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. Juan says:

    I just downloaded 3.98 from Soundforge, but when I unpacked it, there are a bunch of files & not just the 1 file like the old one. I’m currently using the Lame Encoder from step 1 but how can i install this new one?

  2. […] has now doubled so that the music is better quality. (I suggested the itunes bitrate was too low here, and how to get round it, but now apple have ‘fixed’ […]

  3. Emma says:

    Hi,
    i have a netbook and it doesn’t have a cd drive. I recently managed to use another computer to download my cd’s to memory stick save them to my computer and put them on to itunes but this morning my iTunes won’t let me add the new files on my memory stick onto my iTunes. Any suggestions to another way to get around it?

  4. Heidi Yates says:

    My son is in the army. He bought a jump drive and had it sent to me so I could put all of his music…over a hundred cds…on it. The first two took 30 minutes each! I was just reading about using Lame and am wondering if it will help speed up this process or if you have any suggestions.
    Thanks

    • admin says:

      Nope LAME will make it better quality, but if anything slower as the files will be larger.

      If you and he both have macs, it will be faster if you reformat it as a mac drive using disk utility, but then you can’t read it on PC’s.

  5. esta says:

    how do i save a song onto my itunes library. I have tried the add a file button but when i add d file i just cant find the song anywhere.. is it possible to help me.. thx

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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

  10. 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.

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