At a Glance
iTunes, now in its third incarnation, has been one of the most successful iApps -- and is now a mature, well-developed program. Whereas iTunes 2 was hardly an update at all -- adding iPod support and little else -- version three is more substantial, with a few new and very useful features.
The biggest new feature is Smart Playlists, which takes all the effort out of making compilations and gives real meaning to the term <<mood music>>. Simply choose one of the presets, such as Recently Played, and iTunes 3 will gather and randomly play your most recently listened-to tracks. Ever better, you can create your own infinite-customizable Smart Playlists -- for example, a playlist consisting of up to 25 songs in the Electronic genre by your four favorite artists, selected by the date you added them to your iTunes Library. Click the option for cross-fades and you have a DIY DJ.
Also new to the iTunes window are My Rating (letting you rate each track with a score out of five stars), Play Count (keeping track of how many times you've listened to each track), and Last Played (listing the date of the last time your enjoyed a particular song) columns. And Classical music fans who have always had problems when searching by composer rather than artist in iTunes can rejoice. The new Composer tag makes finding music by Handel or Bach a snap. all of the above can be used in Smart Playlists as well.
Another great new feature is Sound Check, which analyzes your MP3s -- many of which can have wildly different volume levels -- and tries to find a common ground. It works relatively well, but isn't perfect. You can find it in the preferences under the Effects tab.
For adding more than one song to iTunes as a single track (perfect for live albums or songs that segue into one another), there is now a Join CD Tracks command in the Advanced menu -- a very nice addition.
There are also new features to help you organize MP3s. As before, you can simply drag and drop MP3s onto iTunes and they'll be added to the library. Previously, they'd be left in their original positions on the hard disk, leaving them in danger of being swept into the Trash by accident. Now you can hit the Consolidate Library, and all the tracks will be gathered in your music folder, in neatly arranged folders. Alternately, under the Advanced tab in preferences, you can set iTunes to copy files dragged in to your iTunes library.
And music isn't your thing, you can now enjoy audio books in iTunes from Audible.com -- which has a massive selection of audio books, spoken word, lectures and magazines available in digital format. And because of close integration with the iPod, you can start listening to an Audible book in iTunes and later sync with your iPod -- your digital bookmark will pick up just where you left off, and the same works going from the iPod back to iTunes.
Macworld Buying Advice
When faced with a price tag of zero, it's hard to say anything bad about iTunes 3. It's is a big improvement over the last version, and most -- if not all -- of the features you're likely to need in your digital music application. If you're still running Mac OS 9, iTunes 3 may be enough of a reason for you to make the jump to OS X.
iTunes Tips and Tricks
Apple's iTunes music application wears a variety of hats -- audio CD player, MP3 ripper, music librarian, audio CD burner, Internet radio player, and gateway to the iPod. The following tips and techniques will show you how to make the most of iTunes' many capabilities.
Add Remote Tunes to iTunes
You can play songs on other computers through iTunes. Simply create a network, mount a networked volume that contains songs you'd like to play, and invoke the Add to Library command found in iTunes' File menu. Navigate to the folder that contains the tunes on the networked volume and click the Choose button in the Add to Library window. Aliases to those files will be placed in your iTunes Library (the files themselves will be copied to your Mac if you have the Copy Files to iTunes Music Folder When Adding to Library option checked in the Advanced portion of iTunes' Preferences window).
MP3 To Go
If your hard drive is too full to accommodate your entire music collection, don't despair. In iTunes rip as many audio CDs as your hard drive will hold, create a new playlist made up of the tracks you just converted to MP3 format, and add approximately 10 hours of music to that playlist.
In Mac OS X select Preferences from iTunes' File menu (Preferences is in the Edit menu under Mac OS 9), click the Burning button, and select MP3 CD. With your playlist selected, click the Burn CD button to burn an MP3 CD that contains all the songs in your playlist. This CD will hold up to 10 hours of MP3 files encoded at 160kbps (iTunes' default encoding rate).
Once you've burned the MP3 CD, delete the original MP3 files from your hard drive and repeat this procedure for subsequent audio CDs. When you next want to listen to that 10 hours of music in iTunes, simply insert the MP3 CD you created, select it in iTunes' Source list, and press Play.
You'll find that you can create more flexible Smart Playlists by putting the Comment field of an ID3 tag to good use. For example, click on a tune, press Command-I, click the Tags tab in the resulting Song Information window, and enter comments such as "Sunday Morning Music" or "Romantic Rumbas" in the Comments field. Then create a smart playlist using Comments as a filter. This allows you to easily create playlists based on your listening mood.
Gently Down the Stream
Care to add streaming radio stations to iTunes? Go to SHOUTcast.com and click the Tune In button next to a station that interests you. The station will begin streaming in iTunes.
Create a new playlist and call it My Radio. Click the Library entry in iTunes' Source list, locate the currently playing stream (it should be at the top of the list), and drag it to the My Radio playlist. Continue adding stations in this fashion. When you next want to tune in one of these stations, click on the My Radio playlist and double-click the station you want to listen to.
Gently Download the Stream
To create archives of steaming MP3 radio broadcasts download a copy of Wai (Simon) Liu's free StreamRipperX (Mac OS X only).
An often-overlooked feature of iTunes is the ability to edit the ID3 tags of multiple files at one go -- useful when you want to assign a single genre to a batch of songs, for example. One way to batch-edit your songs is to select multiple songs in iTunes main window, press Command-I, and make adjustments in the resulting Multiple Song Information window (see "A Musical Group"). Alternatively, you can select Show Browser from iTunes' Edit menu, select an album or artist, and press Command-I to produce the Multiple Song Information window for that album or artist. -- Christopher Breen
Enhance iTunes with these utilities and scripts.
This free utility from Jarvis Badgley allows you to control iTunes with a floating remote control window. Versions available for Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X.
22-year old French student, Pierre-Olivier Latour, concocted this free system preference that causes an iTunes controller to appear onscreen when you press a user-defined key combination. Let go of the key combination and X-Tunes fades away.
Among its many talents, Koingo Software's $16 Alarm Clock Pro can be configured to play a particular iTunes song or playlist at a time of your choosing.
If you need more visual stimulation than is provided by the iTunes Visualizer, download the free ArKaos Visualizer visual plug-in. Additional ArKaos plug-ins can be found on the ArKaos website.
These free scripts from Apple allow you to perform such useful tasks as building a CD insert from a selected playlist, creating a summary list of all the songs in your iTunes library, and removing listings for missing tracks (those tracks not in your iTunes Music folder).
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