Q: I have a particularly large music collection with many playlists that is quickly being limited by the size of my iPod. I’m tired of turning a blind eye to new albums as they’re released. Much of my music is 320 or 256 kbps, and I know that I can’t tell much difference between that and the 192 and 160 kbps versions. I want save space by formating all of my larger bit-rate albums using the “Create MP3 Version” option, but all of those songs will then vanish from my playlists. Is there a way to format part of my library but retain my playlist associations?
A: If you’re main concern is fitting more music onto your iPod, then you might find it simpler to just use the new option in iTunes to convert your music to a lower bit-rate while syncing it to your iPod. This is far simpler than trying to convert all of the existing music in your iTunes library. To do this, you must be running iTunes 9.1 or later, in which case you should see an option on the “Summary” screen for your device in iTunes to Convert higher bit rate songs to 128 kbps AAC:
As the name implies, enabling this option will cause iTunes to automatically convert your tracks to 128kbps AAC on-the-fly while transferring them to your device. The original tracks in your iTunes library will remain untouched in whatever format and bit-rate they were originally stored in—only the versions copied to your iPod are converted. Unfortunately you can’t specify your own bit-rate with this option—it’s 128kbps AAC or nothing—but if you find that this is acceptable for your ears you could easily fit twice as much music onto your iPod without having to go through the headache or converting your actual library. As a bonus, you retain the original higher bit-rate songs in your iTunes library for other uses.
If you prefer to use a higher bit-rate and are willing to go through the process of converting all of your tracks, then as you’ve discovered the process is a bit more complicated. If you’re using a Mac, there are some AppleScripts that can automate this process for you—check out Doug’s AppleScripts for iTunes at http://dougscripts.com. Another option is to simply use a third-party tool to convert the tracks outside of iTunes—simply ensure that the converted files keep the same name and location and iTunes will simply continue using them. The only caution with this method is that it can sometimes affect gapless playback with certain tracks, since the gapless playback information used by iTunes is based on the file size and converting the tracks changes this information. If you find that gapless albums are affected adversely, you can always re-rip these specific albums from the original CDs, if you have them, or delete and re-import those specific tracks into iTunes, which should cause it to re-analyze the gapless playback information.
Another point worth noting is that any music re-ripped from its original CD can also be reimported into iTunes at a different bit-rate while replacing the existing tracks rather than creating new ones. Provided the information for the CD still matches the track names stored in iTunes, then iTunes should prompt you to replace those tracks when importing the CD. Tracks replaced in this manner will retain their same ratings, play counts, and positions in playlists.