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).
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)
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.
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.