Sep 06

itunes

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.

Introduction

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.

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158 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.
    Cheers

  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.

  19. Ray says:

    I have imported using i-Tunes for years and have changed the bitrate of the imports as well as file types. I have over 12,000 songs in my library and the majority were imported using lossy (compressed) format of MPEG (MP3), AAC at various bitrates from 128, 192, 256, 320 kbps. The engineers that came up with the algorithms did the best they could to only delete the sounds that they thought were inaudible to the human ear.
    Some of the younger generation simply don’t care and are perfectly happy with lossy mp3s. For those that care about the audio quality we need more of the information that’s thrown away in the compression of the tracks. In addition we need a high quality analog signal vs. digital signal. The music studios compress the masters just to fit them on cd’s, then i-Tunes compresses them further unless we select the correct settings. Garbage in garbage out.
    Getting back to my collection of music. This is what I have recently started doing. Since the current version of I-Tunes (12.1.2.27) has the ability to import lossless in AIFF (keeps metadata best) or Apple lossless, AND the fact that hard drives don’t cost $100 for 250 gigs any longer it makes perfect sense to re-import, YES, re-import ALL songs. You can buy a 2 TERABYTE drive for less than $100 so get one and use it for music. The file size when reimporting will use up a LOT more space but remember, you’ll be glad you have the music stored as bit perfect like the cd that you paid for instead of compressed sounding noise. Use the following settings when importing cd’s. Edit/Preferences/General/Import Settings/ select AIFF Encoder then click on “custom” setting and select Sample Rate of 48,000 kHz, Sample Size of 16-bit and Stereo. Click OK (DO NOT USE DEFAULT SETTINGS). The make sure you put a checkmark in the box “Use error correction when reading Audio CDs. In Playback settings make sure you’ve selected Bitrate for Audio Playback of at least 48,000 Khz and bits per sample for audio of 16. I-Tunes does not support “hi-res” files such as 192,000, 24 bit as you can find on sites such as HD-Tracks. These are similar to listening to blu-ray quality sound vs. cd’s. Again, now that hard drive space is cheap we all mine as well re-import the cd’s we own in bit perfect format, especially if we’re using a good quality audio system for output. Most pc’s have crappy soundcards and the best option to GREATLY increase your output sound is to pick up a quality USB DAC such as a Meridian Explorer. I’ve found this to be exceptionally good and am hearing greatly improved sound after just about 100 hours of break in time. It just plugs into any USB Port and bypasses the crappy soundcard on pc’s that have extremely inferior digital to analog converters. DACs used to cost thousands and now you can get a very good one for about $200-$400. It makes the music come to life and mellows out the tinny digital noise. I simply have the 3.5mm plug converting to 2 RCA input jacks going into an old Onkyo Receiver and hooked up some midgrade bookshelf speakers and it’s immensely better sounding that any computer speaker system I’ve heard. There’s many other options for playback too such as getting a good pair of self-powered monitors such as AudioEngine A5+ if you can afford them. If not, an amp and good set of speakers should do about the same. You’ll be able to listen for hours without hearing fatigue. With the DAC you’ll want to turn off all EQ, sound enhancements, etc. to get the most realistic sound to how it was meant to be heard. So, on with adding a few new hard drives and starting to replace all my i-tunes imports. Oh by the way one thing I noticed that is nice is that when it sees you already have the album and asks if you want to replace it, add it or whatever, if you just say replace it will retain your playcounts and I believe your ratings as well which is a huge plus! Hope this helps some people out there. I’ve been reading lately that cd’s and “owning” music will be a thing of the past as we’ll instead be paying for the rights to merely stream it in hi-res audio quality which will be cd or better quality from sources such as Tidal. Spotify still compresses so there again is the difference. I’m not endorsing any of the companies mentioned. I’ve just spent a couple hundred hours researching hi-res music files, importing, playback, music servers, etc. Just a hobby of mine and I consider myself an audiophile on a budget so that’s why I have to spend the time researching vs. just dropping 10 grand on something that I’m told to buy. I can achieve almost the same quality sound for a quarter the price. Same goes for computer audio. You can get a killer sounding system for less than $700 that will probalby blow away your friends home theater system they spent $3,000 on. Just have to do the research.

  20. May 11, 2015

    Ray:

    Many Thank You’s for your thoughtful – and helpful – comments.

    You mentioned AudioEngine – and i want to tell you about a device they make that is absolutely fantastic.

    I too am an audiophile – so i have been searching and searching for the best possible way to digitally “record” my CD’s and then get my computer audio connected with my “studio” grade sound system.

    You are right about the multi-amp speaker systems.

    I have four JBL 4311 Studio Monitors that i have modified for multi-amp performance using two Sampson S-3 Electronic Crossovers – each configured for “mono” four-channel mode – thus requiring four stereo power amplifiers – of which i have a mix of seventies-era amps including two BGW 100As and two BGW 250As.

    The sound is incredible – it very much has the sound as if “live” in the studio at the time of recording ! ! ! No Shit ! !

    But what is really remarkable is a Digital To Analogue Converter (DAC) made by AudioEngine – Model D2. Look this up. This device performs as good as a studio grade DAC – plus it is “wireless” using a transmitter and separate receiver that plugs into one of your sound system pre-amp inputs (i am using the “AUX” input on an “ancient” GAS (Great American Sound) Company – Thalia Pre-Amplifier) which is also awesome in performance and sound.

    With the AudioEngine DAC D2, i can pull stuff off the internet that again sounds like you are “live-in-the-studio” at the time of recording. Incredible sound to say the least ! ! !

    My sound system isn’t exactly a budget system – but i have “salvaged” the various parts from a range of used equipment sources at a fraction of original retail (excepting the Apple MAC Computer, the Samson S-3 Electronic Crossovers, and the AudioEngine D2 DAC).

    I specifically attribute the “like-live-in-the-studio” quality to the AudioEngine D2 plus the multi-amp speaker design.

    I also have a pair of Velodyne 10-Inch Subwoofers which add to the overall sound.

    For those on a budget – there are numerous “active” speakers now on the market that have built-in amplifiers – most commonly configured something like a 150-watt low frequency amplifier pus a second 75-watt upper frequency amplifier built into the speaker enclosure. I think part of the excellent sound from these types of speaker systems is the elimination of a “passive” crossover as well as separate channels of amplification for the various speaker components (low, midrange, high and ultr-high frequency components).

    For a four-channel stereo system (actually eight channels of amplification), I have a pair of JBL 2405 ultra high-end tweeters – plus a good subwoofer system.

    The resulting sound is absolutely incredible at both low-level listening and high-level “dance” music sound levels – maintaining crystal clear sound quality with incredible detail. I really have never heard any better sound on any type of sound system – including recording studio systems.

    Again – thanks for your comments on digital recording options for the best possible sound ! ! !

  21. Arthur says:

    I found the 255 error was because I was only changing the cache location, not the ultimate mp3 file destination and the last-used location was on a drive that was not connected.

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