Listening to MP3 Music with iTunes

The MP3 file format has revolutionized the way music is obtained and listened to. From the Napster controversy to pocket-size MP3 players to being able to store an entire music collection using only a few gigabytes of disk space, MP3 has had more effect on music than almost any other innovation (certainly any digital innovation, anyway). iTunes provides all the MP3 tools you need in order to listen to and create your own MP3 music.


Depending on how you got your copy of iTunes, the Library might contain songs already. For example, if you purchased a new Mac that had iTunes installed on it, Apple might have preloaded some music in your Library. You can use or remove these songs as you prefer.

Understanding MP3

MP3 is the acronym for the audio compression scheme called Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) audio layer 3. The revolutionary aspect of the MP3 encoding scheme is that music data can be stored in files that are only about one twelfth the size of unencoded digital music without a noticeable degradation in the quality of the music. A typical music CD consumes about 650MB of storage space. The same music encoded in the MP3 format shrinks down to about 55MB. Put another way, a single 3.5-minute song shrinks from its 35MB on audio CD down to a paltry 3MB or so. This small file size opens up a world of possibilities.

The other aspect of MP3 that has made it so amazingly popular is that it is quite easy to convert different music formats into MP3.

These two factors alone have changed forever the way music is made, distributed, and listened to.

The first, and most famous (or infamous depending on your point of view), is the ability to move music files over the Internet. Although downloading a 35MB file is prohibitive for everyone except those who have access to high-bandwidth connections, moving a 3MB MP3 file is practical for just about everyone. In addition to the controversial practice of sharing music (sometimes copyrighted music), MP3 over the Internet also has more legitimate uses. Artists can create MP3 music and distribute it over the Internet without requiring that they sign with a record company. This makes self-promotion possible and can eliminate the "middleman" from the music arena. As never before, music can move directly from the musician to anyone anywhere in the world.

Copyright Conscious

Musicians creating their own MP3 files and distributing them over the Net is certainly legitimate. However, it is not legitimate to create MP3 files of someone else's music and distribute them without the appropriate legal permission to do so.

Napster and other music "sharing" sites violate the letter and spirit of copyright laws because people other than those who own the rights to the music are the ones who are distributing it.

When you are dealing with music, you need to be very conscious of copyright status of any music with which you work. Although copyright laws are very complex, the basic idea behind them is not. Simply put, you cannot distribute material to which someone else holds a copyright without their permission (written) to do so.

Unless you create the music yourself (not simply encoding it yourself), you should not distribute it in any form. The exceptions are when you have received a license to use that music or when the music is in the public domain.

A second benefit of MP3 files' small size is that it becomes possible to store an entire music collection in a relatively small amount of disk space, thus eliminating the need to bother with individual CDs. An entire music collection can be easily stored, organized, and accessed with a few clicks of a mouse. And using playlists, that music can be listened to in many different ways.

Third, MP3 has created a new class of portable music devices. Because MP3 files can be stored in small amounts of memory, devices with no moving parts can store and play a decent amount of music. Other devices contain small hard drives and can store huge amounts of music, making it possible to take your entire music collection with you wherever you go. These devices are extremely small and lightweight, and their contents can be easily managed.

Following are the two main sources of MP3 music to which you can listen:

  • MP3 files you download from the Internet

  • Music you encode yourself

Downloading MP3 Files

Although illegal sharing of MP3 files is done over the Internet, there are also many legitimate sites from which you can download MP3 files to listen to. You might wonder why musicians would post their music in MP3 format on such sites. One reason is that they feel a desire to freely share their music with the world. Another reason is that the musicians hope that when you listen to their music, you will like it so much that you will purchase more of it (usually on audio CDs). Either way, you win because there is plenty of great music in the MP3 format that you can listen to.

To find sites from which you can download MP3 files, I recommend that you start at This site has thousands of songs you can listen to online and download to your Mac. You can browse music by genre and you can search for music. Whatever way you do it, you are likely to find more music to listen to than you have time to listen to!


