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. Every time I insert a CD, iTunes asks if I want to import the songs, but it does NOT give me an option to not import duplicates. I skimmed through all these pages and don’t see a way to not import duplicates from inserted CDs. Also checked preferences in iTunes and cannot see how to keep these dupes from being imported. Is there a way? Thanks, by the way, for posting all this.

    • admin says:

      Yes this is true. I think though if it’s the exact same CD with same compression settings, it will do the duplicate alert thing, otherwise it just adds them to your collection alongside the others. So if you are upgrading lower compression and want to overwrite duplicated, just delete the old album from iTunes first.
      There are apps to find and remove duplicates. eg: http://www.imdeduper.com/

      • Srab says:

        If you go into the “File” menu on the newest version of iTunes (10.5.2.11, think this is newest update), there is actually a tab that reads, “Display Duplicates”. To delete the duplicates you have to go through an arduous task of selecting the extra copy. iTunes needs to fix this so there are no longer two songs exactly the same, because it is incredibly irritating to have two, three, or sometimes four copies of one song.

  2. Chato says:

    How do you update the latest version of lame v3.98.4 in itunes?

  3. SAW says:

    What effect does optimize for voice have??

    • admin says:

      Optimise for voice will make a better quality recording for spoken word, but worse for music. Speech and music are different in terms of the frequencies involved, so if itunes knows what you are compressing, it can aim to optimise it. It defaults to music, but if you are recording spoken word click this option.

  4. Erik says:

    I’m confused. I’ve followed all your steps but am only given two importing options, – alt-preset-standard, and -h-b-160. I don’t see any other options and the Lame website is useless.

    • Joel says:

      I just got a new computer that runs Lion and noticed that I can’t rip “insane” anymore; just the two options you noted. I guess I’ll rip lossless instead.

  5. Randy says:

    Erik. You need to type it in the field just as in the example. you can also use extreme instead of insane. Click the “?” for the syntax but it is all there

  6. Cleve says:

    I want the biggest bang for the buck. meaning, i want to import my songs at great quality, but at the same time i dont want to use up a lot of memory doing it. I have my Itunes import settings currently at: AAC encoder–320 kbps, 44.100 kHz. is there a better option?

  7. Kate says:

    I have my settings in iTunes as you describe in this article — AAC / 320kbps / 44.100kHz, etc.

    I’m a big audiophile, so the idea of the best possible quality using Lame is preferable. However, there is the size issue.

    Before I decide whether to go for the Lame option — can you give some rough parameters… for a 3 minute track for example — how big will the file be a) max iTunes settings, vs b) insane Lame settings?

    Thanks for posting this info, extremely useful.

  8. Kate says:

    I have my settings in iTunes as you describe in this article — AAC / 320kbps / 44.100kHz, etc.

    I’m a big audiophile, so the idea of the best possible quality using Lame is preferable. However, there is the size issue.

    Before I decide whether to go for the Lame option — can you give some rough parameters… for a 3 minute track for example — how big will the file be a) max iTunes settings, vs b) insane Lame settings?

    Thanks for posting this info, extremely useful.

  9. Bob T says:

    Hi, Wayne; what a great source of info you’ve shared. My question regards what you said about downloading CDs into iTunes in Lossless vs the highest bit rate downloading using LAME. “Apart from copying your CD into iTunes with no compression (apple lossless encoder) which takes 650MB per CD, this is the best quality you will get in iTunes.” Hmmm. I am confused. Does the LAME / insane program offfer better, same, or less sound quality than Lossless? Could you please explain the difference including file size and sound quality comparisons (yeah, getting into the subjective region there, perhaps)? My entire library is in Lossless and I’d hate to try to redo it all unless there is a discernable difference available. I am using a Red Wine iMod and a headphone amp with Kleer Audio CT7 in ear monitors so I may be able to hear an improvement if there is one to be had. Thanks very much.

  10. Jeff D says:

    Guys, I appreciate the information you have here, but if your philosophy is great quality, with space not such an issue, why not use the Apple Lossless encoder? I find you still get 2-3x compression over a direct CD disk image. Granted, most non-Apple devices won’t play Apple Lossless format, but neither will they play 320kbps AAC… Most cap it at 256.

