M4A is the file extension for MPEG-4 Audio, the audio part of your MPEG-4 videos. Apple has used the M4a (small "a") designation for several of the low-loss audio formats it's sold for years at the iTunes Store. To add to the confusion, some have digital rights management encryption, and some don't. To make a long story short, compatibility is the issue, especially for people with large MP3 collections. Maniac Tools' Free M4a to MP3 Converter does what its name indicates: it converts M4a, AAC, 3GP, and MP4 Audio files to MP3s (or WAVs) that are compatible with most media players and portables. While we're on the subject of compatibility, we should point out that Free M4A to MP3 Converter doesn't convert or play M4B files used by audiobooks.
Free M4a to MP3 Converter's simple user interface is easy to understand. It has a two-tiered toolbar, but only the top row contains buttons that activate Free M4a to MP3 Converter's features, the Add, Remove, Play, and Convert buttons. The bottom row links to other Manic utilities functionally related to Free M4a to MP3 Converter, such as ID3 Tag Editor, MP3 Splitter/Joiner, and Movienizer. We didn't try these downloads. But the M4a tool proved easy to use and capable. We changed the destination from Explorer's Music folder to our own destination; we could also specify whether we wanted the tool to save converted files in the destination folder or somewhere else. Under Output Formats, clicking the Setup button opened a simple tool for setting MP3 audio quality and some general preferences. While all this was really pretty easy, there's a good Help file. A Notifications Area on the program's menu bar popped up with notice of more of the developer's tools.
When we'd set Free M4a to MP3 Converter's options, we merely had to add our files, select the output format, and press Convert. Many a music collection contains some orphan files awaiting conversion, and we found a few without too much trouble. The converted MP3s played normally and sounded great, too, in our usual media player, though Free M4a to MP3 Converter plays files, too.