The music site enables you to preview songs before you download them. You should take advantage of this to prevent wasting the time required to download music that you don't like and will end up deleting later anyway.

Downloading MP3 files is done in the same way as other files.

To learn how to download files from the Web, see "Downloading and Preparing Files," p. 345.

Preparing Your iTunes Music Collection

After you start using MP3 music (especially after you have started to encode your own music), you will end up with hundreds of MP3 music files. You should understand how iTunes references these files and where iTunes stores the MP3 files you use it to create. You should also develop a music organization and storage scheme so that you keep your music organized and don't end up losing any of it (or having duplicate copies).

By default, iTunes stores all the MP3 files that you use it to create in the following location:

Home/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music/ 

In the iTunes folder in your Home's Music directory, you will see the iTunes Music Library file and the iTunes Music folder. Within the iTunes Music folder, the music files are contained within folders that are named with the artist's name. Within each artist's folder, each album has its own folder.

The MP3 files you download from the Web will be stored wherever you have set files to be downloaded. It is a good idea to organize music you download in a central location. If you are going to add the songs you download into iTunes, you should store them in the iTunes Music folder, just as iTunes would do if it encoded the files for you. This helps you keep your music organized in a consistent fashion.


If you want to share the music you encode with other users of your Mac, you should store it in your Public folder. Other users can then add that music to their iTunes Library and create their own playlists.

Listening to MP3 Music

After you have downloaded MP3 files, you add them to the iTunes library.

It is a good idea to have iTunes store files you download in the iTunes music folder so that all of your music is stored and organized in the same way.

  1. Choose iTunes, Preferences.

  2. Click the Advanced icon.

  3. Check the "Keep iTunes Music folder organized" check box if it isn't already checked.

  4. Check the "Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library" check box if it isn't already checked. This causes iTunes to place copies of MP3 songs in the appropriate iTunes Music folders.

  5. Click OK.

The other options in the Advanced pane of the iTunes Preferences dialog box bear some mention here.

You can use the iTunes Music Folder Location to change the location of your iTunes Music folder. You might want to do this if your startup volume doesn't have a lot of room and you want to store your music elsewhere. Or you might want to store your iTunes music in the Public folder so that everyone who uses your Mac can access it.

The Streaming Buffer Size pop-up menu is used to configure the size of the buffer that iTunes uses when it is playing streaming music from the Net. A larger buffer will tend to play music more smoothly because it can handle longer interruptions in the flow of music to your Mac.

The Shuffle By buttons determine whether iTunes shuffles music by song or album when you play music in the Shuffle mode.

After you have configured iTunes to store the music you add in an organized way, add the music to your library.

  1. Choose File, Add to Library.

  2. In the Add To Library dialog box, move to the MP3 files you want to add to your Library, select them, and click Choose.


    If you have unchecked the "Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library" check box for some reason, you will see a dialog box explaining that iTunes doesn't actually move the files, but it uses a reference to the files you choose. (If this check box is checked, iTunes does make a copy and places it in the appropriate location.) Just read the information in the dialog box and click OK.

  3. Click OK in the dialog box.

The files will be added to your Library.

Before you start listening, make sure that the Genre column is displayed when you browse music because this information can help you get to specific artists and albums more quickly.

  1. Choose iTunes, Preferences.

  2. Click the General icon.

  3. Check the "Show genre when browsing" check box.

  4. Click OK.

Finding and listening to music in the Library is a piece of cake.


If you have added songs to your library that are scattered all over your Mac, choose Advanced, Consolidate Library to have iTunes place copies of all your music in the iTunes folder. This organizes all of your music files in a single step.

After you have added MP3 songs to your library, you listen to them just like songs on an audio CD.

  1. Choose the Library as the source.

  2. Click the Browse Action button to place iTunes in the Browse mode if it isn't already (see Figure 16.5). The Action button changes depending on the mode in which you are using iTunes. For example, when you choose a playlist, it becomes the Burn button so that you can burn that playlist onto a CD. When you are working with an MP3 player, it becomes the Options button, which enables you to set options for the player.

