Listening to Audio CDs with iTunes

The most basic task for which you use iTunes is to listen to audio CDs. In addition to the capabilities provided by a "regular" CD player, iTunes provides many additional features.

Exploring iTunes

When you launch iTunes and insert an audio CD, you will see the iTunes window (see Figure 16.1).

Figure 16.1. iTunes provides complete control over your music.


The iTunes window consists of two panes?Source and Content?and the control and display area that surrounds those panes.

The first time any user launches iTunes, the iTunes Setup Assistant opens and configures iTunes for that user. For example, the assistant will ask you to accept the license agreement, configure iTunes for playback of Internet music, determine whether iTunes should automatically connect to the Internet to download song information, and automatically locate all MP3 files on your Mac.

The last option is useful if you have previously stored MP3 files and want to import them into iTunes. However, iTunes will be able to import only those MP3 files that iTunes has permission to access (for example, those located in the Public folders).

The Source Pane

The Source pane shows the music sources you have available. The Library contains music tracks you have encoded in MP3; these tunes are always available to you. You can browse the contents of the Library and play any music that it contains. The Radio Source enables you to listen to Internet radio broadcasts. When an audio CD is inserted in your Mac, you will see its icon in the Source pane. After you create playlists, they are also shown in the Source pane; iTunes also includes some default Smart Playlists. When you connect a portable MP3 player to your Mac (such as an iPod), you will see it as a source as well.

The Contents Pane

The right pane of the iTunes window is the Contents pane, which displays the contents of the source that is selected in the Source pane. This pane has several modes; the mode changes automatically to fit the source that is selected. In Figure 16.1, you can see that the pane displays the contents of the music Library, such as the selected Genre, Artist, and Album, along with that album's information, such as song title, track time, artist, album, and genre. The columns in this pane work similarly to those in a Finder window in the List view. For example, you can sort the pane by column by clicking its column title, you can resize the column by dragging its right border, and so on.

When you select a specific source, such as a playlist, the Contents pane transforms into a browse window that enables you to view the contents of that source. A similar view is presented when you select an audio CD. When you select an MP3 player as the source, you will see the contents of its memory in the Contents pane.


One of the nice features of iTunes is that it automatically connects to the Internet and downloads information about CDs that you play (you can turn this feature off if you want to by choosing iTunes, Preferences; clicking the General button; and then unchecking the "Connect to Internet when needed" check box).

Controls and Display Area

Surrounding these two panes is the control and display area. In this area, you see various controls you can use; the Action button seen in the upper-right corner of the iTunes window changes depending on the source that is selected. When you have an audio CD selected, this button is the Import button, which enables you to create MP3, AIFF, or WAV files from your music. When you have a playlist selected, this becomes the Burn CD button, which enables you to create an audio CD from a selected playlist.


AIFF, or Audio Interchange File Format, is a standard audio format that is used to move audio content among applications. WAV, or Waveform Audio File, is a standard audio file format on the PC. iTunes can work with either of these file formats just as well as it can work with MP3. However, because MP3 is the format most widely used for music, the MP3 format is the focus of this chapter.

In the upper-left corner of the window, you see the playback controls, which include rewind/jump to previous track; play, stop, or pause; fast forward/jump to the next track, and the volume slider. These are self-explanatory, and they change depending on the context (for example, when you are playing a CD, the Stop button appears, but when you stop the music, it becomes the Play button).

Just under iTunes at the top of the window, you see the display area. This area also has several modes; you can change these using the Mode control button. One mode displays a graphic equalizer representation of the music that is playing. In another mode, it shows the title of the track that is playing along with a progress bar. When you are encoding a song, it displays a progress bar that shows the progress of the import. In certain situations, this area also contains a Stop button you can use to stop what is happening (such as when you are creating MP3 files). You will see examples of these modes in the various figures in this chapter.


The name of the track, artist, and album it comes from rotate above the time display; you can change from one to the other by clicking above the progress bar in the display window. You can also switch from the remaining time display to the total time display or elapsed time by clicking the time being displayed.

To the right of the display area is the Search box. You can use this to narrow the contents shown in the Contents pane for any source you select, such as your Library or a CD. Type text in this box and the Contents pane will be narrowed so that it shows only items that contain the text (the text can be in any of the columns shown in the pane) you type. For example, to find all of the items in your Library that have the word "strange" somehow connected with them, you would type strange in the Search box. The Contents pane would then show only those items whose name, artist, or other data contain that text. In this example, if you had selected a source containing the song "Strangers in the Night" and also had a song by Eddie Strange, both of these songs would appear in the Source pane.

In the lower-right corner of the window is the Eject button, which as its name implies, ejects the current CD.


If you have an Apple Pro keyboard or are using a PowerBook or iBook, you can eject a CD by pressing its Eject key. However, if the CD is playing, the Eject key is disabled so you will have to use the Eject icon or the keyboard shortcut (graphics/symbol.gif+E).

To the left of the Eject button is the Show Visuals button. If you click this button, the center part of the iTunes window becomes a throwback to the 1960s and you see visual effects while the music plays (see Figure 16.2). You can control the size of the visuals and turn them off or on by choosing the commands on the Visuals menu. It is also possible to add additional visuals to iTunes and switch among them.

Figure 16.2. If you want to see as well as hear your music, use iTunes Visual mode.



To add additional visuals, download them and place them in the following directory:

Home/Library/iTunes/iTunes Plug-ins/ 

You can choose the visual to see by choosing it on the Visuals menu.


