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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks Apps
Tiger only hintFor a long time now, I've wanted to convert my "old" and "outdated" MP3 files into AAC format -- mostly just to free up some space. I have put this off because manually doing this for every song seemed like such a massive undertaking that it didn't even seem worth it. Automator makes this task pretty simple.

First off, I downloaded some additional iTunes Automator scripts from Doug's Scripts. The one we're specifically looking for is the "Convert Tracks" action, which allows you to convert tracks and delete the originals afterwards.

Although you can do this completely within Automater, I chose to use iTunes to create a smart playlist called "MP3s" that matches based on 'Kind is MPEG audio file,' which will automatically separate all of your MP3 files into one playlist. You could also use 'Kind is not AAC audio file' if you have file types other than MP3s in your collection that you want to convert. An interesting note is that doing this causes "Protected AAC audio file" types to show up as well (those purchased from the iTunes Music Store, for example), but these will not be converted because (obviously) they are technically already AAC files.

Once you've got your playlist set up, the Automator action is only two steps:
  1. Find songs in iTunes
    • Find [Songs]
    • Whose [Playlist] [is] [your MP3 smart playlist's name]
  2. Convert Tracks
    • [x] Delete original selected tracks
    • [x] Delete files of original selected tracks
NOTE: I'm using [braces] to denote a pull-down menu or other such system dialog item for clarity.

That's pretty much it. A word to the wise: If you've got a ton of MP3s, this will take a long time. For my modest collection of about 5,000 MP3 files, it took nearly 30 hours to complete. Also, some of your track information -- such as play count and star-rating -- doesn't get carried over to the new file. This is to be expected, as iTunes considers these newly converted tracks completely new files. As another small annoyance, you'll probably have to re-sync your iPod with all of the new files.

The good news is, that on an MP3 collection of about 25GB, converting the tracks to AAC dropped the total file size down to 20GB -- a considerable savings.
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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: kirkmc on Jun 30, '05 10:35:10AM

The bad news is, you may lose quality in the decompression/compression process... Is 5 GB worth having your music sound worse?

---
Read my blog: Kirkville -- http://www.mcelhearn.com
Musings, Opinion and Miscellanea, on Macs, iPods and more



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: wrycooter on Jul 01, '05 01:38:35AM

Your music will sound worse that it does now, being compressed yet again.

What you want to do is rip AAC directly from your CDs. You can have higher quality for the same amount of disk space OR you can have the same quality as you have now, with a little bit more room on your drive. AAC sounds better than MP3 for the same file size.

A script to transfer your mp3s to AAC format is a fools errand. Buy a larger disk drive instead.



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: Zee on Jun 30, '05 10:49:47AM

iTunes contains a "Convert Selection to AAC" item in the Advanced menu. This does not lose rating information. Once converted, you can simply delete all of your mp3 versions of the files using "Show Duplicate Songs" from the Edit menu, sort by type, select and delete.

Agreed on the "lossy" issue but it should be much worse than what you are currently hearing come through your speakers. It may be worth it for some people.



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: raggamuffin on Jun 30, '05 02:22:44PM

The menu item is only 'Convert selection to AAC' if AAC is selected as the default compression codec. This is probably obvious to most, but if you only see 'Convert selection to MP3' or something, change the codec in the Preferences...Importing panel.



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: Rev. Al on Jun 30, '05 10:50:24AM

You will definitely lose significant quality by converting from one lossy format (MP3) to another (AAC). I would not recommend this tip to anyone who listens to music.



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: drummer_ant on Jun 30, '05 11:11:32AM

Could you explain to me exactly what you mean by

"You will definitely lose significant quality by converting from one lossy format (MP3) to another (AAC)"

Surely if you were to convert an Mp3 encoded at 192Kbps, to AAC, with the same bit rate, it would sound exactly the same?



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: billabOng on Jun 30, '05 11:16:06AM

That is not the case, as any compression is 'lossy'. Saving a jpg as a jpg will give you a similar reduction in quality.



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: Baggins on Jun 30, '05 11:55:14AM

You won't lose significant quality. That's just audiophile snobbishness. You will lose some quality because AAC and MP3 discard different kinds of information to get their compression. For most people and most audio equipment, this loss is below the threshold of human detection.