    Figure 16.5. In the Browse mode, you can easily see all the music contained in your Library.


  3. Click an artist or an album that contains the songs you want to hear. The lower pane of the window will show the contents of whatever you select in the upper pane of the window. For example, to see all the albums by an artist, click that artist's name. In the Album pane, you will see all the albums for that artist. To see the tracks on that album, click its name in the Album column. In the Contents pane of the window, you will see all the tracks on the selected album. To see all the contents of a selected item again, click All.

  4. In the lower pane, select the song you want to listen to and click the Play button, or just double-click the song.


In the panes of the Browse window, you will see All at the top of each list. When you choose All, all the items in that part of the window will be selected (and played if you click the Play button). For example, if you choose an artist in the Artist column, select All in the Album column, and click Play, all of the albums by that artist will be played. Similarly, if you select All in the Album window and then click Play, all of your albums will be played.

The other controls work just as they do for a CD, such as the check box, Shuffle button, and so on. You can also use the check box to skip songs and play a song by double-clicking it just as you can when you listen to a CD.


If iTunes can't find an MP3 song that you have added to the Library, see "iTunes Can't Find a Song in My Library" in the Troubleshooting section at the end of this chapter.

Using the iTunes Library, Standard Playlists, and Smart Playlists

So far, listening to music with iTunes isn't that much different from using a regular CD player (aside from the ability to download songs, that is). The real power of iTunes is in the ability to completely customize your music.

Earlier you learned about the iTunes Library. This area doesn't actually contain any music?its contents consist of a listing of pointers to MP3 files that are stored on your Mac. That is a key reason why I suggested earlier that you let iTunes organize your MP3 files when you add them to your iTunes Library.

The benefit of creating and using pointers to music files is that you can create customized sublibraries, called playlists, of songs you want to hear. These playlists act like albums?they contain specific sets of songs.

There are two types of playlists. Standard playlists contain a fixed set of songs you select. Smart playlists use a set of criteria that you define to select a playlist's contents dynamically.


A great way to get a playlist started is to select the songs you want it to contain and then choose File, New Playlist From Selection (or press Shift+graphics/symbol.gif+N). A new playlist will be created and the songs you selected will be added to it.

Creating and Using Standard Playlists

You can create your own standard playlists and add any songs in your library to them. The contents of a standard playlist remain the same until you change them manually. You can add the same song to more than one playlist and you can add the song to the same playlist more than one time. To create a playlist and add music to it, do the following:

  1. Click the New Playlist button or choose File, New Playlist (press graphics/symbol.gif+N). You will see a new, untitled playlist in the Source pane.

  2. Name the new playlist?the name is highlighted and ready to edit immediately after you create it. (You can also edit playlist names by clicking on them and waiting a second or so until the name becomes highlighted.)

  3. Click Library to browse your Library to locate songs you want to add to the new playlist.

  4. You can also use the Search field to find the tracks you want to add to your playlist.

  5. Drag the tracks you want to add from the Contents pane of the Library onto the name of the playlist you created (the playlist will be highlighted when the track is on top of it).

  6. Continue adding tracks to the playlist.

  7. Select the playlist in the Source pane to see its contents (see Figure 16.6).

    Figure 16.6. This playlist contains songs from several movie soundtracks.


  8. Set the order in which the tracks will play by dragging them up or down in the Contents pane.


As you can see in Figure 16.6, iTunes doesn't always get correct information, especially for music collections and movie soundtracks. (The Artist shown for the music from the movie Braveheart in Figure 16.6 is Various Artists when it should be the soundtrack's creator.) If the incorrect information bothers you, use the Info window to correct it (you'll learn about that later in this chapter).

At the bottom of the iTunes window, you will see the number of songs in the playlist, their total playing time (in Figure 16.6, you can see that it would take more than 8 hours to listen to the selected playlist), and the size of the files you have referenced in the playlist. Because a playlist contains only pointers to tracks, its file size is quite small. However, this size information is very useful when you want to place the playlist on a portable MP3 device or when you want to burn a CD. You can use the size information to ensure that the playlist will fit in the device's available memory.

