Double your iPod/iPhone storage space -- instantly

31 January 2013, 01:00

Update: It turns out there’s a much easier way of doing what’s described below, at least if you sync your iPhone using a USB cable. When your iPhone is attached to your computer and you’re about to sync, just select the “Convert higher bit rate songs to”, then select 128kbps from the list under the Options heading. This will automatically shrink songs as they’re transferred. See this screenshot:

Psst… Wanna double the music storage space on your MP3 player — for free?

Sound too good to be true? Surprisingly, it isn’t. And if, like me, you find your 16GB iPhone is filled to capacity then it’s ideal.

The trick is to reduce the bitrate of your music files. The chances are that your files are encoded at 256kbps or even higher. Re-encode at 128kbps and you’ll cut files sizes by around half.

I know what you’re thinking. Won’t this reduce the quality? Listen (hah!). There’s a lot of nonsense talked about audio quality. It’s one of the most pretentious spheres of human experience. The biggest factor affecting MP3/AAC file quality is the sample rate, and we’re not touching that.

Besides which, you won’t be replacing the original files. You’ll just be creating new, smaller versions. You can listen to the higher-bitrate files on your computer or on your expensive hi-fi, and copy the smaller versions to your MP3 player/iPod/iPhone or whatever.

Here are the steps:

1. Open iTunes’ preferences (hit Command+,) and ensure the General tab is selected. Then click the Import Settings button alongside the When You Insert a CD heading.

2. Look under the Import Using heading. If AAC Encoder is visible, click the Setting dropdown list beneath and select Custom. In the dialog box that appears, select 128kbps from the Stereo Bit Rate dropdown list. Leave everything else as it is, then click OK.

3. If MP3 Encoder is visible under the Import Using heading, click the Settings dropdown beneath, and select Good Quality (128kbps).

4. Click OK to close the dialog box, then OK in the main Preferences dialog box.

5. Select the track(s) whose file size you want to shrink, then right-click it/them and select either Create AAC Version or Create MP3 Version, depending on what you see. (Tip: Hitting Cmd+I will show the inspector window, where you can view the existing bitrate of the MP3 file — after all, there’s no point in re-encoding a file that’s already 128kbps).

6. Re-encoding will be almost instantaneous, and you should find yourself with a duplicate of the original(s). You might want to rename this so you know it’s the smaller version, and/or create a new playlist with the smaller tracks in it ready for syncing to your iPod/iPhone.

That’s it. This works not only for tracks you’ve ripped but for tracks purchased from the iTunes store (at least in my tests — YMMV because I don’t buy a lot of tracks via iTunes). If you intend to rip tracks from CD at high quality settings, you’ll need to repeat the steps above and select 256kbps in the iTunes preferences dialog boxes.

1) Some people say that the process of recoding audio files reduces the quality even more than the drop in bit quality. I’m skeptical. My suggestion is that you listen to the files on your portable player and see what YOU think.
2) MaximumPC magazine ran an interesting piece discussing how 160kbps bitrate and uncompressed audio are almost indistinguishable. Rather than choosing 128kbps in the steps above, you might choose 160kbps, which will still produce significantly smaller files.
3) A blind test conducted some time ago (whose link I can’t find!) showed people tended to instinctively prefer lower bitrates based purely on what they heard!

Disagree? Tell me why...