Converting purchased M4a music to MP3

Hi Everyone,

Back in the MacOS and iOS days, I have purchased thousands of dollars of music from iTunes. And for obvious reasons, I have scrapped both the aforementioned and moved over to Linux and Motorola (Hoping to be a Motorola Linux one day).

To Tell you the truth, I wish I knew about zDigital before I knew about iTunes. The damage is done, and I dare say there would be a lot of people in the same boat as I am.

As part of the complete transition from Apple to Linux, I want to be able to convert all purchased music to mp3.
I have browsed tens of pages on Google, downloaded so many applications, and have had no success whatsoever.

Can you advise on any applications which has been tried and tested to work flawlessly?

Thank you in advance,

I believe ffmpeg is capable of that with the proper codecs. Install it from rpmfusion-free and include libavcodec-freeworld.

I’ll put the straight answer first:

Use SoundConverter (GUI, Flatpak). The easiest “good” setting is Variable Bit Rate (VBR) at High quality. Not much point going higher than that for normal listening conditions[1].

Alternatively use ffmpeg (CLI) if you want finer control over the encoding settings, or want to script/automate the process.


Are you sure you want MP3?

Note that “M4A” is ambiguous—your files with the .m4a extension could either be AAC which is lossy like MP3 (smaller files, but lower quality), or ALAC which is lossless like WAV or FLAC (much larger files, but “perfect” quality).

Converting from one lossy format to another (AAC to MP3) doesn’t make sense; you lose further quality in exchange for negligible size savings (or size increases, if you use the wrong settings). Converting from ALAC to MP3 makes sense, but there are better options.

If your goal is to simply listen to your music, don’t re-encode it. AAC and ALAC are open formats; there is no risk of them becoming unreadable. Most media player software can handle AAC and ALAC (via common libraries like ffmpeg and gstreamer).

If your goal is to reduce the storage size, MP3 is severely outdated and outclassed by newer, better codecs like Opus. Opus at 96kbps sounds “better” than MP3 at 128kbps (or higher, in my experience). Opus at 128kbps is transparent, meaning it is indistinguishable from lossless to the human ear.

I keep lossless (FLAC/ALAC) sources for music I’ve bought or ripped from CDs, then encode a copy in 128kbps Opus[2] for transferring to laptops or phones with smaller storage. I don’t re-encode lossy files like MP3 or AAC to Opus; I just use them as is.

The drawback of Opus is it’s not quite universal like MP3, although it does play on every modern device I own[3]. But if you have one of those little Sandisk players or a car audio system that plays files from a thumb drive (not via your smart phone) then it may only support MP3 (or sometimes AAC).

  1. Feel free to test it yourself and use a higher quality! Audio can be subjective, and we hear what we want to hear. ↩︎

  2. I can’t hear the difference from 96kbps Opus. I chose 128kbps out of pure hubris. What if my decades of hearing damage suddenly reverses itself, or I get bionic ears in 2050? The extra 32kbps would’ve been worth it so I don’t have to re-encode my entire library. ↩︎

  3. Note on iOS: iOS as a platform supports Opus, but I’m not sure if the default Music app will play Opus files (it didn’t use to, and I haven’t tried in many years). On iOS, I use VLC or foobar2000 apps. ↩︎


The reason I want to convert to mp3 is because that is the only format my car radio accepts. And I do not want to change the radio at this point in time, as being a Mercedes, there is no direct replacement unit I can Install (my job being a car audio technician) without losing a lot of the car’s functionalities.

I do want to keep the original files for the upcoming Media Server I want to build for Video & Audio.

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Understandable. In that case I recommend doing a small test with both CBR
(Constant Bit Rate) and VBR MP3s before converting your whole library. I’ve
heard of some radios or other devices not working well with VBR (e.g. inaccurate
seeking, or bugs at specific bit rates!)

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Hello @euroniceguy ,
Possibly try fre:ac it is a cd ripper and audio file converter available at flathub I believe. It may be able to do what you want.