I have a collection of voice recordings from my Android phone, all stored in .m4a files. I would like to know the date of the recording, but the file timestamps have all been set to the date at which I extracted the files from the phone.

When I play them in Totem, the metadata sidebar shows the correct year (e.g. 2013), which leads me to think there must be some metadata stored in the file. It's not just showing the current year, or the year of the file timestamp.

Neither mutagen-inspect nor puddletag reveal any tags.

What metadata can an m4a file hold and how do I get at it?

  • 1
    m4a is an audio-only mpeg-4 and can have metadata allowed by the mpeg-4 specification. I have never dug out the docs, but it appears to be extensible, so theoretically, you can embed arbitrary metadata
    – Yorik
    Aug 25, 2015 at 21:21

3 Answers 3


What metadata can an m4a file hold and how do I get at it?

Metadata for .m4a apple lossless (ALAC) files

My new music library is all nicely ripped Apple Lossless files in .m4a containers. These contain metadata, but it’s not id3v2 and the universe of mp3 tools mostly don’t work. ffmpeg’s ffprobe sort of works but doesn’t show all tags.

What does work for displaying m4a metadta is mp4v2, installable via Homebrew. Docs here. It seems pretty stable but still gets some updates.

(imac) = mp4file --list test.m4a
M4A    M4A,isom,mp42       32-bit  test.m4a
(imac) = mp4info test.m4a
mp4info version 1.9.1
Track   Type    Info
1   audio   alac, 260.806 secs, 562 kbps, 44100 Hz
 Name: Pastourelle (E passo de dossai: Ah! viens pres de moi), folksong for voice & orchestra (Chants d'Auvergne, Series 2, No. 1)
 Artist: Dawn Upshaw
 Composer: Joseph Canteloube
 Release Date: 1994
 Album: Canteloube: Songs of the Auvergne
 Track: 1 of 15
 Disk: 1 of 1
 Genre: Vocal Music
 BPM: 0
 Part of Compilation: no
 Cover Art pieces: 1
 Album Artist: Kent Nagano
 Media Type: Movie
 TV Episode: 0
 TV Season: 0

Source Metadata for .m4a apple lossless (ALAC) files

  • 2
    Thank you for the lead. This is the correct software. I installed v2.0.0 on Ubuntu with apt-get install mp4v2-utils and used mp4file --dump. The creationTime element of the moov.mvhd section is the creation time in Macintosh Date Format, specified here and convertible to readable format here
    – jl6
    Aug 26, 2015 at 20:41

Mp3tag (http://www.mp3tag.de) is a universal tag editor which can tag mp3 and mp4 (including m4a) formats. Pls check.

  • 1
    While this link may answer the question, it is better to include the essential parts of the answer here and provide the link for reference. Link-only answers can become invalid if the linked page changes. Jul 2, 2017 at 17:27

There is also a more recent/maintained project called AtomicParsley that is very interesting. It also allows you to edit MP4/M4A metadata.

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