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

Also, since iTunes was released Hard Drives have increased by 10 times the storage capacity  so I would 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.

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.

These shots were taken in 2008, I now suggest you use Apple Lossless Encoder instead of AAC. It gives even better quality and Hard Drives are now large enough to cope with the size of Apple Lossless files.

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.

150 Responses to “What are the best settings to import songs into itunes?”

  1. Teresa says:

    Can you tell me roughly how much space I will need on my hard drive to copy a cd to itunes? I want to transfer all of my cd’s over but would like to know before I do it if I have space or need an additional drive. Is there a formula? thank you

    • admin says:

      Well depends on the CD of course, but about 7-10MB per song at the insane settings, about 3-4MB at 128kbps, about 6-8MB at 256kbps.

      If you want a rough formula:

      Minutes of music * 60 seconds * bitrate/8 (because 8 bits in a byte)

      So for a 72 minute CD at 320kbps

      72 * 60 * 320/8 = 172MB is the maximum for a CD at insane quality.

      A 40 minute CD at 256kbps:

      40 * 60 * 256/8 = 76MB.

  2. Adam says:

    Hi, thanks letting me know about LAME. Up until today I have had no problems importing CDs but today after clicking import I get the following error:

    An error occured during import:
    LAME failed (255)
    Arguments:–alt-preset, insane, /var/folders/Y4/Y4+DPN1HFZ89+qBmeAzLsE+++TI/-Tmp-/lame_input_0001.aiff, /Users/lisajones/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music/Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers/Greatest Hits/American Girl.mp3
    Data:

    Nothing appears after Data:

    Any idea what might be wrong? I am using LAME v 2.0.9 (34) and Mac OS X 10.5.7

    Thank you.

  3. Jim Freudenburg says:

    Wonderful site, just stumbled across it while I was looking for ways to import my new remastered Beatles CD’s into iTunes without losing all that extra fidelity.
    I’m using iTunes 8.2.1, Mac OS 10.5.8
    All went perfectly UNTIL I selected the little extra “Import with LAME” item on the iTunes menu.
    The little iTunes-LAME window popped up just fine, but my only two choices are “–alt-preset standard” and “-h -b 160″. Nothing about “Insane”.
    Now I’m really bummed, hate to spend bucks on re-purchasing the Beatles music I already own, only to degrade the sound quality as I put the music into iTunes.
    Any help you could provide would be very welcome! Thanks!
    Jim

  4. Roman says:

    Hi

    Maybe anyone can help me. It all worked fine on my Mac so far too but today I got the same error message as Adam states two postings above. Unfortunately that doesn’t get me any further… tried several encoding options but nothing happens…

    Mac OS X 10.5.8
    iTunes 8.2.1
    LAME v2.0.9 (34)

    Any help would be very much appreciated…

    Regards, Roman

  5. Stephen says:

    I had the same problem. I clicked on the “?” mark in the iTunes-Lame application and scrolled down to the presets, then cut and paste the insane option – including the leading double dashes – into the pop-up. It then worked, and has remembered my settings.

    My question (as I too want to import my new Beatles collection) is: Is Lame at the insane setting better than AAC at 320 (with VBR turned off)? I’ve used the latter through iTunes in the past, and recently imported some CDs using Lame/insane. I can’t really hear a difference. Searching the net seems to imply it is up to my ears. Has anyone run some tests?

    Thanks,

    Stephen

    • admin says:

      Probably not a great difference. LAME is better than AAC at lower bitrates but the higher you get the more debatable it is. I can’t tell any difference on my setup. From what I read (do a google search on AAC vs LAME insane) LAME has the edge. There is an article form 2003 saying AAC is better but remember LAME only just started in 1998 and has improved a lot since 2003.

  6. Daniel Brewer says:

    I am getting the same lame error as the others. Any fix?

  7. Paul says:

    Since I installed Snow Leopard – same error message 255 as mentioned above in Adam’s post on July 18. 2009. No longer works. Was working perfectly before Snow Leopard install.. Any answers?

  8. richsadams says:

    I recently installed iTunes on two of my Mac’s (24″ aluminum iMac and Mini), both running Snow Leopard and it’s working fine.

    Excellent write-up. Thanks and much appreciated!

  9. richsadams says:

    I recently installed iTunes LAME on two of my Mac’s (24″ aluminum iMac and Mini), both running Snow Leopard and it’s working fine.

    Excellent write-up. Thanks and much appreciated!

  10. Geoff says:

    How do I import only selected tracks from a CD please ?

  11. Geoff says:

    Doh ! Sorry just worked it out RTFM …………..

  12. Gorilla says:

    I just wanna tell that I also got the error:

    Import Error

    An error occured during import:
    LAME failed (255)
    Arguments:-v, -V, 2, –vbr-new, -h, /Volumes/Songtitle/Filename.aiff, /Users/Username/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media/Music/ArtistName/AlbumName/Songtitle.mp3
    Data:

    Mac OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.2
    iTunes 9.0.2 (25)

    This is the only place I found were this is mentioned. If i find a solution I will come back.

