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. Daniel Brewer

    I am getting the same lame error as the others. Any fix?

  2. Paul

    Since I installed Snow Leopard – same error message 255 as mentioned above in Adam’s post on July 18. 2009. No longer works. Was working perfectly before Snow Leopard install.. Any answers?

  3. richsadams

    I recently installed iTunes on two of my Mac’s (24″ aluminum iMac and Mini), both running Snow Leopard and it’s working fine.

    Excellent write-up. Thanks and much appreciated!

  4. richsadams

    I recently installed iTunes LAME on two of my Mac’s (24″ aluminum iMac and Mini), both running Snow Leopard and it’s working fine.

    Excellent write-up. Thanks and much appreciated!

  5. Geoff

    How do I import only selected tracks from a CD please ?

  6. Geoff

    Doh ! Sorry just worked it out RTFM …………..

  7. Gorilla

    I just wanna tell that I also got the error:

    Import Error

    An error occured during import:
    LAME failed (255)
    Arguments:-v, -V, 2, –vbr-new, -h, /Volumes/Songtitle/Filename.aiff, /Users/Username/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media/Music/ArtistName/AlbumName/Songtitle.mp3

    Mac OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.2
    iTunes 9.0.2 (25)

    This is the only place I found were this is mentioned. If i find a solution I will come back.

  8. Chado

    Hello, and thank you for all the info. Just wondering how LAME compares to Apple Lossless or WAV formats? Looking for the best quality of course and have noticed a lot of of downloadable music is Lossless, and those are both already available on iTunes. Would it be worth it to aquire LAME? Thanks

  9. Chado

    Oh yeah, MERRY CHRISTMAS to everyone!

  10. Mark Jaquette

    Why can’t latest iTunes 9.0.2 convert MP3 files to AIFF
    files anymore(from the ADVANCED drop down menu)?
    OR am i missing it somewhere?

    reply to Mark at

    1. You first need to go to iTunes preferences | General | Import Settings and chose AIFF as what you want to use, then ‘create AIFF version’ will appear in the advanced menu.

  11. Jonny

    I’m getting the same import error as others:

    An error occured during import:
    LAME failed (10)
    Arguments:–alt-preset, insane, /Volumes/Lorraine Hunt Lieberson At Wigmore Hall/1 Mahler: Rückertlieder – Blicke Mir Nicht In Die Lieder.aiff, /Volumes/MyBook/MP3/Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Roger Vignoles/Lorraine Hunt Lieberson At Wigmore Hall/01. Mahler_ Rückertlieder – Blicke Mir Nicht In Die Lieder.mp3

    Has anyone got a solution?

  12. Mark Jaquette

    It works OR rather…appears now in the ADVANCED drop down when i change(d) it in iTunes prefs!

    You’re THE ONLY Mac Help Site that was able to help in a fast, easy to understand way!

    Your site is bookmarked!

    Take care – Mark

  13. Barbox

    Hi! I am trying to import a music file which has the following characteristics:
    – 320 Kbps
    – 2 Channels Stereo
    – Sample rate of 44 Hz

    It’s a 5 minutes with 11 MB of size song but iTunes does not recognize it at all!

    I tried drag and drop, importing through the “Add File to Library” features and nothing…

    Has this ever happen’d to anyone?

  14. Nicole

    I’m having a few problems, I downloaded the software and I was unable to locate it on my computer. My laptop crashed a few months back and I lost all my music in itunes. I was able to copy the music I had on my ipod but now it is too times comsuming to add it all back one by one. Can you help????

  15. Anna

    I’ve imported the songs from the CD onto iTunes, and I’m able to play the songs from the CD but when i try to copy the songs from the CD folder and into a playlist to put on my iPod, it doesn’t copy over. I’ve tried a lot to fix it, so I really need some help over here. Any pointers?

  16. kira

    i have recently got a netbook and was wondering how on earth i could import cd’s onto my itunes, but without a cd player? any ideas?

  17. steve

    Will these steps work for a pc? If not, would anyone know what my best option is?


    1. Simply change the import settings to a higher setting – don’t worry about using LAME.

  18. I appreciate your knowledge. Thank you

  19. Glenn

    My Itunes library is on an external drive. When i uncheck the “COPY FILES TO ITUNES MUSIC FOLDER” it creates a duplicate in the default Itunes library. I just downloaded this software and would like to convert my entire music library. Problem is, my library has 55,000 songs. How could i go about converting all with Lame without having any duplicates?

    1. Glenn

      i may have figure it out by using the following
      –alt-preset insane –delete-source

    2. This will only work if your original library was copied using Apple lossless. If your original library was ripped at a lower bitrate you can’t convert it up. Well you can, but it won’t improve the sound quality. In fact ANY RE-COMPRESSION OF A SONG WILL WORSEN THE QUALITY – EVEN IF YOU COMPRESS AT A BETTER BITRATE! You need to use the best settings WHEN YOU RIP THE SONG OFF THE CD.

  20. Jools

    Hi Wayne,

    I’m a bit of a Luddite when it comes to this sort of thing, so many thanks for this very easy to understand explanation of importing CDs at the highest quality! An excellent article!

    I have a couple of questions:

    1) Although I use iTunes, I run WinXP (32-bit Pro version) (sorry!!!). I followed the link to the LAME encoder, but couldn’t find an easy way to install it on WinXP. If I eventually do, I’m not sure I understand how I import my CDs in a way that I can play them using iTunes. Do I simply import them into a folder and then ‘point’ the iTunes ‘default music folder’ (or whatever it’s called) to that folder?

    2) If I decide not to use the LAME encoder but stick with importing CDs using iTunes, am I better off using the AAC encoder (with the settings you describe above) or, if I want to export my iTunes library to my mobile device (an HTC Desire running Android), will I be obliged to use iTunes’ MP3 encoder (in case Android/HTC Desire doesn’t recognise the music encoded by the AAC encoder)?

    Apologies for such a long post!


    Jools (Tonbridge, Kent, UK)

  21. 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.

    1. 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:

      1. Srab

        If you go into the “File” menu on the newest version of iTunes (, 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.

  22. Chato

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

  23. SAW

    What effect does optimize for voice have??

    1. 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.

  24. Erik

    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.

    1. Joel

      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.

  25. Randy

    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

  26. Cleve

    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?

    1. That’s probably the best option.

  27. Kate

    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.

  28. Kate

    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.

  29. Bob T

    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.

  30. Jeff D

    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.

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