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. Nick

    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.

    1. Bruno Vieira

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

    2. Richard

      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

      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 or MacPorts

      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 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.

      1. Great work Richard and thanks for posting!

  2. ben

    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.


  3. Sean Bailey

    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?

  4. Ron

    “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?

    1. 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.

  5. Ron

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

  6. Jamie Katz

    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?

  7. Misty

    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.

  8. Moshy

    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!!!


    1. 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.

  9. nikolai

    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?

  10. mizkat

    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?

  11. mellia

    This is so helpful; thank you!!!

  12. 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.

  13. Rich from Sydney

    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).

  14. Bertan

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

    1. 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.

  15. Bluesfan Dave

    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

  16. Bluesfan Dave

    I also should mention that I have been rating the songs for about 10 years (to create playlists, etc.), and asume I’d lose those if I end up re-importing all of my cd’s? Can I also assume I can’t create a lossless or 320 mbps version from an AAC 128 mbps? Again, the old once it’s gone it’s gone?

  17. Sascha

    Very practical clear instruction. This music lover is very grateful! Thanks!

  18. felix

    first off thanks for the tips and info. great little site you got here.

    quick question: is the built-in iTunes mp3 encoder still as shabby as it used to be or have apple improved the quality in the meantime?

    the reason i ask is that i’m about to start encoding all of my CDs. i want to encode them all as mp3 (320kbps) rather than aac, simply because the mp3 format is so much more universal. and who knows what i might wanna play my files on in a couple of years time.

    The LAME encoder doesn’t seem to work properly under 10.7 and the “Max” audio ripper can’t seem to get the right metadata for the CDs. at least not with albums that comprise more than 1 disc.

    and i haven’t found any other audio rippers for osx that really conjure much confidence.

    any pointers much appreciated.

    1. I think it’s at the lower bitrates that the different encoders make a difference. At the higher bitrates they are all pretty good. But why not go with Apple Lossless, it’s perfect quality and no loss of data, especially if you are looking forward to ‘the next couple of years’. Then just convert to lower bitrate when needed to copy to your iPod.

  19. Craig

    Great info. Thanks!

    My other question about importing CD’s is not about quality, but about compatibility. If I import CD’s as either AAC or Lossless, and one day I want to stop using iTunes (if some other game-changer music app/device shows up), are there any restrictions about playing AAC files in some other music player? I suppose it depends on the player itself and whether or not its compatible with AAC.

    Is that common, or rare, for other music players to support AAC or Lossless?

  20. Many

    Hi , i am getting a new computer with a ssd hard drive with a window 7 , and i like to burn all my favorite cds as original into itunes window to be able to use tthe remote on my iphone to select songs to play it in my hifi true a usb DAC , so for me quality is important , please what will you suggest me the import setting on itunes .?

    1. I’d go lossless, but do you have a separate HD from your SDD one for media?

  21. robert

    …and how to convert aiff to mp3 with lame in iTunes?

    1. I don’t think you can. You’ll need to use the iTunes encoder I think.

  22. Erik

    I was wondering the same thing with Craig, are there any compatibility issues concerning the AAC format?
    Also, if i create a custom music cd with songs in AAC format, will I be able to listen to it on all devices just like mp3 music cds?

    Thanks for all the info!

  23. Ronald

    Compatibility of AAC on non-Apple devices has increased massively over the last few years. Even Windows has native support for AAC. For me I have Androids, Windows Phones, iPods, Blackberries, etc because I love collecting gadgets and from my experience AAC is actually more supported than MP3. To illustrate what I am trying to say. Album artwork and tagging in AAC files is supported by all the devices and is the QuickTime scheme is the de facto standard for most devices because the tagging scheme is the same throughout unlike MP3 which has various ID3 tag versions supported differently which may result in wrong display of data. Another thing to consider is when you are ripping the reason why you raise the bitrate of a given file is to ensure that there is faithful reproduction of the audio as it is on the disc. For the lossy codecs note that the reason why we say that MP3, including LAME, performs worse than AAC is because for it to start being competent with AAC it has to have Joint Stereo enabled and this alters the stereo image. Joint Stereo is not Stereo because of its nature. In the age of better speakers and headsets there will be need to use Stereo for music becuase Joint Stereo will not represent true stereo. A good number of you would like to play their files on Hi Fis but do you consider the technology used for getting the most out of your hardware? Dolby Pro Logic II is a technology that builds 5.1 Channel Surround Sound from stereo. And for it to work the audio must be stereo and not joint stereo. So to avoid going over this again a few years down the line use stereo because soon enough joint stereo’s problems will be exposed the same way 128 kbps artifacts were exposed

  24. Thomas

    The question I want to ask has partly been answered, but I’m still not totally sure.