Listening to a playlist is just like listening to a CD. Select the playlist you want to hear and use the iTunes playback controls to listen to it.

You can delete entire playlists, delete specific songs from a playlist, or remove songs from the Library by selecting the items you want to remove and pressing Delete. You will see a warning dialog box; if you click OK, the playlist or song is removed (when you remove a song from a playlist, the original MP3 file is not affected). If you remove an MP3 file that you created using iTunes, you see a second dialog box asking whether you want iTunes to place the original file in the Trash. If you click OK, the file will also be moved to the Trash. If you click Cancel, the original file will remain on your Mac (you can add it back to the Library if you want to listen to it again).

Creating and Using Smart Playlists

Standard playlists are cool because they enable you to create custom albums for your listening pleasure. However, listening to the same playlists over and over can get a bit dull. This is where smart playlists come in. These playlists are generated by defining a set of criteria for the music that you want to be included in the playlist. Then, each time you play that playlist, the specific songs included are determined dynamically by applying the playlist's criteria to your library. For example, Apple includes the Recently Played smart playlist in iTunes by default. By default, this playlist contains the songs you have played in the past two weeks. The contents of this playlist will change over time as you listen to different music, and, unless you listen only to this playlist, it will never be exactly the same twice.

The criteria you use for a smart playlist can be based on one or more attributes, and you can also limit the size of the playlists to a specific number of songs.

Different icons are used to differentiate smart playlists from standard ones (see Figure 16.1).

To create a smart playlist, follow these steps:

  1. Choose File, New Smart Playlist (or press Option+graphics/symbol.gif+N). The Smart Playlist dialog box will appear. This dialog box has two tabs: Simple and Advanced. The Simple tab enables you to create a playlist based on one criterion (Artist, Composer, or Genre). The Advanced tab enables you to configure more complex playlists.


    If you hold down the Option key, the New Playlist button becomes the New Smart Playlist button. Click it to create a new smart playlist.

  2. Click the Advanced tab (see Figure 16.7).

    Figure 16.7. Using the Advanced tab of the Smart Playlist dialog box, you can create fairly complex criteria for your playlist.


  3. Check the "Match the following condition" check box.

  4. Choose the condition you want to match on the first pop-up menu (it will contain Artist by default). You have many options, including Album, Composer, Date Added, Genre, and so on. For example, choose Genre to use that as the condition.

  5. Choose the operand for the condition on the next pop-up menu. You have the usual options: contains, does not contain, is, is not, and so on. For this example, choose contains.

  6. Enter the value for the condition in the empty field. For example, type jazz to find all the music that contains jazz in its genre description.


    As you type, iTunes will try to match what you type with existing information. For example, when you select Genre, it will match the genres it includes as you type.

  7. Add another condition by clicking the Add Condition button (+).


    As you add and configure conditions, iTunes will add or remove pop-up menus as needed to configure that condition. For example, if you choose Date Added as a condition and "is in the last" as the operand, a new pop-up menu will appear to enable you to choose days, weeks, or months.

  8. Repeat Steps 4 through 6 for the second condition.


    You can remove a condition by clicking the Remove Condition button (?) next to it.

  9. Keep adding and configuring conditions until you have created all of them.

  10. Use the pop-up menu next to the word Match (this appears only after your playlist includes at least two conditions) to define whether all or any of the conditions must be met for a song to be included in the playlist. If you choose all, each condition will have to be true for a song to be played. If you choose any, only one of the conditions will have to be true for a song to be played.

  11. If you want to limit the number of songs in the playlist, check the "Limit" check box.

  12. Choose the criteria by which you want to limit the number of songs from the pop-up menu. Your options include songs (meaning number of songs), hours, minutes, GB (of disk space), or MB.

  13. Enter the number by which you want to limit the playlist in the field next to the pop-up menu. (This would make more sense if the field were located to the right of the pop-up menu.)

