I just had an old friend message me to ask about the optimal settings to rip CDs using iTunes. This is a question I’ve received from a lot of people. Here’s what I wrote up in response.

Choose an encoder

Before beginning, understand that you have a choice when you rip CDs into music files: are you going to use the AAC Encoder (results in files ending in .m4a) or the MP3 Encoder (results in files ending with .mp3)?

AAC-encoded files sound great with smaller file sizes that MP3-encoded files.

However, while AAC is an open file standard, some devices & computers don’t support .m4a files. All Apple devices do, & Android phones do, but Windows is wonky (shocker!).

The big advantage of MP3 is that everything in the world supports MP3s.

The disadvantage of MP3 is that the encoder is not as efficient as AAC is, so it produces slightly larger file sizes (not a lot larger, mind you, but they’re bigger). In these days of super-cheap huge hard drives, though, this isn’t much of a donwnside (it is if you want to store a bunch of songs on your smartphone, obviously, but it’s not a showstopper).

I generally use MP3, as that way I know I can listen to it anywhere.1

iTunes settings

As for ripping music, I assume you’re using the latest iTunes. Open iTunes Preferences > General, & make sure When You Insert A CD is set to Ask To Import CD.

Then click on Import Settings. The Import Settings window will open.

As I said above, I generally use MP3, so that’s what we’re going to do here. To set iTunes to rip CDs into MP3s, make these settings:

  • Import Using: MP3 Encoder.
  • Setting: Custom (the MP3 Encoder window opens)
  • Stereo Bit Rate: 256 kbps (overkill for Rock, R&B, & Country, but so what, & perfect for Classical & Jazz)
  • Check box next to Use Variable Bit Rate Encoding (VBR)
  • Quality: High

Press OK to close the MP3 Encoder window.

Press OK to close the Import Settings window.

Press OK to close iTunes Preferences.

Pop in a CD & iTunes will rip it & put it in your iTunes library!

  1. Of course, if you want to preserve the audio as faithfully as possible & don’t mind the tradeoff of much larger files (two, three, four & more times the size!), you shouldn’t use AAC or MP3, & should instead choose Apple Lossless as your encoder in iTunes or better yet, FLAC (which isn’t supported directly by iTunes, unfortunately, but is supported by most other audio encoders & players in the world), but that’s a separate discussion.

    Oh, OK: if you want to rip as FLAC, use XLD. It’s free, open source, & fast as hell. I use it to convert between formats (FLAC to MP3, for instance, or AAC to MP3), but it also rips CDs to a wide variety of formats. It’s good stuff.