Playing AAC files in Windows Media Player

Q: I have a fifth generation iPod classic. I was wondering it there was a way to convert the MP4 files that iTunes uses for its songs to MP3 for Windows Media Player. Can this be done or do I have to rip all of my CDs again?

– Liz

A: There are several tools available that will convert the MPEG-4 AAC format tracks that iTunes uses into other formats, including iTunes itself. However, you may want to consider whether you actually want or need to do this.

The first consideration is that both AAC and MP3 are “lossy” formats.

This means that when you encode your music into one of these formats, audio information is discarded (“lost”) to produce a smaller file. In most cases, this is information that the average human ear cannot hear anyway, so it is usually not noticeable. Unfortunately, however, when converting from one lossy format to another, you will lose additional audio fidelity, and the diminished quality will likely start to become noticeable. Essentially, you are “throwing away” audio information twice by converting the files a second time.

Therefore, while it may not be necessary to re-rip your tracks from their original CDs, you may prefer to do so to ensure that you get the best quality files possible for whatever format and bit-rate you are using.

The second consideration is the reason why you may need to convert these files. If this is simply a matter of being able to listen to them in Windows Media Player, then an easier solution may be to simply get an additional codec plug-in for Windows Media Player that will allow it to play back your AAC tracks directly in Windows Media Player without having to convert them. Windows Media Player is highly extensible, and there are many plug-ins available that provide support for additional features and audio/video formats.

Several free codecs are available to support the AAC format in Windows Media Player, although we have had limited success with most of these, and they can often be complicated to install and get working properly. If you don’t mind paying a few dollars for a plug-in, the 3ivx MPEG-4 5.0.2 Decoder (, $6.95) is our recommended solution for this, and the price is very reasonable compared to the effort that you would put in converting or re-ripping all of your existing files.