From what I’ve been reading Apple Lossless is the way to go. Can I get some advice regarding how to configure other settings in iTunes? Space between songs?
I agree with using the Apple Lossless format. Other than choosing the format and the location for your files, iTunes doesn't have many other configuration choices when importing (ripping) a CD. E.g., you can't adjust the space between song.
Most people would want to use the 'Keep iTunes music folder organized' setting in Preferences\Advanced\General. Under Preferences\Advanced\ Importing, I use error correction, just to be safe.
I would recommend turning on 'Create file names with track numbers.' Some people, including me, have run into occasional problems with iTunes losing track of the location of music files. The music files are still there, but the iTunes Music Library file, which is a directory file, winds up with bad information about where to look for the files. When this happens, you get a little explanation mark next to the track listing in the iTunes window, and it's always a great mystery. I have found that this strangeness does not occur if I make sure that setting is turned on.
After importing your tunes, I would select them all, choose Get Info, and check Gapless Album. It would have been better if Apple had turned Gapless Album on by default.
Also, I have some shared music and MP3s… the sound levels are different for some of these songs…I want to avoid that in ripping my CDs so that if I use the shuffle feature all the songs will be in the same ballpark with respect to volume.
No control over this in iTunes. iTunes does have a playback function (Sound Check) that attempts to balance the volume of different tunes. I have found this deleterious when playing back over a good system.
I’ve read that Apple Lossless is ‘reversible’ insofar as one can convert the Apple Lossless files to AIFF files (or to other lossless formats). Can I get a conformation on this
Yes, this is true.
I read somewhere that when ripping to Apple Lossless takes considerably more time than ripping to AIFF, and that when ripping to Apple Lossless iTunes does this in two steps: FIRST rips to AIFF and then converts it to Apple Lossless. I also read that to save time some folks rip to AIFF in iTunes, and then set their library to do a batch conversion to Apple Lossless overnight. Can someone shed some more light onto how this latter is done?
In my experience, it is not at all true that importing with AL takes more time than with AIFF. To me, the two-step process would be cumbersome and a waste of time. Test it out yourself. If you really find you want to do the two-step, it's quite straightforward; if you need help, just ask again.
How best to organize these three file formats in iTunes? One music library? 3 separate music libraries? It would be nice to have all the music accessible in one lump so that I could access them all with the shuffle feature for background listening.
I would suggest two separate music libraries, one for hifi listening and one to manage your music for portable listening. I'd store all your Apple Lossless files in one music folder and all of your lossy files (AAC and MP3) in a different music folder. (You'll need to become familiar with the iTunes Music folder location setting in Preferences\Advanced\General. This setting dictates where future imported files will be stored. It has no effect on the location of previously imported song files.)
So, the basic order of business would be first to start building your hifi (Apple Lossless) iTunes library, and then to create a second iTunes library for portable listening and populate that with AAC files converted from the Apple Lossless versions. You would sync your iPod with this second library.
To create your portable, lossy library, quit iTunes, then start it up again with a new, empty library. http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?path=iTunesMac/7.1/en/2607x.html
Set the music folder location for this library to a new location. Import your Apple Lossless music files to this new library (make sure 'Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding...' is turned off), then use the 'Convert selection to AAC' command in the Advanced menu to make AAC copies of the originals for your portable library. After that, you can delete the Apple Lossless versions from this second library. If you need more tips on this phase, just holler. Once you get the hang of it, it's quite easy.
The files that are already in AAC or MP3 format can be added to your portable library in straightforward fashion.
Hope this helps.