  13. Chado says:

    Hello, and thank you for all the info. Just wondering how LAME compares to Apple Lossless or WAV formats? Looking for the best quality of course and have noticed a lot of of downloadable music is Lossless, and those are both already available on iTunes. Would it be worth it to aquire LAME? Thanks

  14. Chado says:

    Oh yeah, MERRY CHRISTMAS to everyone!

  15. Why can’t latest iTunes 9.0.2 convert MP3 files to AIFF
    files anymore(from the ADVANCED drop down menu)?
    OR am i missing it somewhere?

    reply to Mark at
    bamm@rio[dot]com

    • admin says:

      You first need to go to iTunes preferences | General | Import Settings and chose AIFF as what you want to use, then ‘create AIFF version’ will appear in the advanced menu.

  16. Jonny says:

    I’m getting the same import error as others:

    An error occured during import:
    LAME failed (10)
    Arguments:–alt-preset, insane, /Volumes/Lorraine Hunt Lieberson At Wigmore Hall/1 Mahler: Rückertlieder – Blicke Mir Nicht In Die Lieder.aiff, /Volumes/MyBook/MP3/Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Roger Vignoles/Lorraine Hunt Lieberson At Wigmore Hall/01. Mahler_ Rückertlieder – Blicke Mir Nicht In Die Lieder.mp3
    Data:

    Has anyone got a solution?

  17. THANX SO MUCH ‘ADMIN’!
    It works OR rather…appears now in the ADVANCED drop down when i change(d) it in iTunes prefs!

    You’re THE ONLY Mac Help Site that was able to help in a fast, easy to understand way!

    Your site is bookmarked!

    Take care – Mark

  18. Barbox says:

    Hi! I am trying to import a music file which has the following characteristics:
    – 320 Kbps
    – 2 Channels Stereo
    – Sample rate of 44 Hz

    It’s a 5 minutes with 11 MB of size song but iTunes does not recognize it at all!

    I tried drag and drop, importing through the “Add File to Library” features and nothing…

    Has this ever happen’d to anyone?

  19. Nicole says:

    Hi,
    I’m having a few problems, I downloaded the software and I was unable to locate it on my computer. My laptop crashed a few months back and I lost all my music in itunes. I was able to copy the music I had on my ipod but now it is too times comsuming to add it all back one by one. Can you help????

  20. Anna says:

    I’ve imported the songs from the CD onto iTunes, and I’m able to play the songs from the CD but when i try to copy the songs from the CD folder and into a playlist to put on my iPod, it doesn’t copy over. I’ve tried a lot to fix it, so I really need some help over here. Any pointers?
    Thanks,
    Anna

  21. kira says:

    i have recently got a netbook and was wondering how on earth i could import cd’s onto my itunes, but without a cd player? any ideas?

  22. steve says:

    Will these steps work for a pc? If not, would anyone know what my best option is?

    Thanks!

  23. Troy says:

    I appreciate your knowledge. Thank you

  24. Glenn says:

    My Itunes library is on an external drive. When i uncheck the “COPY FILES TO ITUNES MUSIC FOLDER” it creates a duplicate in the default Itunes library. I just downloaded this software and would like to convert my entire music library. Problem is, my library has 55,000 songs. How could i go about converting all with Lame without having any duplicates?

    • Glenn says:

      i may have figure it out by using the following
      –alt-preset insane –delete-source

    • admin says:

      This will only work if your original library was copied using Apple lossless. If your original library was ripped at a lower bitrate you can’t convert it up. Well you can, but it won’t improve the sound quality. In fact ANY RE-COMPRESSION OF A SONG WILL WORSEN THE QUALITY – EVEN IF YOU COMPRESS AT A BETTER BITRATE! You need to use the best settings WHEN YOU RIP THE SONG OFF THE CD.

  25. Jools says:

    Hi Wayne,

    I’m a bit of a Luddite when it comes to this sort of thing, so many thanks for this very easy to understand explanation of importing CDs at the highest quality! An excellent article!

    I have a couple of questions:

    1) Although I use iTunes, I run WinXP (32-bit Pro version) (sorry!!!). I followed the link to the LAME encoder, but couldn’t find an easy way to install it on WinXP. If I eventually do, I’m not sure I understand how I import my CDs in a way that I can play them using iTunes. Do I simply import them into a folder and then ‘point’ the iTunes ‘default music folder’ (or whatever it’s called) to that folder?

    2) If I decide not to use the LAME encoder but stick with importing CDs using iTunes, am I better off using the AAC encoder (with the settings you describe above) or, if I want to export my iTunes library to my mobile device (an HTC Desire running Android), will I be obliged to use iTunes’ MP3 encoder (in case Android/HTC Desire doesn’t recognise the music encoded by the AAC encoder)?

    Apologies for such a long post!

    Regards,

    Jools (Tonbridge, Kent, UK)

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