AAC vs. M4A
In lossy compression codecs that are used for encoding audio into much smaller file sizes, MP3 has held the throne for a considerable length of time. AAC, which stands for Advanced Audio Coding, is the intended replacement for MP3, due to its improved sound quality. However, unlike MP3, which has a unified .mp3 extension, AAC encoded audio files can have a variety of extensions that include .aac and .m4a. With that information, we can say that AAC is the actual audio encoding scheme, while M4A is simply a file extension.
Due to the better sound quality that it produces, especially at very low bitrates, AAC is beginning to gain widespread acceptance among the general population. As support for the encoding scheme gradually appears in mobile phones and portable media players, it is only a matter of time before it totally renders MP3s obsolete. Apple was one of the biggest motivators towards the shift to AAC. This is because they’ve made AAC the main format for their iPods, and even for the songs that are being sold in iTunes. A lot of iPod users are also ripping their audio CDs to AAC, to maintain standard file formats.
The AAC encoding gained prominent use as the main audio encoding for lossy MP4 videos. When files that only contain an audio stream are created, they still carry the MP4 file extension. To create a distinction between files that have both video and audio, and those that only contain audio, the M4A extension was created as a subtype of the MP4 extension. Even though the file extensions are different, they are literally identical, and there should be no problems with playing both files in a device that is capable of playing either one.
The confusion between these two file format extensions stem from the immediate belief that a different extension means a different codec. Although this is mostly true for other formats, this is not the case with AAC and M4A. This belief is aggravated even further by some players that list one file type, but not the other, despite being capable of playing both files. One of the more common recommendations to solve this problem is to replace the extension of the file so that the player will recognize it, and list and play it.
1. AAC is an audio encoding scheme ,while M4A is only a file extension.
2. An AAC encoded audio can have the AAC, MP4 and M4A extensions.
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