Dear Lifehacker, I have about 40GB of music, but only 8GB of space on my iPhone. Are there any tricks to getting more songs to fit on a small device? I know I'll never fit the whole library, but if I could squeeze a few extra albums on there (without just converting them and losing quality), I'd be happy. Sincerely, Squeezing Songs
This is a tough thing to do, we can think of one or two things to try. Here's what we recommend.
Before You Start: Make Sure You're Syncing the Right Stuff
Obviously, you're only syncing a small portion of your library to your device, which means you've probably hand-picked which songs you want to sync. Before you start trying to fit more songs, I'd recommend re-evaluating which of those songs you actually need, putting them on a playlist, and then syncing that playlist to your device. Check out our guide to cleaning out your music library for more info. You don't even have to delete the files from your library if you don't want to, but those techniques should help you nail down what you're actually listening to and sync only those albums to your phone. You might also want to check out how to clean up your iPhone and Android phone in case there's something else taking up space on your device.
Use Variable Bitrate
You say you don't want to convert your music, but if you want to fit more songs on your device, you don't really have any other choice. However, you can convert those files without losing quality -- you just need to use a more efficient codec.
Let's do a quick refresher on bitrate: as we've explained before, audio files can be lossless (which takes up a lot of space) or lossy (which takes up far less space). Lossless is a great format for archiving your files, but it isn't necessary to listen to them in this format, since it's impossible for most people to tell the difference between a lossless MP3 and a 320kbps MP3. If you were storing them in lossless, feel free to convert them to MP3. You'll save a ton of space and your ears won't notice a thing.
Chances are, you're already storing your music library in MP3 format, probably with a constant bitrate (CBR) of 320 or 256kbps. However, constant bitrate is a little inefficient, since it uses the same bitrate for the entire file -- even if it doesn't need all that data. If you have a moment that isn't very complex, or is completely silent, why waste 320kbps on that section? Variable bitrate (VBR) solves this problem by changing the bitrate throughout the song to match what the song needs at any given point. So, the less complex parts have lower bitrates, getting rid of the useless data and leading to a smaller file size without losing quality. Some music stores (like Amazon) use VBR, but most music stores and CD rippers default to CBR, so you can probably free up a lot of space by switching.
However, you don't want to just convert your existing MP3s to VBR, or you will lose quality. Instead, grab a program like dBpoweramp for Windows or XLD for Mac and re-rip the original CD (or convert from a lossless file, if you have one). Obviously this will take you a while to re-rip your entire collection, but it's the only way you'll fit more MP3s without losing quality. For what it's worth, I did this and saved 30MB or so per album using V0 instead of 320kbps. After converting about 100 albums, I'd freed up 3GB on my iPhone -- and that isn't chump change when it comes to music. If you really want to go crazy, you could even experiment with more efficient file formats like AAC and Ogg Vorbis, which will be higher quality at lower bitrates.
Try Streaming Instead
If that sounds like too much trouble and you're willing to "cheat" a little, you can get more of that music with a streaming service such as Spotify or Rdio. You can have your entire library ready as long as you have an internet connection on your smartphone or Wi-Fi enabled MP3 player.
It may not be the answer you want to hear, but there's no "easy" way to fit more songs onto your MP3 player, especially if you don't want to lose audio quality. However, I can say from experience that converting everything from 320kbps to V0 isn't that difficult of a process -- as long as you have the original CDs or some lossless files (which we recommend having for this very purpose), it should only take you a day or two of work to convert everything over. Other than that, the best thing you can do is buy a bigger MP3 player next time.
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