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. Arthur

    I found the 255 error was because I was only changing the cache location, not the ultimate mp3 file destination and the last-used location was on a drive that was not connected.

  2. Chris

    How can I tell what bit rate any one particular song was compressed to? (I don’t think I’m wording this right.) But let’s say I ripped a bunch of CDs to iTunes. Started with 256 then changed to Lossless. Where can I find that info for a song?

    1. If it’s 256 you can see the bitrate in iTunes, or click on the audio file and ‘Get Info’. But if you stared with 256 then changed to lossless there’s no way to know that it was originally 256. There’s no history information in an audio file to tell you whats been done to it in the past.

  3. Chris

    Thank you, Wayne. Okay, I think I’m understanding this more. All my music so far is at 256 (iTunes Plus), but I stopped midway through ripping all my Cds to research this further. I think I may start over and do them all at 320. The reason I’m not keen on the Lossless is because I want them to convert to 320 for the iPod (not to 128). I currently don’t have a serious home system, but when I do get one is it possible to have 2 files for the same song (Lossless for at home & 320 for the ipod in the car)? Am I understanding this correctly? Thanks!

    1. That’s spot on Chris.

  4. Claude Massicotte

    After encoding 500+ classical music CD I finally understand I did it all wrong. I now have all together a 100Gig library.

    Here is my question: How would you recommend I proceed to revamp my library? Can i have 2 libraries for a while and then switch?

    Also thank you so much for a wonderful article written in a way that ordinary knowledgeable people understand.

  5. Presuming the DAC on your MP3 player is as good as your CD player then in blind tests no one can tell the difference above 192kbs VBR. The problem with MP3 was 128Kbs CBR was far from CD Quality as claimed. VBR came along and really helped by providing more bits for the complicated sections and simply upping to 160kbs VBR became very hard to tell the difference. To be safe 192kbs should be fine but Apple had to goto 256kbps for marketing reasons.

  6. Big Poppa

    Thanks for the great info. I was just wondering, I purchased a lot of songs from iTunes. And I just noticed they were mostly in 256kbps. Is there a way to have them re-downloaded at 320kbps or the best quality? Without re purchasing them again? Thanks.

    1. The maximum you can buy on the Apple store is 256 kbps AAC.
      256 will be fine for you, 256 is very good!
      See this…

      The only way to get higher is to buy a CD and import them.

  7. cheesdown

    You may try use Avdshare Audio Converter to convert MP3 bitrate step by step guide and also help to change other audio format bitrate or video format bitrate.

    1. Cheesdown, Why would you pay $25 for Audio Converter when iTunes does it for free and does a very good job?

  8. Mix Master Mcgregor

    Just the guide I needed, thanks very much. Got plenty of time to do this now, lol

  9. Kirk

    Curious I had a few part questions for this technique setting in iTunes.

    1. I’m assuming this import selecting settings are done off of a iMac or MacBook brand right?

    2. If done off of a laptop or iMac, when importing songs off of a CD, should I use compressed audio on 320Kbps AAC or just use ALAC (Apple Lossless) files and store them? Is one of them better than the other or something like that? Cuz generally I know that using AAC is used on copying them from a laptop or iMac and sending them to ur small device while it’s been converted from 320 to 256 Kbps.

    3. Do you know which format is best to use with high quality on a laptop to play the music files on the big stereo speakers? For example: is AAC, ALAC, or a different format better for the laptop and then playing them on the big speakers?

    1. 1. Any mac with iTunes
      2. Lossless is always better than compressed. Only compress them if you need the disk space. Foe example if you are putting them in an ipod and you want more songs to fit it makes sense to compress them. (AAC)
      3. Lossless is always best audio quality. AAC and MP3 are ‘Lossy.’ You always lose some of the audio quality whenever you compress with MP3 or AAC.

  10. Andy

    So… as a mobile DJ that wants to convert about 900+ CD’s… is MP3 not giving me the best near CD quality? I use Virtual DJ and a Mac.
    I just want it so that when I hit the song you almost get that “secret spinning sound” that your used to hear playing CD’s, but I also need the high-end and low-ends to pop and thump for gigs and also when i plug-in at home to our receivers.
    To this point, everything I’ve loaded has been ripped at whatever setting on mp3 it’s been set at. Advice needed!
    Please and Thank you!

    1. Do it as Apple lossless format (AIFF) to get a pure CD sound.
      MP3 and other compressed formats definitely degrade the sound.
      Use lossless and also have error correction on when you are ripping them.

  11. I’m finding that many MP3 players don’t playback the Apple codexes. In other words, If I download a CD to iTunes in the Lossless or AAC format, then I can’t play it back on other players. Would I still get good fidelity on MP3 with 320?

  12. Tommy

    Imported many CDs, with only 2 (both Classical CDs), having some tracks with distorted audio: skipping, crackling, popping, or whole track not being imported. I’ve tried “Apple Lossless” with better results but not 100%. Any suggestions?

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