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Importing (“Ripping”) CDs to iTunes

revised 5 Aug 2012

Copyright © 2006–2013 by Stan Brown, Oak Road Systems

Summary: What’s the best practice when importing your CDs into iTunes? This page gives you my recommendations, based on a library of over 10,000 sound files, most of them from CD. (This page was prepared using iTunes 10.6.1.7, but should apply to any recent version.)

Contents:
See also:

Set Your Import Preferences

On Edit » Preferences » General, in the third section of the dialog, set When you insert a CD: Show CD. Here’s just that section of the General Preferences dialog:

Recommended import preferences for CDs

Just below “Show CD”, remove the check mark on Automatically retrieve CD track names from Internet.

I do this because the metadata downloaded from the Internet has lots of problems. (This blog article does a nice job of exploring that problem and the reasons for it.) For me, getting metadata from the Internet is more trouble than it’s worth, because it takes me longer to clean it up than just to type into a blank field from the CD notes. Your mileage may vary.

Now click the Import Settings... button. See the next two sections for my recommended settings for music and speech.

Import Settings for Music

Import Settings dialog showing recommended options In iTunes 10, you can set a stereo bit rate of up to 256 Kbps (256 kilobits per second) in custom settings. Unless you want bragging rights, I can’t see any reason to do that. I recommend AAC encoding at 128 Kbps, and that’s how I import all my music.

In Guidelines for Contributors — Compression, Music Australia recommends 128 Kbps AAC encoding because it provides “very positive results” and takes only a tenth of the space of the original CD.

I can confirm that. I often play my iPod using an iDuo Hub from Atech Flash Technology, a Sony stereo receiver, and Advent Legacy speakers, and I can’t tell the difference between that and the original CDs. File size is about 1 MB per minute, versus 10 MB per minute on the original CD.

Yes, AAC is a “lossy” format. I wouldn’t rip to AAC and then convert it to some other format. But if you think you need a lossless format, I encourage you to compare it to a 128 Kbps rip, preferably with someone else at the controls, and decide whether you can actually hear a difference.

Import Settings for Speech

For spoken word, 32 Kbps in mono is perfectly adequate and will compress about 4 minutes of sound into 1 MB.

Import Settings dialog showing recommended options

The import settings are important to avoid the audio duration problem, especially on older iPods. According to Maximum Length of a Stable M4A Audiobook, the iPod 5G (video iPod) and earlier tend to have problems with audio files that contain more than about 650 million samples. That’s about 4.1 hours if your sample rate is 44.1 kHz and 11.3 hours at 16.0 kHz. The known problems include losing the bookmarked position, and skipping to the next item in a playlist without finishing the current audiobook.

As the article explains, it’s not the playing time that matters but the total number of samples, which depends on both playing time and sample rate. The article also says that this is less of a problem on newer iPods, beginning with the iPod Classic.


Join Tracks?

Here my advice is generally: don’t. In old versions of iTunes nd iPod there was always a two-second gap between tracks. This was very disconcerting when listening to operas or to symphonies where a movement was marked attacca. You had to join CD tracks to avoid the unwanted pause.

But beginning with iTunes 7, iTunes itself recognized tracks that should be played gapless, and as far as I’ve observed it’s 100% accurate. Gapless playback works on iPod 5G and iPod Classic with 1.2 or later firmware. So there’s no longer any need to join tracks when importing a CD. You keep the ability to jump to a particular aria or movement, assuming the original CD has a track marker, but you also get seamless play of the whole work.

By the way, gapless playback is always selected for tracks that require it. You need not set Get Info » Options » Part of a gapless album—in fact, according to Apple’s What Is Gapless Playback? that setting has no effect at all when playing tracks on iPod, and affects only crossfade in iTunes. iLounge forum has more to say in Gapless.


Tag the Tracks before Importing

If your “songs” aren’t tagged in a consistent way, you’re going to have a much harder time finding the music you want to play, especially on iPod. As you saw earlier, I recommend that you start from a blank screen and the CD liner notes.

But whether you tag everything yourself from scratch, or edit the tags downloaded by iTunes, you want to do it on the Audio CD screen before you click Import. Why? Because iTunes saves your versions of tags for each CD. This has two benefits: if you ever have to re-import one or more tracks you won’t have to tag them again; and if you accidentally re-import something you’ve already imported iTunes will warn you.

How should you tag your audio files? This can be a very personal thing, but if you’re interested in my recommendations here they are:


Labor-Saving Tips

These tips can all be used both on the Audio CD panel before you import the CD, or in any of the iTunes windows afterward.

Edit Multiple Tracks at Once

Don’t type duplicate information in several tracks. Select all tracks that need the same edit, then edit the field(s) that are the same for those tracks. You can do this for CDs as well as tracks in the Library.

Following are three Windows procedures for selecting multiple tracks; the Mac procedures are similar but I don’t know the exact keys.

Once you’ve selected the tracks that need the same edit, press Ctrl-I or right-click and select Get Info.

Use Keyboard Shortcuts

A lot of people type in one field, them move a hand from the keyboard to the mouse to click in another field, then move the hand back to the keyboard and start typing. It’s a lot easier to use the shortcuts that are shown in the dialog, like Alt-L for the Album tag and Alt-G for Genre. And don’t neglect Alt-N and Alt-P for next or previous song. (Also useful are Tab for next field and Shift-Tab for previous field in the same song.)

Use Auto Completion

In the Artist, Album, Grouping, Composer, and Genre tags, when you start typing something you’ve typed before, iTunes will automatically fill in the rest for you. You can use this to advantage.

For instance, if you’re importing the nine Beethoven symphonies with von Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic, you only need to fill in Artist, Album, Composer, and Genre for the first symphony. After that, you can type just the first few letters and let iTunes fill in the composer, performers, and genre. (Playing the same game with the Album tag, you’ll have to edit the symphony number and key signature, but that’s easier than typing the whole thing.)


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