Sep 06


Importing songs into iTunes is easy – you just INSERT the CD, SELECT it in iTunes, and press the ‘Import’ button!

But… the default setting on iTunes is not the best setting to use when importing songs. It’s far better to use the ‘Apple Lossless’ setting which will keep your music at CD quality. If you must compress the music (e.g. you want to fit it on your iPod or a laptop) then use the  bitrate of 320kbps rather than the default 128kbps of iTunes.

This article describes how to import songs into iTunes with the better quality bitrate.


If you go to the ‘iTunes:Preferences’ menu  and click on ‘Advanced’ then ‘Importing’ you will see some options like ‘Import Using’ and ‘Setting’.

This raises a few questions.

1. Why does Apple allow me to use different formats like AAC and MP3? Which one is better?

2. How good is the default setting of 128kbps (high quality)  (See picture below – click to enlarge).

Ituens prefs

Unfortunately I assumed the defaults were the best, so I used the built in defaults in iTunes to import my entire CD collection. But if you listen carefully to your iPod through your stereo, and compare it to a CD, you will hear a significant difference in audio quality at 128kbps.

It’s not that listening at 128kbps sounds really bad, but if you compare it to the original, you will notice that it’s different. It’s not as clear and some details are missing.

Best Bit-rate for compressed audio – 320kbps.

If you want better quality music you should use a higher bitrate than 128kbps. When Apple first launched iTunes the songs on the store were encoded at 128kbps, but from 2010 even Apple now use 256kbps on the iTunes store which is an immense improvement. The difference between Apple’s upgrade of 128kbps and 256kbps is very noticeable and it is worth upgrading all your existing iTunes purchases, but 256kbps is not as good as 320kbps though, so if you have a CD I recommend importing at  320kbps if you choose to import as AAC.

Better still: Apple Lossless

When this article was first written in 2008 I suggested 320kbps AAC as the best setting. There have been significant increases in hard drive size in that time and hard drives are now large enough to easily cope with the size of Apple Lossless files. I now suggest you use Apple Lossless Encoder for all importing of songs from CD. It gives the best possible quality.

 I now recommend the Apple Lossless Encoder as the best way to import your CDs for general use. (I’ve written about it here.) It compresses an audio file without any deterioration in audio quality at all.

So why does iTunes allow lower settings? Well, a lower  setting will give a smaller file, so in the days of small iPods and small hard drives it was necessary to have very small music files. But  if you want good quality sound it’s better to go with a higher setting.

 The best of both worlds

If you do have one particular iPod or iPhone that is a bit small and you don’t want to fill it up with Apple lossless files,  there is a setting that you can set independently for each iPod that will reduce the file size just for that iPod.   You can change the settings for a particular iPod to put lower quality files on it to save space,  but  still have the Apple lossless files on your computer . Just tick the ‘Convert higher bit rate songs’ box. You can find it under the settings tab that appears when you plug the iPod in – it is the  bottom box in the picture below.  This  can be turned on or off  independently for each device that you have.


What are the differences in filesize?

A 3 minute song at 128kbps will use approx 3MB. (poor quality)

A 3 minute song at 320 kbps will use approx 7MB. (excellent quality)

A 3 minute song at Apple Lossless will use approx 15MB. (perfect quality)


Error Correction

There is an option that says ‘Use error correction when reading audio CDs’. You  should always have this option ticked. It will improve the quality  of the resulting audio.  The way information is written to an Audio CD is different to a CD-ROM, and so it is possible to read audio from a CD imperfectly.  This setting helps avoid mistakes when reading the audio from a CD.


How to import a song at high quality into iTunes using just iTunes.

1. Open iTunes, on the iTunes menu select Preferences. Then on the general tab select Import Settings.

2. On the settings window select ‘AAC Encoder’ and ‘Custom’ as follows:


3. Select 320kbps. Sample rate can be auto or 44.1 VBR doesn’t matter really. The file may be smaller if you use VBR.

Click OK and import a CD as usual.

[Note: These shots were taken in 2008, I now suggest you use Apple Lossless Encoder instead of AAC. Just select Apple Lossless instead of AAC]

If you are low on space pick out some of your least favourite CD’s and encode them at a lower quality!

Relates articles: Importing into iTunes using LAME.

I just found this fantastic article by Marc Heijligers on compression and although now very old, it would backup that LOSSLESS IS BEST, or at least 320kbps if you must use compression.

154 Responses to “Best iTunes settings for importing songs from CD”

  1. james braselton says:

    hi there tooth tunes holds 2 miniutes of music in tooth brush that means the tooth brush has 16 mb flash storage on board

  2. Cybershaman says:

    @james braselton: You might be right but how can we figure out what level of quality they encoded the songs at? I’m guessing it’s not very high since it’s hard to hear the subtle nuances of music when it’s being transmitted to your ears through bone conductivity. Heh, heh. So, music encoded at low quality is about a megabyte a minute which would thus mean the tooth tunes brush has a 2MB chip in it. Maybe a wee bit more to hold the “Operating System”. Again, who really knows? Since they didn’t need all that much space, I’d be willing to wager that they just used the cheapest RAM they could find regardless of the size. So, since popular RAM sizes range from 1MB, 2MB, 4MB, 8MB, 16MB, 32MB, 64MB, etc. etc. etc….you just might, in the end, be right even your conclusion was reached erroneously! ;)

    (Your comment caught my eye because I only recently found out about the Tooth Tunes brush. Yeah, I guess I’m living under a rock. A rock with high speed Net access. And I’m disabled so I have a lot of time to kick back and write long, wordy responses to comments about RAM chips in toothbrushes. Heh, heh.)