When you display the Visuals, the Action button becomes Options. If you click this, you can set various preferences relating the appearance of the visuals, such as the frame rate, whether song information is displayed, and so on.

In the center of the window on the bottom, you will see information about the currently selected source. For example, when you are listening to a CD, you see how many songs are on the CD, the total time, and the total size of all the data on the CD.


If you leave iTunes open, Visuals on, but no music playing, you get some pretty interesting visual effects.

In the lower-left corner of the window, you see three more buttons. On the right in this group is the Repeat button, which enables you to repeat whatever you are playing. If you click this button once, the source will repeat until you stop it. If you click this button twice, the source will repeat one time. In the center of these three buttons is the Shuffle button. When you click this, the tracks of the source are played in a random order. The far-left button is the Add Playlist button (you will learn about playlists later in this chapter).

All these controls work similarly in the various modes, and after you use them a bit, they will become second nature to you.


The commands for the controls, such as Shuffle, Repeat, and Eject, also appear on the Controls menu. And there are also keyboard shortcuts for many of them (you will see these in the "Mac OS X to the Max" section at the end of this chapter).

Playing an Audio CD


Some audio CDs use copyright protection schemes that prevent you from listening to the CD on a computer (with the idea being that you won't be able to make MP3 versions of the songs for illegal purposes). Unfortunately, not only will these CDs not work in your Mac, but they can actually cause damage. Before playing a CD in your Mac, check the label carefully to make sure its label doesn't contain any warnings about playing the CD in a computer or that the CD is not copy-protected. If it does, don't try to use the CD in your Mac.

Playing an audio CD is pretty straightforward. The following steps give you a quick run-through of the process for launching iTunes and playing a CD:

  1. Insert the audio CD. iTunes will open (if it isn't open already) and move to the front. You will see a message telling you that iTunes is looking up the CD on the CDDB database. Depending on how you connect to the Internet, this process can take a few moments. If multiple matches are found for the CD, you will be prompted to choose the correct one. Do so, and then click OK.


    If you have turned off the preference allowing iTunes to automatically check for information, this step will be skipped. Also, if you have a dial-up connection and you don't allow applications to automatically connect, you will have to make the connection manually for this to work.

    The iTunes window will appear.



    By default, iTunes will launch automatically when you insert an audio CD. However, you can use the CDs & DVDs pane of the System Preferences utility to choose some other action when you insert an audio CD if you prefer. By default, iTunes is launched, but you can just as easily have your Mac take some other action, such as running an AppleScript.

  2. The CD should be selected as the source automatically; if it isn't, select the CD as the source. You will see its contents in the Contents pane. You might have to resize the window and the columns to be able to see all the CD's information.

  3. Click the Play button and use the other playback controls to control the music.


You can play a track by double-clicking it. If you uncheck the check box next to a track's title, it will be skipped. You can change the order in which tracks will play by dragging them up and down in the window; iTunes remembers this order and the next time you insert the CD, the same order will be used.

The track that is currently playing is marked with a speaker icon in the Contents pane. You can jump to the current song by choosing Edit, Show Current Song (graphics/symbol.gif+L).

Configuring iTunes

There are several ways in which you can customize iTunes for music playback.

If you click the Maximize button (the green one), the iTunes window will shrink down so that only the playback controls and display are shown (see Figure 16.3). You can use the Resize handle to reduce the size of the window even further until only the playback, window, and volume controls are shown. Click the Maximize button again to restore the iTunes window to its full size.

Figure 16.3. In this mode, the iTunes window takes up much less screen real estate.


Of course, in the full-size mode, you can manually resize the window by dragging its resize handle. Making it larger will display more information. Making smaller will display less; the window has a minimum size that is quite a bit larger than the reduced size you get with the Maximize button.


If you click the Close button in the iTunes window, its window will disappear, but the music will continue to play. When you move from iTunes into another application, such as the Finder, and then back into iTunes, its window will appear again. You can also display the window by choosing Window, iTunes.

There are also various preferences you can use to control how music plays. To see the options, choose iTunes, Preferences. The iTunes Preferences dialog box has five groups of preferences that are represented by the five icons in the dialog box's toolbar. By default, the General preferences icon is selected (see Figure 16.4).

Figure 16.4. Using the General preference controls, you can control the general appearance of the iTunes window, what happens when you insert a CD, and how iTunes interacts with the Internet.


With the General preference tools, you can control the following preferences:

  • Use the Source Text and Song Text pop-up menus to control the size of the font used in the Source and Content panes.

  • Use the "Show genre when browsing" check box to add the Genre column when you are browsing the Library (you will learn more about this shortly).

  • Use the On CD Insert pop-up menu to control what happens when you insert an audio CD into your Mac. The options are Show Songs, Begin Playing, Import Songs, or Import Songs and Eject.

  • In the Internet section, use the check box to turn off the automatic lookup feature if you don't want it to be used. Use the Set button to set iTunes as the default application for playing all music on the Internet.


When you are first building up your music Library, the Import Songs and Eject setting is convenient because it speeds up the creation of your music Library. Even after your Library is complete, you will likely want to use this option because it will automatically import any new CDs you insert into your Mac. After you have imported a CD into iTunes, you aren't likely to ever need to insert it into your Mac again.

You'll learn more about the other preferences controls later in this chapter.

    Part I: Mac OS X: Exploring the Core
    Part III: Mac OS X: Living the Digital Lifestyle