There are certain music formats that iTunes and iOS devices can’t play, this does not mean that it can not be converted into a format that it can play. This article will go through a couple of different ways of converting the music so you can sync it, as well as the best methods and audio formats for retaining the quality of the music file.
There are a few different audio formats that iTunes supports, each having its own pros and cons. Some audio formats compress the file size to a fraction of the original, others compress the size while keeping the same quality and others are super high quality large files.
Best audio formats supported by iTunes, iPods, iPhone and iPads
AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) aka MPEG-4 is the most standard choice for iPods, iPhones and iPads. It is also supported by pretty much every other portable device as well. ACC is great for portable devices because it’s right in the sweet spot between audio quality and file size. For a reference, I compressed a 40 MB AIFF audio file (song.aif) in a 3.8 MB AAC file (song.m4a). With a regular pair of headphones you can barely notice the difference in quality.
AIFF (Audio Interchange File Format) is a lossless or uncompressed super high quality audio file. This comes with the added weight of having a of a very large file size however. On an average, 1 minute of music costs around 10MB of space.
MP3 (MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3) is the most commonly found music file on the internet, this is because they have a high-compression ratio and are the mostly widely supported format. That same 40 MB AIFF song (song.aif) converted to a 3.9 MB (song.mp3) MP3 file. The quality of an MP3 is almost same as AAC, however AAC’s quality is slightly better.
Apple Lossless allows you to compress the original file size without loosing any of the quality. In my opinion this is the best audio format if you like to keep a really high quality music library. That same 40 MB AIFF (.aif) file converted to a 30 MB (.m4a) file.
WMA (Windows Media Audio) is a cross platform format that works in Windows Media Player and iTunes. Windows Media player does not play AAC (.m4a) files so you may need to convert to WMA to play it on both platforms. Since it’s a lossless format, you won’t loose quality converting to this format. The 40 MB AIFF (.aif) file converted to a 40.2 MB (.wav) file. Personally I never use this format since I don’t use Windows Media Player, although if I did I’d convert it to MP3 as both iTunes and Windows Media player support it.
So how do I convert my music to an iTunes friendly format?
There are a multitude of applications out there that say they are the best audio converter; let me save you the trouble of trying to find the best one. Use XLD (X Lossless Decoder), it’s free, works great, is very fast, and is at least in my opinion, the best audio converter for Mac. I’m not going to even mention any other audio converter, just use XLD. It isn’t flashy, doesn’t have cool animations; it’s just a very simple, easy to use app with next to no interface that works amazing well.
As you can see from the image, XLD supports outputting to quite a few audio formats. If you are looking for the best formats for iTunes and your iOS device, the best formats are listed above. If your main concern is getting your music to play on your iPod, iPhone or iPad the best choice is MPEG-4 AAC, for reasons listed above.
XLD allows you to really customize the way your file outputs, from automatically adding the converted files to iTunes, getting the meta data (album art, album name ect), even down to scaling large artwork. If you’d rather just get right down to converting, all you really need to set up is the output format, the rest of the default set of options works fine.
To get to the options and configure how you’d like to convert your music, open XLD -> click XLD in the menu bar -> Preferences. There are a ton of options, the most important however is the output format. Choose the format you want to convert to, and then simply open any audio file to have it convert. If you open up a single file in XLD by clicking, File -> Open, then that file will automatically convert the audio file to whatever format you set in the preferences window.
XDL also supports batch converting, simply click File -> Open folder as Disc -> select the folder to open and you’ll be presented with a window where you can edit the Meta data, burn to a CD and of course convert (transcode) the audio files. To get XLD to get the album art, you need to set up Amazon Web Services. However since iTunes can grab the artwork when the correct meta data is used, I just skip this part and let iTunes handle it once it’s moved to iTunes.
XDL also supports importing CD’s and burning CD’s, however since iTunes is already great at doing these two things, I usually just let iTunes handle it as well.