burning MP3 CDs with AAC files

Q: I have a car stereo that plays MP3s, so I’d like to burn MP3 CD’s from my iTunes Library. I ripped a bunch of tracks, but iTunes won’t let me burn an MP3 CD. It will allow me to burn a data CD, but that won’t play in my car. Is there some way I can burn an MP3 CD? The error message it gives me doesn’t make much sense, telling me the tracks I’ve ripped are not MP3-ready.  Clearly what I’ve ripped is some sort of MP3 if I can put them on my iPod.

– Jon

A: You’ve likely imported your iTunes Library using the AAC format, which is iTunes’ shipping default. To check whether or not this is the case, simply select any song you’ve ripped from a CD recently, and choose “Get Info” from iTunes’ “File” menu. On the “Summary” tab, if you see “Kind: AAC audio file,” then this is the case. An MP3 file would display “Kind: MPEG audio file.”

iTunes knows that when you ask for an “MP3” CD, it should only burn MP3s, precisely to ensure that all songs in the selection will be compatible with MP3 CD-capable stereos. A “Data CD,” as you’ve discovered, will burn any format track for backup purposes.

How can you create MP3 versions of your songs, such that you can burn MP3 CDs? You’re not going to like our answer: you have two choices. Our recommendation, depending on the number of CDs you’ve imported, is to rip them all again in MP3 format. (Change the format to MP3 in iTunes’ “Preferences → Advanced → Importing” panel).

If that doesn’t sound appealing, you can use iTunes’ mass conversion features, if you have room for a duplicate copy of your music library on your hard drive. To do this, change your Importing format to MP3 (as above). Then, select all the songs you’d like to convert to MP3 in your iTunes Library window. Next, select “Convert Selection to MP3” from iTunes’ “Advanced” menu. Finally, you’re free to delete the original AAC versions of the tracks that iTunes left behind.

Why don’t we recommend this second option? Well, conversion between formats usually results in some loss in sound quality. If you don’t mind this risk, then the second option is certainly easier.

For more information about MP3 and AAC formats, see our Beginner’s Guide to Compressing your CDs here.

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