    PS: Very helpful article, btw! Thank you, Wayne! :)

  3. OneRepublic Soldier says:

    PLEASE HELP!!! when i import music from an album the sound is way lower than music i buy from the itunes store….why!!??? please help and thanks in advance

  4. GEGJr says:

    Thanks for information. It is very helpful. I have a question, though. It is important to me not to have to import music twice. So can AIFF files be converted to lets say MP3? Then there is the question what is best Sample Rate, Sample size 8 or 16 bit? I know from photography that a 16 bit file holds much more information but is a bigger file. What are the Automatic settings in iTunes for the AIFF format?

  5. Ryan S says:

    Thank you so much for clearing this up! As a relatively new Mac owner (and music professional) this article provided great information that the online/print out Mac manual lacks. As per usual, Apple products may be infinitely modern and full of visual delight but the info here has really explained what I need to do to get the best of the product.

  6. barefootpilots says:

    If using Parallels, suspend parallels desktop as on mine the cd defaulted to windows when my itunes is on the mac side. When i did this, all was as published above, ie CD appeared in Devices on itunes, then it asked if I wanted to import via itunes, etc. Just finger trouble, and when its really dumbed down, as is required with me, it works.

  7. Michelle says:

    LOVE YOU! Heading to a long train ride…was having major issues. Totally worked.

  8. FGZ LINK says:

    absolutely awesome guide! definitely everyone should go for the higher bit rate and error check! I reloaded 27 CD’s doing it, and so glad i did. I usually have my iphone playing at parties and work on the steroes, etc. So really needed decent quality to nod . Thanks so much bud. :)

  9. FGZ LINK says:

    Thank you so much! I highly recommend using high bit rate! at least 288 but i love 320 or losless. Really great article for explaining in detail what each bit does *bit of irony there, in the word bit XP
    Anyways really needed this since i use my iphone alot at parties and work on the stereo and some songs werent up to scratch.. have reloaded 27 cd’s onto itunes so far! brilliant!

  10. e-Medsys says:

    Barefootpilots, I also run parallels and have found that its best to shut it down and then try to import. Funny things happen when both systems are running.

  11. Alex says:

    Very helpful, thanks

  12. this is exactly the answer i needed , thanks MHT !

  13. much appreciated says:

    This was exactly the info I needed. Finally was able to import a CD that kept coming in distorted. Thank you!

  14. Mike Kirby says:

    Seriously, 4 years and no solution to the “LAME Failed (255)” error?

    LAME was great when it worked, I’m sorry to see such an excellent project die. I guess the future belongs to AAC.

  15. Jack Wilborn says:

    Thanks, but… When I load CD’s, I can see the import speed as multipliers, like when the CD is 2 x or higher speed. Mine will start at about 6x then slowly make it to over 40x if there are enough tunes. Can I just set it to use the max that the CD player is capable of? It seems like it’s learning each time for max speed.

  16. Emil says:

    I want to drag and drop from already copied cd’s. So for example, I have one library with “apple Lossles Music” and I want to drag and drop cd’s into “automatically add to iTunes” folder to convert to a lower quality (320kbps) so I can add these on my iPhone. Or I am open to suggestions.

  17. Christopher says:

    This article really helped!!! I did exactly what was done, and it was a ‘night and day’ difference. I have a tested this setting on low end Sony earbuds and noticed a better sound quality. Needless to say I am ‘reloading’ all my cd’s…but is well worth it for better sound quality.
    Thank you so much for the information…YOU ROCK!!!

  18. Robert says:

    I hear people saying that they are reloading their CD’s to improve conversion rate. When I right click on any ACC (256) uploaded audio file one of the options in the drop down menu is “Create Apple Lossless Version”. Would it not be redundant to import anew each CD (I have hundreds in my iTunes and iPod), since this method is so much faster and simpler? Or is there something about it I am missing?

    • Robert says:

      This is AAC of course! (above)

    • Wayne says:

      Once a song is compressed )converted to AAC or MP3, quality is lost, and you cannot get back to the original quality. You can move it back to the ‘Apple Lossless’ format but it will not go back to the good sound quality tat it was.

      It would be like having a CD, (good quality) then copying it onto an old cassette tape (bad quality with hiss etc) then playing the song back from the cassette tape and recording it on to a CD again. Putting it back onto a CD won’t make the song nice to listen to again. All the bad sound qualities of the tape will now be on the CD.

      Or it would be like taking a very large high quality photo (Apple Lossless Audio) printing it onto a very small piece of paper (mp3) then taking a photo of that and blowing it up to a large photo again. it will be all dotty and will have lost lots of resolution. Once the file is compressed, using a lossy compression, going back to the original format will not improve the quality.

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