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.

CONTINUE READING >

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

  1. Donna says:

    Nice tutorial, just what I was looking for. But in Step 1 you say, “Download LAME version 3.95.1” but the link leads to a page to download version 2.0.9t4. I couldn’t find any other versions on their site.

    I’ve also seen other references to the 3.x versions thru the same website, so I know it’s not just a typo on your site. I’m a bit confused what happened to the 3.x versions of the LAME encoder. Do you know what’s going on?

  2. wayne says:

    You can get the latest version of lame from here:

    http://lame.sourceforge.net/index.php

    Click on “get lame”, then click on the link that says “file area”.

    It looks like the latest version is 3.98, but 3.97 is the recommended version.

    There is a great discussion about lame here:

    http://wiki.hydrogenaudio.org/index.php?title=Lame_Compiles#Recommended_encoder_compiles_and_source_code

  3. Donna says:

    I’m new to Mac, new to Ipod and overall confused. I’m on a Mac OS X v 10.4.11 with the new Itunes v 7. In my research in how to import my CD collection to Itunes I came across your site. Very informative, but every time I try to follow your instructions it doesn’t work. I’m not sure if I’ve got the download saved properly. For whatever reason, it keeps going to the desktop. I searched and found some bundles with the enabling software for the Lame Encoder but still nothing. I don’t get that “added” tab between Window and Help, I don’t see in Preferences where I can change it from the AAC to LAME. I’d wait to ask my kids but since they are only 3 & 4 yrs old, and can’t read yet – I’ll be waiting a long time. I’d really like to be up with the times, era, before they beat me to it. Thanks Wayne!

  4. Mark Schafer says:

    Dear Wayne,

    I just followed your directions for installing LAME on my Mac, and when I click “here” the version of LAME I get to download appears to be 2.0.9t4, not 3.95.1. Then, when I download this LAME what I get on my desktop (iMac PPC) is the iTunes-LAME icon, rather than the four icons where I move the iTunes-LAME icon into the folder icon. I have tried putting the icon into Library/iTunes/Scripts, but this doesn’t seem to accomplish anything. At the same time, the iTunes-LAME window appears, but it doesn’t seem to do anything. In addition, when I go to switch the alt-prest to “insane” it is not an available option (nor is “extreme”). What do you suggest?

  5. Mark Schafer says:

    By the way, I have iTunes 7.7 (43).

  6. admin says:

    Donna and Mark.

    I have totally rewritten the instructions and also provided an installer folder. See how that goes and get back to me.

  7. Frank says:

    to get the best quality would it better to start again importing all my library with each original CD?

  8. Martin Eriksson says:

    I just wanted to say a huge thank you for posting this how to and providing the install scripts. It worked beautifully!

    I have been looking for a good solution to ripping my CDs for a long time and this is just perfect. Combining the power of the LAME encoder and the Gracenote database in iTunes means I can rip through them much faster and with excellent quality than with other LAME encoding programs that use the frankly limited freeDB or MusicBrainz databases…

    You guys rock!

  9. Frank says:

    Can someone tell me where to find my music folder

  10. Steve says:

    Frank, I only have my best CD’s done at insane quality, and the ones I don’t listen to much at lower quality. But, yes, if you really want good quality, go again!

    Your music folder is in your home folder, then a folder called Music, then iTunes. But the simplest way do delete ones you don’t want is just to delete them from within itunes.

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