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Ask the iTunes Guy: File formats, file editing, and podcasts

This week I look at a number of questions about splitting audio files, which file format to use for ripping CDs, and updating podcasts, plus share a tip for live performers who use music in their iTunes libraries.

Q: I have tracks on my iPod of complete concerts. The tracks can last several hours as one song. Can I insert breaks so I can separate the songs as individual tracks instead of one long one?

Yes, but not with iTunes. My favorite tool for editing tracks in this manner is Rogue Amoebas $32 Fission (). If there are silent spaces between the songs, Fission can find them and suggest where to split the files. But if not, you can scrub through the files, find them yourself, and split the files wherever you want. And as a non-destructive audio editor, Fission doesnt degrade the quality of the audio in any way.

Q: iTunes occasionally tells me it stopped updating a podcast because I have not listened to it in a while. Can I disable that feature? I always want the new podcasts.

Unfortunately, you cant. However, one of Doug Adams AppleScripts, Update Expired Podcasts (payment requested), lets you update all of your podcasts quickly. Instead of clicking each ! button next to each podcast, then clicking a dialog box option, just run this script, and all your podcasts will be updated.

Q: I would like to improve the sound quality of my stereo and am considering re-ripping all of my CDs into iTunes on my Mac. Which is the best encoder to use and what bit rate should I use?

The question of encoder and bit rate is a thorny one. The short answer is this: Use the one that sounds best to you. I wrote an article on my blog about how to determine this.

I think the first question is whether you should rip the CDs in a lossless format (Apple Lossless) or a lossy one (MP3 or AAC). If you only plan on listening on your stereoand not on a mobile deviceand have plenty of storage space and not too much music, you might as well go for lossless. A CD of music in Apple Lossless format takes up about 300MB to 500 MB.

However, if you want to use the files on an iOS device, then youll want to compromise with a compressed format to save space. AAC is generally better quality than MP3 at the same bit rate, and you need to balance the amount of music you have with the amount of space you need to hold it.

Again, try the blind test I suggest to figure out what sounds best to you, and with your audio equipment.

Q: Ive got a playlist set up in iTunes, which I intend to use for live backing tracks at a gig. How do I get the songs to not play sequentially, so that each track ends without starting the next?

As I understand, you want to be able to start these backing tracks when you want, and not have to worry about pausing iTunes when one ends. Theres actually a way you can do so, but its a bit nonintuitive.

In your playlist, youll see little boxes with checkmarks next to each track. If you uncheck these boxes (either by checking them individually, or by selecting a group of tracks, right-clicking, then choosing Uncheck selection), iTunes will stop after each track you play (or skip to the next checked track, if there is one).

However, to play the next track, youll need to double-click it. You can get around this by creating a smart playlist whose condition is Playlist Is name of playlist, and Plays is 0; also make sure to check Live Updating. Start by resetting the play count for all the tracks: Select the tracks, right-click, then choose Reset Plays. Now, the smart playlist will show only those tracks whose play counts are 0. Once a track has completed, its play count will increment, and it will leave the smart playlist. You can then just press the spacebar on your Mac, or click the Play button in iTunes, to start playing the next track.

Q: Thank you for your Ask the iTunes Guy column. Is there an archive available of all questions answered since the inception of the column? It would be great to keep as a reference.

Thanks, were glad you like the column. We dont have a list of all the individual questions, but you can use this search to run a search that will turn up every column since the beginning.

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