5 essential tools that every iTunes user should have

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If you use iTunes regularly, you probably have a litany of frustrations with the software, as well as a list of “I wish it did this” items. I know I do. Here are five tools that will help bend iTunes to your will.

1. TuneSpan

When you had only a bunch of albums encoded as 128-kbps MP3 files, your iTunes library was probably a very manageable size. But add in TV shows, movies, home videos, and Apple Lossless CD rips, and even the mightiest of hard drives can start to get cramped. My iTunes library, for example, has ballooned to 400GB. (Those darn 1080p videos of my kids take up a lot of room, let me tell you.)

TuneSpan lets you relocate ("span") iTunes video and music files across multiple hard drives.

So what’s the solution? You could buy a big external drive and move your entire iTunes folder to it for current and future content. But that can be complicated, and you might not want to go for the all-or-nothing approach. For me, the $15 TuneSpan from Random Applications is the way to go. With it, you can relocate (span) content to multiple other hard drives to free up space on your main drive, while continuing to see, play, and sync everything in iTunes as you normally would.

2. HandBrake

Due to some murky legal issues, iTunes can’t (nor do I expect will ever be able to) rip your purchased DVDs to copy to your iOS devices or play on your Apple TV. But many third-party apps can, and the free HandBrake is at the top of my list for such purposes.

HandBrake can rip your DVDs so you can watch them on your iOS device or Apple TV.

With HandBrake you can pull movies and TV shows off the DVDs you’ve bought over the years and convert them to a format suitable for your Apple devices, at the same time including subtitles/closed-captioning data or removing unwanted audio tracks, say, in the process.

3. iFlicks

Once you’ve ripped your DVDs, you’re left with beautiful files—with absolutely no tagging metadata to help iTunes sort and display them properly. To fix that, a tagging utility is a must. (They're also quite useful if you record TV shows from free, over-the-air signals using an EyeTV-type device.) My favorite such app is Jendrik Bertram’s $20 iFlicks.

iFlicks looks up metadata online to help you properly tag your movies and TV shows.

iFlicks looks up metadata from online TV-show and movie databases and can add useful tags such as TV-show episode names, seasons, and episode numbers; movie release dates; directors and descriptions; and cover art to your files. iFlicks is also a video transcoding app that can convert files from one format to another to make smaller versions of big files, or to turn non-iTunes-compatible videos into Apple-friendly ones, say.

4. Everything on Doug’s AppleScripts for iTunes

If you’ve tried to do something in iTunes and can’t—or iTunes does a less-than-stellar job of it—then there’s a good chance that Doug’s AppleScripts for iTunes has what you’re looking for. The site is chock-full of almost 450 incredibly useful AppleScripts that perform really cool actions within iTunes to make your life easier. (Most scripts are free, although Doug does request payment if you find them useful).

If there's something you want iTunes to do, chances are that you'll find a way to do it on Doug's AppleScripts for iTunes site.

The site has many, many scripts, and you can view the newest or most-popular ones, browse by category, or search for something you’re looking for. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Remove n Characters From Front or Back lets you delete a number of characters from the beginning or the end of the Song Name, Album, Artist, Comments, Composer, or Show tag. If you’ve got lots of tracks with the track number as part of the name—01 Wah Wah, for example—this script can clean them up in no time.
Scripts like Albumize Selection help you quickly fix problems with your iTunes files.
  • Albumize Selection re-numbers the track number for songs to their current play order, and can also change the album name for the tracks at the same time.
  • Copy Tag Info Tracks to Tracks is very useful if you decide to re-rip CDs in a different format or at a higher bit rate and want to retain your finely crafted metadata. With it, you can copy selected tags from the old files to the new ones, overwriting any tags they have with your personalized data.
  • The $15 Dupin and $8 Dupin Lite do a much better job than iTunes’ Show Duplicate Items command of finding and zapping duplicate files, letting you easily tame overflowing libraries. (The full Dupin includes many additional features to go along with its larger price tag—you can see the list on this FAQ page.)

5. X Lossless Decoder

iTunes supports many different audio formats now, but some still make it throw up its hands in defeat. For example, Apple created its own lossless audio format—Apple Lossless—but completely left out support for the widely used, open-source FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec).

XLD can quickly convert audio files from one format to another.

If you come across FLAC, Ogg Vorbis, Monkey’s Audio (.ape), Shorten (.shn), or Wavpack (.wv) files that you want to get into iTunes, download tmkk’s free X Lossless Decoder (aka XLD). It can change to and from a number of audio formats, and is especially helpful with converting lossless and high-resolution audio files.

You can even use it to rip your CDs better, verifying ripped tracks against an Internet database so you can be sure that the resulting files are bit-perfect copies of the music on your CDs.

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