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.


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

  1. Paul says:


    The quality improvement is GREAT!

    Thanks for easy to follow explanations & instructions.

  2. Paul says:

    Is it possible to use LAME when purchasing / importing from the iTunes store?

  3. wayne says:

    To quote from apple “Purchased songs are encoded using MPEG-4 Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) format, a high-quality format that rivals CD quality.” Apple AAC files at 128kbps are approx equal in audio quality to 160kbps mp3, so not as good as LAME insane or extreme. I buy CD’s from for $10 and import into itunes!

  4. wayne says:

    Good news itunes is now giving you the option of paying more for better quality downloads, but still not as good as with LAME!

  5. paul says:

    itunes LAME’s newest version is 3.97 which works well… but is hard to access through iTunes… no extra window item … got to go into the library/itunes/scripts folder to open the app.

    any suggestions?

  6. Wayne says:

    Well itunes 7.1 did cause problems with LAME and so lame was upgraded with this:

    TO get it back in the menu is a bit messy you need to make an alias of the “Imoprt with lame” script file and move it into the itunes scripts folder.

    right click on and select show package contents
    open contents
    open resources
    make alias of “Import With Lame…..scpt”
    put alias into User/library/itunes/scripts

    will be back in your menubar of itunes.

  7. Andrew says:

    Just noticed a typographical error in the first question in ‘Introduction’. You ask why Apple allows you to use different formats like ACC and MP3. It should read AAC.

  8. aliza says:

    thank you for the step-by-step! not being a coder, that makes all the difference for me. now i’m happily importing cds into itunes on the insane setting and it’s sounding excellent.

    i have one curiosity: is it possible to have folders of music on one’s hard drive and somehow get itunes/LAME to recognize them as something to import? sorry if i’m exposing untold ignorance by asking, i’ve just been copying cds onto my hd for easy portability and sharing, and now i want to import them into itunes with LAME to free up the space. what would be the intelligent way to do that (that wouldn’t create duplicates in itunes)?

  9. wayne says:

    First go to itunes preferences, the Advanced tab, and make sure that the box that says “Copy files to itunes Music folder when adding to library” is NOT checked. This stops it creating duplicates in itunes.

    Then make a new playlist, and drag all the CD audio files that you want to convert into that playlist.

    Now select them all and import using lame.

    Then delete the playlist, and, if you are game, after you’ve checked the import worked, delete the original files to save space.

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