is often used to denote files using the AAC codec, making it more commonly associated with lossy compression.
AAC or M4A document quality is better, and record sizes are more modest than MP3 documents. M4A documents sound better compared to MP3 records when encoded at a similar piece rate because of a portion of the upgrades made to the configuration, for example,
- Compression depends on insight – if it isn’t inside human discernment, helpful information might be lost without eminent impact on quality.
- Smaller test block size of 120 or 128 examples instead of 192 for changing (or transient) signals, considering more same subtleties where they are required.
- Larger block sizes in fixed signs, 1024 or 960 versus MP3’s 576 example blocks, consider less information to address a part of the music that doesn’t have a similar intricacy.
Projects that open M4A documents incorporate iTunes, Quicktime, Windows Media Player, Roxio Popcorn, Toast, and Creator. In addition, some media players may play the arrangement when renamed MP4.
How does Apple use M4A?
Apple uses the M4A format extensively within its ecosystem. The iTunes store, for instance, delivers songs in the M4A format using AAC codec. This is because AAC generally achieves better sound quality than MP3 at the same bitrate, providing efficient storage and bandwidth use.
Nevertheless, Apple also provides the option to use the M4A format losslessly with the ALAC codec, offering the best possible sound quality. This is particularly useful when ripping CDs in iTunes or when high-quality audio is paramount. The corresponding files are typically more significant due to the lack of compression but deliver superior audio fidelity.
To sum up, M4A can be both lossless and lossy, depending on its audio codec – lossless if it uses ALAC and lossy if it uses AAC. However, it’s more commonly seen in its lossy form (AAC) on platforms like the iTunes Store. It’s always essential to consider your specific requirements regarding audio quality, file size, and compatibility when choosing an audio format. If audio quality is your primary concern and storage isn’t an issue, a lossless format like ALAC or FLAC would be ideal. If, however, storage or bandwidth is a limiting factor, a lossy format like AAC or MP3 might be more suitable.