  11. Nick says:

    Hello, is there a way to implement this software on Mac OS Lion as this software is proving defective. I have a need for enhanced quality music as you can see.

    • Bruno Vieira says:

      I’m also looking forward to a way ti install the LAME encoder on Mac OS X 10.7 Lion… HELP!

    • Richard says:

      Here’s how I got the iTunes LAME bridge working in Mac OS X Lion:

      1) I downloaded the latest iTunes LAME (2.0.9-34) from the project page
      http://code.google.com/p/blacktree-itunes-lame/

      2) I installed the latest lame binary where iTunes LAME would find it
      and use it.

      Why this works:

      In order to allow you to upgrade the lame install you use, iTunes LAME
      will find and use the lame in /usr/local/bin/lame or /sw/bin/lame in
      place of the lame included in its own contents.

      Here’s how to get the latest lame into the right place:

      You can most easily install and keep updated with new lame versions
      using the Fink Project http://www.finkproject.org/ or MacPorts
      http://www.macports.org/.

      Both Fink and MacPorts will require that you first download and install
      Apple’s Xcode from the Mac Store (Xcode 4 is free now on Lion).

      If you install lame with Fink, it will put lame in the /sw/bin/lame
      location, where iTunes LAME will find it.

      If you install lame with MacPorts, it will put lame in
      /opt/local/bin/lame. From that point, you can just soft-link it to the
      /usr/local/bin/lame location for iTunes LAME to find. To do so run this
      command in a Terminal.app window:
      ln -s /opt/local/bin/lame /usr/local/bin/

      Final note:

      You may want to add –nohist to your lame options in the iTunes LAME
      encoding setup. LAME 3.98 added a histogram display to its output,
      which confuses iTunes LAME into displaying incorrect progress bars.
      –nohist turns this display off, and avoids confusing iTunes LAME.

  12. ben says:

    hows it bru? was wondering if there is a way for itunes to recognize that i dont have all the tracks imported on the cd and have it only import those tracks? I know you can use the tick box and import that way but i’m looking for a way to have itunes do it on its own.

    thanks
    b

  13. Sean Bailey says:

    So after reading All of your information I am still wondering which is best, the AAC at the settings described above or Apple Lossless? Just the 2011 update states that Apple Lossless is the best, so a little confused. Also how much space does the average CD take up when importing at the best settings? I have quite a big cd and mp3 collection. Great information on this website, have you told your findings to Apple?

  14. Ron says:

    “STOP PRESS 2011 – I now suggest you use Apple Lossless Encoder instead of AAC as it gives even better quality.” –

    I imported the same track twice, once as a 50.5 mb AIFF file at the automatic setting that came thru at a 1411 bit rate, and the other as a 33.3 mb Apple Lossless compressed file at a 929 bit rate.

    The top statement copied from the above article says the lossless encoder will sound better. How could this possible based on the numbers I listed?

    • admin says:

      Lossless uses a compression algorithm to compress the file in a way that when it is uncompressed it is exactly the same as the original, hence no loss of quality in the audio, but a smaller file. For example, zip is lossless compression – you can get the original file snack perfectly even though the zip file is smaller. jpg is lossy – you can never get the original photo back.

  15. Ron says:

    ooooops… disregard my late night comment as I clearly did not read the original statement clearly. I confused AAC & AIFF!

  16. Jamie Katz says:

    Helpful information, clearly explained: many thanks.

    Question: I often enter additional info into the “get info” fields—personnel, recording date, and so forth. Do you know if it’s possible, if I re-download my collection, not to lose all these entries?

  17. Misty says:

    it’s sad that only mac users can have this good quality. i have windows xp and having to switch between the volume dial for every other song has almost driven me mentally insane!!!!!! I need something to make all songs the same volume without distorting it.

  18. Moshy says:

    Great info above!!!