  14. Choose the order in which you want the songs to play on the pop-up menu labeled selected by. Your choices include random, album, artist, and so on.

  15. To make the list dynamic, check the "Live updating" check box. If this is checked, the conditions will be reapplied each time you play the playlist. If it's not checked, the conditions will be applied only the first time you play the list and it won't change over time.

  16. Review your conditions to make sure you have them right (see Figure 16.8).

    Figure 16.8. This smart playlist would play (in random order) four hours of the jazz songs I have added to my library within the past month.


  17. Click OK. The smart playlist will appear in the Source pane. iTunes will attempt to name it according to one of the conditions it contains.

  18. Edit the name of the playlist to make it meaningful to you.

You play smart playlists just like standard playlists. For example, when you select a smart playlist, its current contents appear in the Source pane (a dynamic list's contents will change over time). To play the playlist, click the Play button. The difference is that if you have enabled the live updating feature, a smart playlist might be different each time you play it.

You can also edit the default smart playlists that Apple has provided for you or smart playlists that you create.

  1. Select the smart playlist you want to edit.

  2. Choose File, Get Info (or press graphics/symbol.gif+I). The Smart Playlist dialog box will appear.

  3. Use the controls to edit a smart playlist in the same way as when you create a smart playlist.

  4. When you are done making changes, click OK. The playlist will use the updated conditions the next time you play it.

Browsing Playlists

You can browse playlists just as you browse your entire library.

  1. Select the playlist you want to browse.

  2. Choose Edit, Show Browser (or press graphics/symbol.gif+B). The Browse pane will appear at the top of the window, and you can view the Genre, Artist, and Album information for the songs included in the playlist.

Configuring Views for Sources

You can customize the columns shown for each source in the Source pane, including playlists, CDs, and so on.

  1. Select the source whose view you want to configure.

  2. Choose Edit, View Options (or press graphics/symbol.gif+J). The View Options dialog box will appear; the name of the selected source appears at the top of the dialog box.

  3. Check the check boxes for the columns you want to see in the Content pane when you select that source. You can choose from among many options, including Album, Artist, Comment, Date Added, Genre, and so on.

  4. Uncheck the check boxes for those columns you don't want to see.

  5. Click OK. When you select the source, you will see only the columns you selected.


You can also customize the view for a source by holding down the Control key while you click in a column heading. A pop-up menu will appear and you can quickly add or remove individual columns. You can also have iTunes automatically size one or all columns in the window.

The custom view you create is saved and it returns each time you select that source. You can have different view options for each source you view (meaning your library, every playlist, each CD, and so on).

Using the Info Window for a Track

You can view various items of information, input information, and change several options using the Info window for tracks. To see a track's Info window, select it and choose File, Get Info (graphics/symbol.gif+I). The Song Information window will appear (see Figure 16.9).

Figure 16.9. The Info window for a track enables you to view information about a track, and you can also add your own information about that track.


Click the Info tab to see the Info pane of the window. On this pane, you can see detailed information about that track, including the kind of file it is, its time, its size, where it is stored, the application that encoded it, and so on. In the name field at the top of the window, you can edit the track's name.


The Prev Song and Next Song buttons open the Info window for the previous or next songs in the selected source, respectively.

Click the Tags pane to see the tag information for the track?tag information is the data that appears in the Contents pane for that track (see Figure 16.10). The information you see was downloaded by iTunes from the Internet. You can change any of the information shown and add your own information to any empty fields (such as the Comments field).

Figure 16.10. You can edit the tag information for any song in your Library.


Click the Options tab to view the Options pane (see Figure 16.11). In this pane, you can use the Volume Adjustment slider to set the relative volume of a track. You can choose the Equalizer preset that should be used to play the song (you'll learn about the Equalizer later in this chapter). You can rate the song by clicking one of the dots in the My Rating box; when you do, stars will appear according to your rating (click the third dot and get three stars). You can also control the song's start and stop time.