    Basically, like many others, I am about to import all my CDs again at a higher quality level. Anything above 320Kbps MP3 is not an option because I simply have too much music for anything higher.

    My question is this, despite the fact that I like the idea of iTunes-LAME, common sense tells me that a LAME encoder version over 4 years old can’t be as good as the current default iTunes MP3 encoder? But maybe I’m being naive about the quality of Apple “Updates”.

    I’ve tried looking into the methods of updating to the newest version of LAME (3.99.4) for iTunes-LAME to utilise, but it seems too complex and time consuming for a (Just above) average Mac user as myself. I can’t even figure out how to install or compile the LAME 3.99.4, let alone get it into iTunes-LAME. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    What I really want to know though is, LAME 3.97 (In iTunes-LAME) vs iTunes 10.5.3 (3) encoder for 320kbps MP3? Is one better or are they the same?

    Also, I know that a lot of people feel Joint Stereo can never be as good as normal “True” Stereo, but I have read that “Mathematically” Stereo wastes bits on separation while Joint Stereo does not. Therefore Joint Stereo contains more bits dedicated to sound quality than normal Stereo. Again, I’m undecided, so opinions would be welcome.

    Thanks a lot for the page and info! Hope to hear from someone soon.

  25. Jeff

    I just uploade in apple lossless, now my cars hard drive won’t play, it played fine in aac 128, is there anything I can do about this?

    1. What is a cars hard drive?

  26. Lynne

    Wow this is all great but way too technical for me, I am brand new to itunes n now got my 1st iphone lol!

    My iphone is only 8GB and I have lots of CDs I want on it (70+ albums), what is the best setting to use?? and can i copy them onto itunes on my pc at a higher kgb but reduce it again to put it onto my phone?

    Please keep it simple as this is all way to techincal for me, thanks x

    1. Import into iTunes as lossless (best possible quality) then tick the box on your iTunes iPhone “Summary” settings that says ‘Convert higher nitrate songs to 128kbps AAC’. This will store as best quality on your computer but reduced quality on your iPhone to save space.

  27. Karl

    Thanks for the detailed info, but unless I’m incorrect, is LAME not suppose to or have the ability to encode my CD’s into ACC format into itunes? I have set up LAME exactly as you have stated above, but find that after LAME encodes my CD’s in itunes, the encoded tracks are encoded to MPEG-1 quality mp3, which is the lowest quality one can achieve. The only reason I know the quality has been degraded is by selecting a song in tunes and getting the info from it. (control “i”).
    Note: I have the LAME preference setting as ‘insane’.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.


  28. I have been importing cds using the mp3 encoder setting per an apple store instructors directions. Is this wrong, should I use the AAC setting and if so do I need to redo my recordings?

    1. It’s not ‘wrong’ but a higher setting (mp3 or AAC) will mean better quality music and FLAC even better, that’s all.

  29. bigdogmurphy

    A recording guy told me a better way to bring the music into iTunes was to copy the CD into a folder on the desktop, then import that folder as opposed to importing the CD. Is there any validity to this????

    1. Hmmm. Good question. My understanding is that when you copy a ‘data’ CD it makes an EXACT copy, because a data CD has extra built in error correction that an ‘audio’ CD does not have. So I think the i-tunes import with the ‘Use error correction when importing Audio CD’s’ is the same as the first method IF you have an audio CD. BUT if say you are mastering and you want perfect reproduction of an audio file you are better off saving it to a data CD as an aiff, then copying it back to the computer, rather than burning it to an audio CD.

  30. Chuck58

    Looking for some help from any Apple knowledgeable person.
    When I burn a music album from an iTunes Playlist to a CD as an audio file for playing in my car CD player I do not get any of the information displayed on the my car’s “enhanced radio” such as track name, album title, artist name. My car radio can display 3 lines of text. Why doesn’t this transfer? Should i be using a different setting when transferring the album tracks? I just get “no information” or “blank” on the car radio display. The music plays just fine but I would like to see the extra information as my radio has the ability to do this. Apparently using “import as audio CD” is not working for me. I am using the latest iTunes version on a MacBook Pro. Thanks for any help.

    1. I think to get that info you may need to burn it as an mp3 not an audio file???

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