How to Use iTunes to Create MP3s, AACs, and More

Artistic rendering of music CDs

 David Angel/Getty Images

When you rip CDs to create digital music files from the songs on the CD, most people think about creating MP3s. There are actually a lot of different kinds of digital music files besides MP3. By default, ​iTunes creates files in the AAC format, encoded at 256 Kbps (the higher the Kbps—kilobits per second—the better the sound quality).

Despite popular misconception, AAC is not a proprietary Apple format and does not only work on Apple devices. Even though AAC is iTunes' default, you can change the kind of files that iTunes creates when you rip CDs and add them to your music library. Every file type has its own strengths and weaknesses—some have higher-quality sound, others create smaller files. To take advantage of the different kinds of files, you need to change your iTunes import settings. Here's how.

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Open Preferences and Go To Import Settings

changing itunes import settings, step 1


To change the settings that control what kind of digital music files iTunes creates, begin by opening the Preferences window.

  • On a Mac, go to the iTunes menu and choose Preferences.
  • On Windows, go to the Edit menu and choose Preferences.

When the Preferences window opens, it will default to the General tab.

Among all the settings there, the one to focus on is towards the bottom: Import Settings. This controls what happens to a CD when you put it into your computer and begin importing songs (or when you use iTunes' built-in music-file conversion feature). 

Click Import Settings to open the windows where you can change your options.

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Choose Your File Type & Quality Settings

change itunes import settings, step 2


In the Import Settings window, there are two drop-down menus that allow you to set the two key factors that determine the kind of files you'll get when ripping CDs or converting digital audio files: file type and quality.

File Type
You'll choose what kind of audio file is created—MP3, AAC, WAV, or others—in the Import Using drop down. Unless you're an audiophile or have a very specific reason for choosing something else, almost everyone else selects MP3 or AAC (we prefer AAC because it's a newer file type with better sound and storage features).

Select the type of file you want to create by default when ripping CDs.

Setting or Quality
Next, you need to decide how good you want the audio file to sound. The higher quality the file, the better it will sound, but the more space it will take up on your computer or device. Lower quality settings result in smaller files that sound worse (though sometimes the difference in sound quality is minor compared to the smaller file size. Experiment with settings to see what sounds best to you).

Click the Quality or Setting menu (different versions of iTunes label the menu differently) and choose from High Quality (128 kbps), iTunes Plus (256 kbps), Spoken Podcast (64 kbps), or create your own Custom settings.

When you've made your changes, click OK to save your new settings. Now, the next time to go to rip a CD (or convert an existing music file on your computer), it will be converted using these new settings.