Figure 16.11. One of the best uses of the Options control is to set the relative volume of tracks.


Creating MP3 Music with iTunes

The second source, and probably the more important one, of MP3 files for your iTunes Library is your own audio CD collection. You can encode the music on your audio CDs into the MP3 format and add those MP3 files to your music Library (and then add the songs to any playlists you want). In iTunes lingo, this is called importing music. In more general lingo, this process is called ripping tracks. Either way, creating MP3 tracks from your audio CDs is really powerful.


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.

Encoding Music with iTunes

Encoding audio CDs into MP3 files is straightforward. About the only complexity you will encounter is the choice of specific encoding settings you want to use.


If you set the preference to encode CDs when you insert them, each track on a CD that you insert in your Mac will be imported. By default, music plays while you encode as well.

To encode music from a CD into the MP3 format, use the following steps:

  1. Insert the CD containing the songs you want to encode. iTunes will connect to the Internet and identify the CD (again, assuming that you haven't disabled this feature).

  2. Select the CD in the Source pane (if you just inserted it, it will be selected by default).

  3. Check the check box next to the title of each song you want to encode?by default, every track is selected.

  4. Click the Import action button.


You can cancel the encoding process by clicking the small X at the right end of the encoding progress bar in the Display area.

iTunes will begin to encode the songs you selected. Depending on how fast your Mac is and the number of songs you selected, this process can take from a minute or two to half an hour or so. You can see the progress of the encoding process in the iTunes display window (see Figure 16.12).

Figure 16.12. This iTunes window shows a CD being encoded; information about the song currently being encoded is shown in the Display area.



You can listen to the music you are encoding while it is being encoded. You can also listen to other songs in your Library or playlists at the same time that you are encoding other songs.

When the encoding process is completed, the song is marked with a green circle containing a check mark. The resulting MP3 files are added to your Library and you can listen to them from there and add them to playlists.

The MP3 files that iTunes creates are organized by artist and album and by default are stored in the following directory:

Home/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music/ 

You can find the location of any song in your Library by selecting it and choosing File, Show Song File (graphics/symbol.gif+R). A Finder window containing that MP3 file will be opened and the file will be highlighted.

Just as with other MP3 files in your iTunes Library, pointers to these files, rather than the files themselves, are stored in the Library. You can also use the MP3 files that iTunes creates just like other MP3 files, such as by adding them to playlists or changing their information.


The fastest and easiest way to encode your CDs is to use the General pane of the iTunes Preferences dialog box to choose Import Songs and Eject on the On CD Insert pop-up menu. Each time you insert a CD, all the songs on it will be encoded, and when the process is complete, the CD will be ejected automatically.

Setting the Quality of MP3 Encoding

Although the default MP3 encoding settings are probably fine, you should understand that you can make adjustments to the particular encoding settings that iTunes uses to convert your music to MP3. The reason that you might want to do this is to get the smallest file sizes possible while retaining an acceptable quality of playback.

The quality of encoded music is determined by the amount of data that is stored in the MP3 file per second of music playback. This is measured in KiloBits Per Second, or Kbps. The higher the number of Kbps, the better the music will sound. Of course, this means that the file size is larger as well. The goal of MP3 encoding is to obtain an acceptable quality of playback while minimizing the size of the resulting MP3 files.

The encoding level you should use depends on several factors, which include the following:

  • Your sensitivity to imperfections If you dislike minor imperfections in music playback, you should use higher-quality encoding settings. If you don't mind the occasional "bump" in the flow of the music, you can probably get away with lower-quality settings.

  • The music you listen to Some music hides "flaws" better than others. For example, you are less likely to notice subtle problems in the music while listening to grinding heavy metal music than when you listen to classical music.