I have converted 128 AAC files to 192 MP3 files and played the two side by side over pretty good quality speakers, switching back and forth between each format at the same loop during playback. There was no discernable loss of audio quality. However, a 128 to 128 conversion did have a noticeable audio loss. The MP3 files sounded "muddier."

You're probably safe making one or possibly two transcodings. After that I would submit that you will begin to hear a noticeable degradation in audio.

But as for all these people who talk about significant quality loss, ignore them.



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: pascalpp on Jun 30, '05 01:22:53PM

but it's the principle of the thing! why go through all this trouble to save a measly 5gb of disk space and potentially lower the quality of your audio files? disk space is cheap!



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: maddys_daddy on Jun 30, '05 03:03:22PM

Because this might allow them to fit more of their music onto their iPod. Or, perhaps they can't afford a new 2.5" drive for their powerbook or iBook. Laptop drives aren't nearly as cheap as desktop drives, and we're not all loaded with expendable income to go throwing at new drives.



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: macslut on Jul 01, '05 02:40:59AM

Baggins,

In your example you aren't doing what the author of the hint said he was doing. He was going from MP3 to AAC "mostly just to free up space" as others have suggested as the reason for the transcoding.

Transcoding from lossy to lossy always results in quality loss.

The significance of the quality loss depends on (not in any order):
1) complexity of the audio
2) source and output bit rates
3) quality of playback system
4) listening ability
5) listening knowledge

The point here is that if one is going from MP3 to AAC to reduce the size of their library they are probably doing something like going from 192kbps MP3 to 128kbps AAC, not the other way around.

Now ideally what one would do is re-rip from the source CDs where possible, but people should really understand what their results will be before permanently reducing what may be their only copies of files. Look at the post by drummer_ant. This is clearly a case of someone not understanding what takes place with transcoding (I'm not saying this is easy and don't mean to pick on anyone).

Quality only goes one way -> loss. You can't get it back, and I've seen too many cases of people thinking 128kbps was somehow CD quality, thinking it sounded ok and then once they were committed to the format realizing that their entire library sucked ass on their stereo system.

BTW: I transcode all the time. I have a 400GB library of 192kbps AAC files from my CDs. I often need to convert to MP3 for playing on various devices, and even will transcode to a lower bit rate sometimes, but this is with the acknowledgment of the quality loss and keeping the source files.



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: Baggins on Jul 01, '05 10:12:34AM

Bit rate is a lot like the MHz myth: lower bit rate does not automatically correspond to lower audio quality. It all depends on the compression algorithms.

If the guy is worried, all he has to do is convert a subtle classical piece to 128 AAC and do some audio testing by playing both tracks alternatively in short clips. If he can't tell a difference, then any loss that may have occurred is irrelevant.



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: macslut on Jul 01, '05 12:09:43PM

"...lower bit rate does not automatically correspond to lower audio quality. It all depends on the compression algorithms."

Correct, but the point I was making was that in your example you said you went from 128 AAC -> 192 MP3 and said you had no "discernible" loss, but did have a noticeable loss going from 128 AAC -> 128 MP3.

Your test makes no statement of what would happen to the audio quality based on what the author of the hint said he intends to do, that is go from a higher bit rate MP3 to a lower bit rate AAC.

Most everyone agrees that AAC sounds better at a lower bit rate, thus one could easily get improved quality *and* save space by re-encoding *from the source* using AAC instead of MP3. BUT... Going from MP3 to AAC inherently reduces the quality such that what may be considered an acceptable bit rate may result in a file size that is not significantly smaller.

"If the guy is worried, all he has to do is convert a subtle classical piece to 128 AAC and do some audio testing by playing both tracks alternatively in short clips. If he can't tell a difference, then any loss that may have occurred is irrelevant"

Except for when his music collection contains mostly music that is *not* subtle classical and perhaps very complex audio that doesn't compress well, or when he decides to play the music on a better/worse system, or when he learns what compression artifacts are and starts hearing them where he didn't notice them before, etc...

I would do a lot more than just checking one track on one system, and without knowing what to listen for, or knowing that you have the ability to detect the difference. This is why there is so much crap floating around out there...because people who don't know any better will make foolish claims based on flawed sampling and say things like 128kbps MP3/AAC/WMA is "CD Quality"...those people should be shot.

I'm not saying that the quality loss will always result in making the space savings or effort not worth it. I'm only pointing out that there *will be* quality loss and someone should definitely make an informed decision about this, especially if they could re-encode from the original source.