    I originally imported my entire CD collection using the following settings -:

    Import Using – MP3 encoder
    Setting – Custom (With the below selections) -:
    Stereo Bit Rate – 320kbps
    Sample Rate – Auto
    Channels – Stereo
    Stereo Mode – Joint Stereo
    Smart Encoding Adjustments was ticked.
    NOT ticked/selected are Variable Bit Rate Encoding (VBR) & Filter Frequencies Below 10Hz.
    Also NOT ticked was “Use error correction when reading audio CD’s’.

    From here on in i’ll be now using Apple Losless Encoder (ALE) as per your recommendations. But what I would like to know, is there likely to be a noticeable difference in sound quality over the above mentioned import settings, if I re-import all my CD’s using ALE? I also notice if I right click on a song there’s an option to ‘Create Apple Losless Version’ is this possible? If this actually works, it obviously saves having to re-import several hundred CD’s. Without knowing exactly how it’s compressed, my feeling is the info is possibly lost & can’t be retrieved by just clicking a button. Hope the above makes some kind of sense.

    Thanks in advance for any help!!!

    Cheers
    Dale

    • admin says:

      No you can’t create a lossless version from an MP3 version, well you can but the quality will not improve. Once it’s lost, you can’t get it back. You need to re-import.

  19. nikolai says:

    Got this running fine, importing all the wife’s cds at 256, BUT when imported I don’t get track numbers attched to tracks, only names. Any way to fix this?

  20. mizkat says:

    Hi,
    When I imported a music cd into itunes, it separated the tracks thus 19 albums instead of 19 tracks of one album. I tried deleting and re-installing and tried to integrate in the info without luck. Any suggestions?
    Thanks,
    Kat

  21. mellia says:

    This is so helpful; thank you!!!

  22. Just a note in support of the “Hard drives are cheap, use Lossless” plan. I’ve been ripping AAC for a few years but any new rips are going to be Apple Lossless. I resisted that change because I don’t want to fill up my iPod 4x faster than normal, but the last few versions of iTunes have a checkbox to automatically resample songs to 128MP3 when transferring to an iPod.

  23. Rich from Sydney says:

    Having read the above article and comments I can add the following to the debate:

    In the past Ive used MP3 on High Quality settings and have been generally happy with the odd disk copying over badly. More recently I have been using AAC set on iTunes Plus setting (256kbps) which is a noticeable improvement both using my iMac speakers and when feeding it through my Hi-Fi. I have tested using Apple Lossless (ALL) a few times and generally although ALL sounds SLIGHTLY better than ACC it is so minimal that it takes some concentration to detect it both through the iMac and Hi-Fi. The price you pay is file size for this nominal improvement. Here’s and example: Me & Mr Johnson by Eric Clapton in ACC format is 96.7Mb and in ALL format is 340Mb. On my iPhone and iPod I generally use the ‘Convert to…128AAC’ option as I prefer more songs to higher quality and it is not detectable through earphones (even decent Sennheiser ones).

  24. Bertan says:

    What should we choose for these four settings: Channels, Stereo Mode, Smart Encoding Adjustments, Filter Frequencies Below 10 Hz?

    • admin says:

      Stereo because you have 2 ears and everything is recorded in stereo, and unless you are compressing everything at a very low bit rate stereo sounds better.
      Smart Encoding Adjustments doesn’t really do anything. It just automatically adjusts the other settings according to the bit rate, so if you are selecting options manually it makes no difference.
      Filter frequencies below 10 Hz – you can’t hear anything below 10 Hz, no speakers reproduce sounds that low, 0Hz is DC and can mess up your amplifier. There would never be a case when you would want frequencies below 10 Hz.

  25. Bluesfan Dave says:

    Great site! I have aorund 9,000 (probably 7000 from my cd’s)songs loaded in iTunes, unfortunatley most at the 128 kbps. I have since changed to MP3 320 kbps. I saw in your string here that I cannot do a mass upgrade with existing music in iTunes to Lossless, or even the 320 kbps, and just wnated to confirm. I use my iPod mainly to distribute whole house to any/all of 47 speakers through a Control 4 dock. You seem on top of your game with this, and I wonder what you’d do

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