Best iTunes settings for importing songs from CD


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 bit rate of 320kbps rather than the default 128kbps of iTunes.

This article describes how to import songs into iTunes with the better quality bit rate.


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 file size?

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.

[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.


176 responses to “Best iTunes settings for importing songs from CD”

  1. Paul


    The quality improvement is GREAT!

    Thanks for easy to follow explanations & instructions.

  2. Paul

    Is it possible to use LAME when purchasing / importing from the iTunes store?

  3. To quote from apple “Purchased songs are encoded using MPEG-4 Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) format, a high-quality format that rivals CD quality.” Apple AAC files at 128kbps are approx equal in audio quality to 160kbps mp3, so not as good as LAME insane or extreme. I buy CD’s from for $10 and import into itunes!

  4. Good news itunes is now giving you the option of paying more for better quality downloads, but still not as good as with LAME!

  5. paul

    itunes LAME’s newest version is 3.97 which works well… but is hard to access through iTunes… no extra window item … got to go into the library/itunes/scripts folder to open the app.

    any suggestions?

  6. Well itunes 7.1 did cause problems with LAME and so lame was upgraded with this:

    TO get it back in the menu is a bit messy you need to make an alias of the “Imoprt with lame” script file and move it into the itunes scripts folder.

    right click on and select show package contents
    open contents
    open resources
    make alias of “Import With Lame…..scpt”
    put alias into User/library/itunes/scripts

    will be back in your menubar of itunes.

  7. Andrew

    Just noticed a typographical error in the first question in ‘Introduction’. You ask why Apple allows you to use different formats like ACC and MP3. It should read AAC.

  8. aliza

    thank you for the step-by-step! not being a coder, that makes all the difference for me. now i’m happily importing cds into itunes on the insane setting and it’s sounding excellent.

    i have one curiosity: is it possible to have folders of music on one’s hard drive and somehow get itunes/LAME to recognize them as something to import? sorry if i’m exposing untold ignorance by asking, i’ve just been copying cds onto my hd for easy portability and sharing, and now i want to import them into itunes with LAME to free up the space. what would be the intelligent way to do that (that wouldn’t create duplicates in itunes)?

  9. First go to itunes preferences, the Advanced tab, and make sure that the box that says “Copy files to itunes Music folder when adding to library” is NOT checked. This stops it creating duplicates in itunes.

    Then make a new playlist, and drag all the CD audio files that you want to convert into that playlist.

    Now select them all and import using lame.

    Then delete the playlist, and, if you are game, after you’ve checked the import worked, delete the original files to save space.

  10. 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?

  11. You can get the latest version of lame from here:

    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:

  12. Donna

    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!

  13. Mark Schafer

    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?

  14. Mark Schafer

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

  15. Donna and Mark.

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

  16. Frank

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

  17. Martin Eriksson

    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!

  18. Frank

    Can someone tell me where to find my music folder

  19. Steve

    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.

  20. Juan

    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?

  21. […] 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’ […]

  22. Emma

    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?

  23. Heidi Yates

    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.

    1. 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.

  24. esta

    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

  25. Teresa

    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

    1. 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.

  26. Adam

    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

    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.

  27. Jim Freudenburg

    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!

    1. You type in the

      -alt -preset -insane

      into the window.

  28. Roman


    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

  29. Stephen

    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?



    1. 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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