My comments are in response to comments by you and others:
"You won't lose significant quality"
"That's just audiophile snobbishness"
"as for all these people who talk about significant quality loss, ignore them"
"What a load of bull"
"99% of the population would never notice the difference"

And the most incorrect:
"Surely if you were to convert an Mp3 encoded at 192Kbps, to AAC, with the same bit rate, it would sound exactly the same?"



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: thoughton on Jun 30, '05 03:15:33PM

> "I would not recommend this tip to anyone who listens to music."

What a load of bull.

While there is technically some sound degradation when decoding mp3 and reencoding as aac, 99% of the population would never notice the difference.

Try it yourself before making foolish grandiose statements.



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: kirkmc on Jul 01, '05 04:33:28AM

That's just not true. Try it yourself. You will have noticable artifacts on some songs.

---
Read my blog: Kirkville -- http://www.mcelhearn.com
Musings, Opinion and Miscellanea, on Macs, iPods and more



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: DougAdams on Jun 30, '05 10:52:02AM

Thanks for the mench ;)

Glad the darn things are useful.

---
Doug's AppleScripts for iTunes
http://www.dougscripts.com/itunes/



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: flashPUNK on Jun 30, '05 11:31:37AM

Is there any way to get around loosing all of your playcounts?



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: kevbert on Jun 30, '05 12:23:40PM

Surely someone could whip up a quick Applescript to save the playcounts and ratings. Just read the info before conversion, then set the new file's stats to the saved values.



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: flashPUNK on Jul 01, '05 11:02:19AM

anyone?
anyone?......


i'm applescript dumb (so you could say)



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: mike3k on Jun 30, '05 12:07:10PM

A better way to do it is to get your original CD & re-import it. If the CD was imported previously, it will replace existing tracks and preserve the rating & play counts.



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: pcook on Jun 30, '05 12:29:25PM

More importantly re-importing from the CDs means your sound quality will not suffer as much.

---
-Peter



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: jocknerd on Jun 30, '05 12:46:48PM

My guess is he doesn't have the original CD's. He probably "lost" them.

---
OS X 10.4
Apple Styling, Unix Power



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: designbot on Jun 30, '05 01:36:38PM

There have been a lot of incredibly bass-ackwards hints around here lately. Things like convoluted AppleScripts to set the preferences for one rule in Mail, or Automator worflows to carry out one command in iTunes. Is anybody reviewing these at all?

1. Select all.
2. Convert to AAC.
3. Select all MP3's.
4. Delete.

How does a workflow combined with a smart playlist make this simpler? Leaving aside the fact that this is a bad idea in the first place.



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Agreed
Authored by: lullabud on Jun 30, '05 02:45:32PM

Your statments pretty much sum up what I thought. Of course, I've been on the other end of this, submitting hints which were difficult ways to do things that are easier in other ways. Too bad we don't have a rating system for hints.



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hint ratings
Authored by: sjk on Jul 01, '05 03:36:35PM

How would hint ratings add value without some way to consistently verify their integrity? There'd probably end up being at least as many "bogus" ratings as "dubious" hints. And too much personal, emotional bias.

Would ratings really improve the current combination of Rob's filtering/reviewing and user commentary, which work pretty well together even if it's not a flawless process? Personally, I often get more useful, accurate information via hint feedback than an original so wouldn't that deserve a rating, too?



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: rhowell on Jun 30, '05 03:07:17PM

I'm curious how you'd implement step 3. By command clicking on 1000+ scattered entries in your library? Sounds like something a script could do better.



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: maddys_daddy on Jun 30, '05 03:12:48PM

By making a Smart Playlist with criterion "Kind" "is" "MPEG audio file."
Done, simple as that. Select all and delete.



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: tandemrepeat on Jun 30, '05 03:12:57PM

Just add the "Kind" column by right (or control) clicking on any column header in the iTunes main pane and sort your library by Kind by clicking on that new column header...then you can just shift-click select the songs of a particular kind and Robert's your mothers brother!



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: thoughton on Jun 30, '05 03:20:13PM

Just like Rev. Al above, perhaps you should stop to think before making sweeping statements.

The sort of people who would be interested in this hint are probably the ones who are low on HD space. So your method, which almost doubles the size of your iTunes library, suddenly isn't such a great solution ;-)



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: designbot on Jun 30, '05 04:49:14PM

As far as I can tell, Automator does the exact same thing. It just "automates" it. There's no way you're going to convert MP3 files to AAC files without having enough disk space to hold both.



