About iTunes and ID3 tags

About iTunes and ID3 tags 1

Q: Due to my PC being fairly old and iTunes’ rather heavy reliance on resources, I tend to use iTunes primarily for managing my library/syncing my iPod, and a simpler application for playback when I’m working at the PC. However, I keep running into a problem with changes that I make to a song in iTunes (like genre or year changes) not taking effect when I play the file using a different application or when I load songs onto a different brand MP3 player.

I always assumed that when you use the ‘Get Info’ option to modify the information about a song, iTunes made the changes not only to its database, but also to the tag within the specific MP3 file itself; but this doesn’t always seem to be the case.

Are there certain fields within an audio file’s tag that iTunes will not change, or do I have something set incorrectly?

– Rachel

A: Your assumption that iTunes should update the ID3 tags within the media files themselves is absolutely correct. Unfortunately, however, there are some factors that can prevent this from working as it should.

This problem occurs most commonly with MP3 files, and is often the result of either corrupted ID3 tags, or simply the fact that the files are using an older version of the ID3 tag standard, known as ID3v1 tags (ie, version 1).

ID3v1 tags stored a very limited amount of data in a fixed-length format, and made no provisions for extended information such as album artwork or any of the more advanced metadata in iTunes (ie, album artist, disc number, grouping, composer, etc).

Compatibility with ID3v1 tags was further complicated as many programs adopted their own (often-incompatible) standards for encoding this additional metadata into the file using the ID3v1.1 format, which allowed for some basic extensions to the ID3 data area.

While iTunes is normally supposed to update whatever tags are already in the file, we have observed problems working with ID3v1.1 tags over the years, most frequently due to this additional non-standard data that may have been added by other applications which may have touched the files in the past.

You can check which version of ID3 tag is contained in the file and being used by iTunes simply by viewing a track’s properties. Select an MP3 track, and choose File, Get Info from the iTunes menu, and check the “Summary” tab:

About iTunes and ID3 tags 2

Note that an MP3 file can have both ID3v1 and ID3v2 tags contained within it. iTunes will normally use the latest version of the tags it finds to populate the information in its database, although it will try to update both versions. However, iTunes does not attempt to rewrite the entire tag header—it merely updates those fields that it finds within the tag.

The simplest way to fix this issue is to convert the ID3 tags within your MP3 files to the newer ID3v2 standard. There are several sub-versions of this, but you should generally use ID3v2.4 (the latest) provided your other applications support it, which almost all modern MP3 playback and management applications should. Even if you find that your tracks already have ID3v2 tags, the conversion process forces iTunes to rewrite the tags in full, which will often fix any issues of corruption or non-standard attributes that may be causing problems.

iTunes can facilitate this conversion for you, simply by selecting the tracks within iTunes, and choosing Convert ID3 Tags… from the Advanced menu:


About iTunes and ID3 tags 3

This will present a dialog box of conversion options:


About iTunes and ID3 tags 4

Simply check off “ID3 Tag Version” and choose the appropriate version from the drop-down menu and click OK. iTunes will go through the selected tracks and convert all ID3 tags to the selected version, cleaning up and normalizing them in the process.

You can find out more information about the ID3 tagging standard at http://www.id3.org.



  1. Excellently thorough explanation of iPod batteries. You demystified the notion of “charge cycles”.

  2. hi, i have recently brought a 60gb ipod classic, and the problem is it wont charge on the ac adapter or via usb, when i unplug the cable it turns off and wont turn on again, what is wrong with it


  3. I have one of the SendStation PocketDocks (line-out/USB model) that was originally bought for use with a headphone amp. Supposedly, the iPod’s audio sounds cleaner through an amplifier if you connect it via the dock connector instead of the earphone jack, but since this output is high-volume only, you’ll need to put something between the PocketDock and the earphones to control the volume.

    I use the detachable volume attenuator that came with my Shure E4 earphones, but you can find a simple in-line volume control somewhere like Radio Shack for $5-$10, or you can use the built-in volume control on a pair of earphones like the Koss KSC-75.

    Using a volume control with the PocketDock, I can’t really hear any difference in sound quality, but I’m no audiophile. Plus, at $25 + shipping, the PocketDock is a little pricey. The only other benefit it offers is the ability to connect your iPod to the computer or wall charger using a standard USB cable.

    There are disassembly instructions on the web for the iPod mini. If you know someone who can solder, they shouldn’t have much trouble repairing the earphone jack.

  4. to whom it may concern,
    I bought a new ipod nano 4th generation recently and I am facing a charging problem.
    When I plug the USB cable into the laptop everything works fine even the battery meter shows it is charging and I am able to download files to the device. When I press eject everything stays fine and there’s no problem but as soon as I unplug the cable the device turns off instantly and doesnt turn back on unless I plug it back!
    I plugged it for more than 5 hours the first time i used it.
    Is there any solution or should I contact the local dealer?

    thank you

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