How to Enable and Use Sound Check in iTunes

Save your hearing with Sound Check

A hand moving controls on a soundboard

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You've probably noticed that some songs in your iTunes library are quieter than others. Modern recordings tend to be louder than songs recorded in the 1960s, for example, due to normal technological differences, but it can be annoying—especially if you just turned up the volume to listen to a quiet song and the next one half-deafens you.

Apple built a tool into iTunes to solve this problem called Sound Check. It automatically adjusts the songs in your iTunes library to play at roughly the same volume, so there's no more frantic dash for the volume button.

The information in this article applies to Macs and PCs with iTunes 12 or iTunes 11 and to iOS devices running iOS 12, 11, or 10, as indicated.

How Sound Check Works in iTunes

Every digital music file includes ID3 tags that contain metadata attached to each song and provide additional information about it. They contain things such as the name of the song and artist, album art, star ratings, and certain audio data.

The most important ID3 tag for the Sound Check feature is called normalization information. It controls the volume at which the song plays. This is a variable setting that allows the song to play quieter or louder than its default volume.

Sound Check works by scanning the playback volume of all the songs in your iTunes library and determining the average playback volume of the songs. ITunes then automatically adjusts the normalization information ID3 tag for each song to adjust the volume to more closely match the average of all the songs. Then, all songs play at close to the same volume.

How to Enable Sound Check in iTunes

Turning on Sound Check in iTunes on a computer is simple. Here's how: 

  1. Launch iTunes on your Mac or PC.

  2. Open the Preferences window. On a Mac, do this by clicking the iTunes menu and then clicking Preferences. On Windows, click or press the Edit menu and select Preferences.

    ITunes screen showing path to preferences on a Mac
  3. In the window that pops up, select the Playback tab at the top.

  4. Check the box that reads Sound Check and click OK to enable Sound Check.

    Playback preference screen in iTunes preferences

Using Sound Check With iPhone and iPod touch

These days, many people use a mobile device like the iPhone or iPod touch to listen to their music. That's not a problem because Sound Check works on iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, although you don't set it up through iTunes.

  1. Open the Settings app on your iOS device.

  2. Tap Music in the Settings screen.

  3. Scroll to the Playback section and move the slider next to Sound Check to the On/green position.

    Three screens showing path to Sound Check on an iPhone

Sound Check-Compatible File Types

Not every digital music file is compatible with Sound Check. ITunes can play some file types that can't be controlled by Sound Check, which could lead to some confusion. However, the most common music file types are all compatible, so most people can use the feature with their music. Sound Check works with the following digital music file types:

  • AAC (the default format for the iTunes Store and Apple Music)
  • AIFF
  • MP3
  • WAV

As long as your songs are in these file types, Sound Check works with songs ripped from a CD, bought from online music stores, or streamed via Apple Music.

Does Sound Check Change My Music Files?

You might be worried about Sound Check changing the volume of your audio files. Rest easy: That's not how Sound Check works.

Think of it this way: every song has a default volume—the volume at which the song was recorded and released. iTunes doesn't change that. Instead, the normalization information ID3 tag acts like a filter applied to the volume. The filter controls the volume temporarily during playback, but it doesn't change the underlying file itself.

When you turn off Sound Check, all your music returns to its original volume, with no permanent changes.

Other Ways to Adjust Music Playback in iTunes 

Sound Check isn't the only way to adjust the playback of music in iTunes. You can adjust how all songs sound with iTunes' Equalizer or individual songs by editing their ID3 tags.

The Equalizer lets you adjust how songs sound when you play them by boosting the bass or changing the treble. This features is best used by people who understand audio, but the tool offers some presets. These are designed to make specific genres of music—Hip Hop, Classical, and so on—sound better. Access the Equalizer by clicking the Window menu in the iTunes menu bar on a computer and then select Equalizer.

You can also adjust the volume levels of individual songs. Just as with Sound Check, this changes the ID3 tag for the song's volume, not the file itself. If you prefer only a few changes, rather than changing your entire library, try this:

  1. Locate the song you want to alter in your iTunes Music Library.

  2. Click the song's title and then click the ... (three dots) icon next to it.

  3. Click Song Info in the drop-down menu.

    iTunes path to Song Info in the Music Library
  4. Click the Options tab in the window that opens.

  5. Move the volume adjust slider to make the song louder or quieter.

  6. Click OK to save your change.

    Song Info screen in iTunes on a Mac computer