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: DougAdams on Jul 03, '05 01:21:20PM

I'd like to point out, as the author of the Automator Action under discussion, that it is not intended to be used as a stand-alone Action, and certainly not meant to emulate something that iTunes is already capable of. Ideally, it is meant to work with the other Actions offerend in the collection in various Workflow configurations. For example, you can create a Workflow that: selects some or all CD tracks; changes your encoder on the fly; converts the CD tracks; loads them to a specific iPod playlist; deletes the original files in iTunes; restores your original Preferences-set encoder. There are many other combinations that can be created of course.

---
Doug's AppleScripts for iTunes
http://www.dougscripts.com/itunes/



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: badger brigade on Jun 30, '05 07:21:26PM

Reducing the quality of all your music for the sake of about $3 worth of storage space (maybe $10 if it's a laptop) doesn't seem like a very good exchange.



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: sweyhrich on Jun 30, '05 08:09:31PM

Just my comments on the conversion process and whether or not any quality is lost:

I did an experiment on one of my files last year, before I gave a talk about digital music. I converted a song from MP3 160 kbps to AAC 128 kbps, and then back to MP3 to AAC to MP3 to AAC to MP3, etc. I went through about 10 conversions altogether (five each), and a comparison of the final MP3 file with the first one resulted in something in which I simply could not detect any difference.

My (limited) understanding of compression algorithms is that they cut out high and low information that my ears (brain?) don't really notice much anyway. If you've cut the tops off the peaks, and the bottoms off the valleys, you can't cut anything more out upon repeated conversion. So IN MY OPINION, I would have no problems with quality in making a conversion like this.

Regarding disk space: On my PowerBook G4, I have already upgraded the hard drive from its original 40 gb size to an 80 gb drive, and I am again down to less than 10 gb free. I don't have as many MP3 files to convert as the originator of this hint, but if I could regain as much as 5 GB by making the conversion, I would do it in an instant. The "cheapness" of disk storage doesn't help when it involves yet another hard drive upgrade, or an iPod upgrade.

---
Steven Weyhrich
http://apple2history.org



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: kirkmc on Jul 01, '05 04:36:05AM

You said:

My (limited) understanding of compression algorithms is that they cut out high and low information that my ears (brain?) don't really notice much anyway. If you've cut the tops off the peaks, and the bottoms off the valleys, you can't cut anything more out upon repeated conversion. So IN MY OPINION, I would have no problems with quality in making a conversion like this.

Unfortunately, it's not that simple. It's more like making a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy... Each format removes certain types of data, not just highs and lows; if that's all they removed, you wouldn't get compression at a factor of ten (a 128 kbps track is compressed to about 1/10 of its size; the original is 1411 kpbs).

---
Read my blog: Kirkville -- http://www.mcelhearn.com
Musings, Opinion and Miscellanea, on Macs, iPods and more



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: el bid on Jul 01, '05 02:33:28AM

Wow. A pretty bad idea on three counts:

- Lossy x lossy compression

- AAC plays in fewer venues than ubiquitous MP3

- Space gain pointless against a scenario of plummetting storage prices.


---
el bid



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: nite77 on Jul 01, '05 06:26:20AM

The "storage is cheap" people seems to miss something, not all of us keep our music on desktop computers' harddrives, which admitedly are dirt cheap. (I mean, much less than 1e/1Gb), and even portable harddrives' prices are coming down. One can get a 100Gb 2,5" hdd for about 100e even here in Finland. That's cheap.

BUT, the thing here is, for portable devices the price/Gb is MUCH bigger, for example, for iPod Shuffle, it's pretty close to 100 euros / 1Gb. Reducing file size for even 10% is worth it. (and you WON'T notice the audio loss on headphones, unless you paid much more for them than your portable.)

I primarily went from mp3 to aac for that exact reason, and that most of my collection is encoded from the days of WinAMP 1 or something, when too many people believed that 128kb mp3's equalled c-casette sound quality... and because I didn't have a CD-drive back then, most of my mp3's are 320kbps mp3s, which take humongous amount of space. So going from 320kbps mp3 -> 128kbps AAC the space-gain is BIG and I can live with the sound quality.

