Variable bit rate (VBR) encoding

Q: I want to encode my music at the highest possibly quality yet still keep the file as small as possible due to my large and ever growing music collection. Digging around through your site I noticed talk about a VBR iTunes Music Encoder. Do you know where I can find this?

– Shaun

A: iTunes includes a VBR option. Open the iTunes preferences (iTunes > Preferences on Mac, Edit > Preferences on Windows), then click the Importing tab. Select MP3 Encoder from the Import Using menu, then, from the Setting menu, select Custom. You’ll see a Use Variable Bit Rate Encoding (VBR) option that you can check. Select your bit rate, check this option, then click OK.

Note, however, that AAC files generally sound better than MP3 files at the same bit rate. AAC at 160kbps sounds as good as or better than MP3 files encoded at 192 kbps, even with VBR. So if you want to save space, you might want to consider such a choice (you can, of course, use a higher bit rate if you want even better quality, though you may not hear the difference). Note that if you plan to use your music files on devices other than the iPod, or with software other than iTunes, you should stick with MP3, since not much hardware or software supports AAC.

Kirk McElhearn is the author of several books including iPod & iTunes Garage. His blog, Kirkville features articles about the iPod, iTunes, Mac OS X and much more.

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