Making better mp3 files with iTunes

I am an mp3 snob, and I am not ashamed to say it.

I ripped my first mp3 file in 1994. I ripped them at 128 kbps, with no ID3 tag information. I did this with most of my cds

and any other cd I could get a hold of for years. Back then that was the way to go. Most people didnt have computers, forget

about portable mp3 players.

Flash forward to today. If someone hasnt heard the term "mp3" or "iPod" yet, they have been living under a rock, or in a time

warp. There isnt a person that I know who doesnt have some music on their computer in some format.

When it comes to music player, the iPod wins, hands down (at least until the zune comes out… hey, im hopeful for it).

iTunes is the defacto standard for loading up your ipod with music. Most people drop in a cd and import (rip) it without

thinking. All they know is that they now have the music on their computer and iPod, to most people its all just computer

voodoo magic.

Default settings on most things SUCK, including iTunes.
Lets look at the default settings of the itune cd import.
first off, iTunes doesnt defaulty rip cds into mp3 files. It uses an apple specific AAC format.

Why AAC files sucks:

  1. non Standard format, very few players and devices support it (mostly apple only)
  2. DRM : digital rights managements. In english, rules they say how you can and cant use that file
  3. Most of the time they are very lossy and sound horrible (high quality is 128kbps)

Why MP3 files rule:

  1. Standard format that almost any audio device can read, from computers to car stereos
  2. NO DRM : no one can tell you what to do with them once its in MP3 format, you are home free
  3. Capabable of producing very high quality sound

Terminology: BitRate
In a nutshell, the amount of data that is pushed out over an period of time. The more data being pushed, the more detail the

audio file can hold. The more detail, the better the sound.


Common Bitrates and their real life equivalents

32 kbps am radio
96 kbps fm radio
128 kbps very low cd quality
160 kbps low cd quality
192 kbps near cd quality
256 kbps high cd quality
320 kbps very high cd quality

looking at the list above, how would you want your cds transferred to your computer? Most software defaults to 128 kbps.

Personally I can tell you if a file is anything less then 192 kbps from listening to it. Im of the school of thought that if

I am go to take the tile to convert my cds into digital formats to listen to them, they should sound reasonably good. For me

reasonable is anything 192 kbps and higher.

With higher bit rates comes higher disk space usage though. In the space you can store 10 songs at 128 kbps, you might be

able to store 5 – 7 songs at 192 kpbs. personally I would rather 1000 songs that sounds awesome on my mp3 player then 1500

that just sound ok. A great combination of size and quality is VBR (variable bit rate) encoded MP3 files.

Basically when there is a part of a song, like a half second pause, you dont need that at super high quality, so if the blank

part of the song has a bit rate of 128 kbps, who cares, When there is a lot of detail to the music, the MP3 file is encoded

at a high rate, like 256 kbps. The net result is a song that changes rates hundreds if not thousands of times, ending up with

a song that sounds great and takes up a reasonable amount of space. Any person who is serious about their music should rip

High quality VBR MP3 files. end of story.

Below is how to make iTunes record High quality VBR MP3 files


  1. In iTunes, go to "edit->preferences" on the tool bar

  2. go to the advanced tab and select "importing", we want to change these settings, the default ones suck

  3. Select the MP3 encoder for importing, then pick the Custom setting

  4. You should get a pop up window what lets you adjust settings, select 192 knps as the bit rate, check use VBR, and set that to

    High

  5. I like to keep my mp3 files away from my other documents, so I changed where the library is. I also like to have iTunes

    organize the folders. iTunes will create a directories in the following manor. ArtistName/AlbumName/trackNumber trackname.mp3

13 Comments

  1. If you really want to make sure you have good sounding mp3s, it’s important to remember to disable “Joint Stereo” mode as well. Joint stereo tends to kill the the stereo effect and makes the music sound “flatter”.

  2. hey, quite helpful! But I use a program, NoteBurner, to do this. With this cute tool, I can convert iTunes music to mp3 easily. There is almost no sound quality loss.

  3. To be honest, if you’re serious about getting the best quality mp3s use Exact Audio Copy (EAC) and the LAME encoder to generate your VBR MP3 files. iTunes sucks in comparison.

  4. Thanks Josh. Very helpful. Have been living in vodoo ignorance. I`m a bit worried about craigs comment and your response though. Are you saying that if you are using i tunes / i pod you cannot use EAC /Lame ? Or is it just a more straightforward easy fix?
    And how badly does i tunes suck versus EAC?

  5. Hey thanks for the advice. I would like to know how to convert all of the already cataloged songs over to a higher bit rate. Sorry it is probably common sence but i’m one of those oohh!!! “computer voodoo magic” guys.
    Thanks

  6. Thanks for all the info but cant you convert your catalog files to aac. I have recently begun to do so and they sound much better but they are much larger.

  7. Much appreciated. I have ripped about 200 CDs at AAC from a 2,000 collection. You have just saved me a TON of pain…

    BB

  8. I have been buying MP3s off Play dot com for a while..and I have noticed for the first time when I put the music onto Itunes then click on “right click”, and then click “get Info”..it says each song is “Joint Stereo”, does that mean it’s not real stereo? if it isnl;t I am disapointed as I have spent a fortune on music on play dot com, if I knew it wasn’t real stereo I wouldn’t have bought music from there.

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