I can't honestly say I even know anybody who can notice the quality between CD, 192kbps mp3 or 128kbps AAC. I myself can't notice that. with 96kbps AAC vs CD with my home theater, I can hear the difference in SOME songs, NOT ALL. At 64kbps I can hear it with any song, as the bass sounds pretty ugly then.

Dropping from 48/44.1KHz to 32KHz or even 24/22.5KHz is much much more audible.

---
/Nite - "can't rain all the time"
[ http://www.nitesade.net ]



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: MJCube on Jul 01, '05 04:46:24PM

I just want to add that I can hear treble artifacts most of the time in compressed audio encoded at 128K or less, in any format. 192K seems to be the minimum to keep my ears from being aware that the music data has been compressed. Especially when I'm listening on those little in-ear type headphones.



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The AAC format does not compress MP3s
Authored by: deviladv on Jul 01, '05 10:10:32PM

This is a very silly hint, because it's not the AAC format that compresses the MP3, it's the loss of quality by converting from a higher quality MP3 to a lower quality AAC.

AAC is a wrapper on an Mp3, pure and simple. The AAC wrapper adds DRM, and simply forces the quality to 128 mbps.

A smarter idea, if you don't mind losing the quality, is converting a 320 MP3 (or whatever quality you are using) to a 128 MP3. Leave the AAC completely out of it and keep the flexibility of dealing with a DRM free MP3. In fact it will probably be slightly smaller since the AAC wrapper takes up a small amount of space.

A even wiser idea is to experiment. If 320 is too big for you, lower first to 256, then 192, and see if you notice a difference in quality. If you're ear doesn't notice it, but notices a change at 128, then you've picked the right level for your ear.



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The AAC format does not compress MP3s
Authored by: sloth on Jul 01, '05 11:57:37PM

This is not a good hint but your criticism is amazingly wrong.

1) AAC is not just a wrapper on MP3. They use different encoding mechanisms.
2) AAC does not (have to) have DRM. The AACs you download from iTMS have Fairplay DRM but the AACs you make yourself (as described in this hint) have no DRM.
3) A 128kbps AAC is more-or-less the same size as a 128kbps MP3 but will sound much better.
4) No human needs 360kbps MP3s.



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The AAC format does not compress MP3s
Authored by: jbouklas on Jul 02, '05 12:09:03AM

Wow. There's nothing worse than, with utter confidence, giving somebody false information. As the gentleman who responded first said, AAC is not a wrapper for MP3, nor does it inherently embed DRM. It uses MPEG-4 algorithyms and gives better compression with comparable bit rates to MP3. Some people say it sounds less rich than MP3, but this is a topic open for debate. Anyway, if you're unsure of something, look it up.



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The AAC format does not compress MP3s
Authored by: sjk on Jul 02, '05 09:26:00PM
And sometimes if you're sure of something, look it up.

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The AAC format does not compress MP3s
Authored by: el bid on Jul 04, '05 09:07:44AM

Rule of thumb: the more sure you are of something, the more you need that sanity check.

(Hang on, let me just see if I've got that right...)



---
el bid



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: david-bo on Jul 02, '05 06:31:43PM

The keyword is VBR. 30 postings and all talk about CBR. Since mp3 are the most compatible format, then only way to go is to use lame -preset standard when you encode your mp3:s.

That leavves your with good enough (=perfect) sound quality with as file sizes as possible. Go figure.

---
http://www.google.com/search?as_q=%22Authored+by%3A+david-bo%22&num=10&hl=en&ie=ISO-8859-1&btnG=



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10.4: Use Automator to mass-convert iTunes tracks
Authored by: technobenja on Nov 18, '05 09:45:46AM

I find this hint VERY helpful. Although I realize that converting to AAC is lossy, I do it anyway for one very important reason. Many of my tracks are 1-8 hour long DJ sets. I get them from streaming internet radio to MP3s. They are converted to AAC and then I make them "bookmarkable" by changing them to protected AAC files using one of Doug's scripts. This is key because I like my music to start off where I left it and not have to start a 4 hour set all over or try to search out my last position every time I sync my iPod or change tracks. The bookmark carries over to iTunes and I am very happy.

I do not notice the loss even when I crank up the volume in my car and most of the tracks come to me in 128bit anyway. Maybe my ear is a little less decerning, but the difference is negligible. I will be using this hint often.



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