  • How you listen to music If you use a low-quality sound system with poor speakers, you probably won't notice any difference between high-quality and low-quality encoding. If your Mac is connected to a high-fidelity sound system, the differences in music quality will be more noticeable.

iTunes provides three standard levels of encoding: Good, Better, and High. As an experiment, I encoded the same 4-minute song using each of these levels; the results are shown in Table 16.1. These results might or might not match the particular encoding that you do, but they should give you some idea of the effect of quality level settings on file sizes. In this case, I couldn't detect much difference between the quality levels in the sound of the music, so I could save almost 0.5MB per minute of music by sticking with the Good quality level.

Table 16.1. Default Encoding Levels Versus File Size
Quality Level Data Rate (Kbps) File Size (MB)
Good 128 3.8
Better 160 4.8
High 192 5.7

You can also use custom encoding levels if the standard levels aren't suitable for you.

The encoding settings that iTunes uses are accessed with the Preferences command.

  1. Choose iTunes, Preferences.

  2. Click the Importing icon (see Figure 16.13).

    Figure 16.13. The Importing pane of the Preferences dialog box enables you to control the encoding used for your music.


  3. Use the Import Using pop-up menu to choose the particular encoder you want to use. You have three options: MP3, AIFF, or WAV. Obviously, you want to use MP3 to create MP3 files.

  4. Use the Configuration pop-up menu to choose the quality level of the encoding. The Settings area of the window will provide information about the encoding level you have selected.

  5. Click OK.

If the "Play songs while importing" check box is checked, the music you encode will play while you are encoding it. The encoding process will finish much earlier than the playing process so music will continue to play after the encoding is done. This can be a bit confusing. If you choose the Import Songs and Eject option on the On CD Insert pop-up menu in the General pane of the Preferences window, the CD will be ejected when the encoding is done. This is a good reminder that you can encode the next CD. (The music from the previous CD will continue to play.)

If the "Create file names with track number" check box is checked, the MP3 files that iTunes creates will have the track number included as a prefix in the filename.


You can vary the quality level you use from album to album or even from song to song. For example, if you want to play certain songs on a portable MP3 player, you might want to use a lower level for those songs so that you can download more of them to the player.

You might want to create one version of the tracks at low-quality levels and another version at high-quality levels. You could then create a lower-quality playlist to import to an MP3 player.

You can also create and use custom encoding levels if the standard choices aren't suitable. When you set custom encoding, you have the following options:

  • Bit Rate You can control the bit rate for both mono and stereo encoding. For each, you can choose rates between 8Kbps and 320Kbps. The higher the bit rate, the better the quality, and the larger the file size will be.

  • Variable Bit Rate Encoding With this option turned on, the encoder uses a "guaranteed" minimum bit rate. You can set the level of this encoding using a secondary Quality setting that ranges from Lowest to Highest.

  • Smart Encoding Adjustments This setting enables iTunes to adjust the encoding rates as needed to maintain the optimal ratio of music quality to file size. Unless you have a specific reason not to use this feature, you should leave it turned on.

  • Filter Frequencies Below 10 Hz Music frequencies below 10 Hz are not audible, so there is really no reason to include them in the encoding process because it wastes disk space. This feature should be left on as well.

  • Sample Rate Music is encoded by taking a "sample" of the bits that make up specific instances in the music at various speeds. The rate at which these samples are captured, called sample rate, affects the quality of the music. Higher sample rates result in higher-quality music (again, more data is collected per second of music). You can choose a specific sample rate from the Sample Rate pop-up menu, or you can leave the default Auto setting (which enables iTunes to choose the sample rate).

  • Channels You can choose to capture one channel of music (Mono), both channels (Stereo), or let iTunes decide which to use (Auto).

  • Stereo Mode Your choices here are Normal or Joint Stereo.

To set custom encoding, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Preferences window, and click the Importing icon.

  2. Using the Configuration menu, choose Custom. You will see the MP3 Encoder dialog box.

  3. Use the pop-up menus, check boxes, and radio buttons to configure the MP3 encoder.

  4. Click OK when you are done. You will return to the Preferences dialog box. In the Settings area, you will see a summary of the custom settings you created.

  5. Click OK to close the Preferences window. The custom encoding settings will be used the next time you encode music.

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