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  MP3 on Macintosh


MP3 Players and the Macintosh

Do you have an MP3 player that you want to use with your Macintosh? This article tells you one way to accomplish that.

First, if you have an iPod, just plug it into the Mac, start iTunes, and you're ready to synchronize songs or other audio files from your Mac to the iPod.

However, if you have a MP3 player made by some other company, life becomes more challenging (but you can save money). The Apple-made Itunes works well with the Apple-made iPod but refuses totally to talk to a MP3 player made by any other company.

Problems with MP3 Players and the Macintosh

There are two problems you will encounter when trying to load songs into your MP3 player from the Macintosh.

To get a CD into the Macintosh, you will first be importing (often referred to elsewhere as ripping) the CD into iTunes. iTunes reads the audio signals from the CD and translates then into an encoded digital format. The problem is that, by default, iiTunes uses a format that many other MP3 players do not support. Fortunately, it's easy to change the iTunes preferences to use the MP3 format instead.

When you connect your MP3 player to your Mac, you'll see it on your desktop. You might think you could just drag music files to the player using the Finder, but doing that may make your MP3 player very unhappy, with strange songs with weird noises when played. This happens because of the way the OS X Finder stores files on a non-Macintosh file system such as on your MP3 player. Finder puts extra files on the MP3 player to hold Finder information. Because of the naming convention used, the MP3 player may try to interpret that iinformation as music. This doesn't work well. You'll need to use another program to copy files from the Macintosh to your player.

You'll need to make two changes to your Macintosh and then you're ready to roll.

Initial Setup

To get iTunes to import files in MP3 format instead of its default AAC format, start iTunes. From the menu, select Preferences and go to the Importing options (which may be a tab or require pressing another button depending on the version of iTunes). Set the "Import as..." option to "MP3 encoder" instead of "AAC". That's all you need to do; tracks from CDs you import after making this change will be in mp3 format and usable on your mp3 player.

Next, download the program KopyMac from http://www.macupdate.com/info.php/id/10987. Open the downloaded file and place the program whereever you keep applications on your Mac.

Importing CDs

Insert a music or audio CD into your Mac and iTunes will probably ask you whether you want to import it. Tell iTunes to import the CD. (If it doesn't ask, you probably have some preference setting turned off and you will need to initiate the import process using the menus.)

After the import has completed, iTunes will have created a new folder for the artist, a folder within that for the album, and files in the album folder named for the tracks on the CD. If the CD was a commercial CD, everything is probably fine. In that case, you're finished with the import process.

However, if the CD is private, unusual, non-commercial, or very old, you'll see "Unknown Artist," "Unknown Album," and the track files will be named TRACK01.mp3, TRACK02.mp3, etc. When this happens, you have some additional work to do.

First, it will be helpful to understand how the import program identifes artist names, album names, and track titles. The CD itself contains only the music--it contains no information about the artist, album, or track titles. What any import program does is to look at the audio CD and then construct a "magic number" based on the number of tracks, length of tracks, and a few other factors to create a "fingerprint" that indentifies the CD. The program then looks up that magic number on the web and downloads artist, album, track, and other identifying information. When it cannot find the magic number on the web, it sets everything to "Unknown."

Second, it will help to understand how mp3 players index files. MP3 players were designed for music, so their view of the world is in terms of an album with a series of songs recorded as tracks. Everything you put on the mp3 player, including audio books, dharma talks, or any other audio must fit within that music-related structure. Each "song" on the album ends up in a separate file on disc after it is imported.

Every mp3 file, in addition to having music in compressed format, also contains additional identifying information, such as artist, album, etc. This information is stored in the same mp3 file as the music and is stored in what are called id3 tags. There are iid3 tags for the album name, album artist, track name, track number, name of the artist for the track, date, and other values. After you copy new files to the mp3 player and disconnect the player from the computer, the player examines all the tracks in its memory and extracts values from these id3 tags to contruct the menus that allow you to select genres, artists, albums, etc. and to play tracks in the correct order.

Most mp3 players completely ignore any folder structure you create on disc and rely solely on the id3 tags to organize music.

(Most mp3 players also support playlists, which I am ignoring in this discussion, primarily because I never use them.)

So, if iTunes is reporting artist and album as "unknown," the id3 tags are likely to be blank. You must fill in some of the id3 tag information so that your player can organize the tracks for you.

In iTunes, select all the tracks you just imported, then select File/Get Info. Respond 'yes' to the question of editing multiple files. Type in the name of the primary artist in both the artist and album artist fields, the name of the album, and a genre. The other values on this panel need not be changed. If you want the track names to be correct, do a Get Info on each track and type the name of the track in the Name field at the top of the dialog. This takes care of the id3 tags.

Copying Files to MP3 Player

The steps are:

  • Plug your mp3 player into the computer USB port using the mp3 player's cable. (Note, be sure to use the cable that came with the player. An iPod cable will fit a Sansa player but the pins are different and using an iPod cable with a Sansa player will destroy the player.)
  • Start the KopyMac program. (KopyMac may be fairly slow to start.)
  • Double click on the mp3 player icon to open it.
  • Drag the Music folder on the mp3 player to the "Destination (Drag)" box on the KopyMac program. Be sure to drag the Music folder from the mp3 player to this box. If there is no Music folder on the mp3 player, it is ok to create one.
  • Close iTunes. You don't need it any more during this process and its presence might be confusing in the next step.
  • Open your Macintosh hard drive and locate your iTunes music folder. Go to the folder containing the tracks by selecting Macintosh HD -> USERS -> username -> Music ->iTunes -> iTunes Music.
  • Drag the Artist name folder (or the Album folder within the artist name folder if you want to copy only one album) to the "Copy these items (Drag)" box in the KopyMac program.
  • KopyMac immediately begins copying your folders and tracks. There is no progress bar in KopyMac so you will need to watch the progress indicator on your mp3 player to know when the copying is complete.
  • Eject the mp3 player and unplug it. The player will refresh its internal database of tracks using the id3 tags on the mp3 files you just copied.

You can copy only individual albums instead of entire artist folders. You can also copy individual tracks if you desire.

Never completely fill an mp3 player. I recommend leaving about 200GB free when unplugging. The player needs this space for its internal database of id3 tags.



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