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Old Jan 4, 2011, 03:50 PM   #1
emaja
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Which is closer to CD - AIFF or Apple Lossless

I know it could be a personal preference, but in theory which is closest?

Currently, I have ripped all my CDs and stream them wirelessly through the AX to my Onkyo TX-SR608 and Paradigm Titan speakers. I do listen to CDs, but most of the time it is streamed.

I have a rather large library that I originally ripped into MP3, but want to re-rip and get the best possible quality - and file size is not a concern for me. I can always buy more HDDs.

I have ripped into both for a test and they sound the same to me, but that is with my current equipment. I want to be able to insure the best I can that when I upgrade my stereo that I will not regret the format I chose and feel a need to re-rip everything again.
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Old Jan 4, 2011, 04:03 PM   #2
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Both should be identical to CD, Apple Lossless obviously uses less space, works very well with itunes/ipod.
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Old Jan 4, 2011, 04:19 PM   #3
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The file size is what threw me off. I know lossless is lossless, so I guess that Apple Lossless is just a more efficient when it comes to file size.
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Old Jan 4, 2011, 04:32 PM   #4
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Apple Lossless is losslessly compressed, whereas AIFF is lossless but not compressed. That's where the size difference comes from
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Old Jan 4, 2011, 04:34 PM   #5
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Note that AIFF will basically play on anything and Apple Lossless is pretty much (pretty much) limited to Apple products. However, AIFF files are gigantic!
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Old Jan 4, 2011, 04:55 PM   #6
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Ugh!

Now I have to decide if I want to prepare for the possibility that I will leave the cozy confines of the Apple ecosystem. I don't see it happening, but like I said before I want to be prepared for later. It sounds like AIFF would be the way to be sure.

Do AIFF and Apple Lossless both support iTunes and other systems file tagging formats? I am pretty detailed in my tagging and would hate to lose that if I did switch to something other than Apple and iTunes.
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Old Jan 4, 2011, 05:06 PM   #7
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iTunes can convert your entire Apple Lossless collection over to AIFF with just a few clicks, without needing to touch the original CDs again.

I can't answer your question about tagging AIFFs. Apple Lossless can be tagged like any other "iTunes-native" format.
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Old Jan 4, 2011, 05:51 PM   #8
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From a purely technical standpoint, AIFF is supposedly no better than Apple Lossless. They certainly have never sounded any different to my ears.

Heck, I had trouble telling the difference between 256kbps AAC and the original CD. On a pair of Quad 2905 electrostatic speakers no less. Maybe I'm just deaf to such subtleties because I'm young and inexperienced in the audiophile world. Thus I have all of my collection in Apple Lossless on my computer because I saw no point in AIFF. Pity they don't make 360GB iPods

If file size is absolutely no concern, then go with AIFF. But for the best possible sound, it's best to use the original CD as the source rather than your computer (all that transcoding and streaming and stuff probably isn't bit-perfect). So I'd re-rip in AIFF then save up for a new stereo, including a CD player.

Edit: and yes, you can always convert from AIFF to Apple Lossless if you want to save space. But unlike Nermal says, there is no point in converting from Apple Lossless to AIFF. That's like trying to convert an MP3 to a WAV file thinking it will sound better. Not quite as bad, but if Apple Lossless is slightly inferior you aren't going to gain anything by converting back to AIFF, you will have to re-rip.
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Old Jan 4, 2011, 06:03 PM   #9
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I am not looking for a replacement for CD quality. I am simply looking for the best quality that I can get to stream from iTunes to my AX.

I am not an audiophile - no way am I playing 6000 for speakers! - but I appreciate something better than the average. That's why I got the Paradigms and Onkyo. I have a CD player, but want the convenience of the streaming.

Question - if you cannot tell the difference between 256kbps AAC and the CD, why on earth did you buy the Quad 2905s? Seems like you could "not tell the difference" for a lot less money

Last edited by emaja; Jan 4, 2011 at 06:04 PM. Reason: spelling
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Old Jan 4, 2011, 06:15 PM   #10
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But unlike Nermal says, there is no point in converting from Apple Lossless to AIFF.
There is if you get a device that supports AIFF and not Apple Lossless.
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Old Jan 4, 2011, 06:30 PM   #11
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I was just reading up on apple lossless vs AIFF a few days ago on one of these high end audio buff sites. What they said is very simple...

the musical quality of apple lossless = AIFF. There is no difference in audio quality.

I re-ripped all my cds to apple lossless some time ago. I even put them on my 32 GB iPod Touch. On busy music I can tell the difference between apple lossless and 320kbs. On music with one singer and a folk guitar I cannot tell the difference.

The other point of that site was to sell high end cd players. If you've invested in high end speakers don't neglect the cd player.
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Old Jan 4, 2011, 06:45 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by emaja View Post
I am not looking for a replacement for CD quality. I am simply looking for the best quality that I can get to stream from iTunes to my AX.

I am not an audiophile - no way am I playing 6000 for speakers! - but I appreciate something better than the average. That's why I got the Paradigms and Onkyo. I have a CD player, but want the convenience of the streaming.

Question - if you cannot tell the difference between 256kbps AAC and the CD, why on earth did you buy the Quad 2905s? Seems like you could "not tell the difference" for a lot less money
I didn't buy the Quads, I just know someone who did. Besides, I still have a good appreciation for sound, and by the nature of their driver design (vibrating membrane vs cone in a box) their clarity and openness is unmatched by anything else on the market. Little too lean on the bass for my taste though, and they would be hard to match with a subwoofer. I was merely saying how surprisingly good modern audio compression is. Audiophiles have a habit of making stuff up to justify their latest purchase, and how their new unobtanium-coated carbon nanowire power cable makes such a huge difference. . I am happy with my US $350 Audioengine A5s. Bit off topic...

Nermal - good point. AIFF is more compatible.

Basically, go nuts and use AIFF if you can spare the HDD space. But Apple Lossless is 100% fine. Very often the recording engineers haven't done their job competently enough to take full advantage of the great sound that a CD can offer anyway so don't worry. If you're happy about the quality, don't go wondering how you can make it sound better, just sit back and enjoy the music.
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Old Jan 4, 2011, 06:45 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by emaja View Post
I am not looking for a replacement for CD quality. I am simply looking for the best quality that I can get to stream from iTunes to my AX.
AirTunes uses a 44.1khz 16bit Apple Lossless encoding for streaming your music, by the way, which is equivalent to CD quality. In fact, John Atkinson over at Stereophile managed to confirm that the AX base station's output is in fact bit-perfect if your source file is also encoded at 44.1khz/16bit.

Quote:
Originally Posted by http://www.stereophile.com/digitalprocessors/505apple
Some audiophiles have dissed the AirPort Express on the grounds that its digital output is not bit-accurate. However, I found that this was not the case, that the data appearing on the AE's digital output were identical in the original file. To check this, I compared a WAV file with a duplicate that I had captured on my PC from the AirPort Express's S/PDIF output. I used iTunes on my PowerBook playing a version of the file encoded with Apple Lossless Compression to feed data to the AE. The files were bit-for-bit identical, proving that the AirPort Express is transparent to the music data (as is ALC, for that matter).
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Old Jan 4, 2011, 07:58 PM   #14
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Really, any minute difference isn't worth the huge file size of AIFF compared to Apple Lossless.
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Old Jan 4, 2011, 08:08 PM   #15
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Really, any minute difference isn't worth the huge file size of AIFF compared to Apple Lossless.
and there isn't a difference in sound quality. The only difference I would really consider is compatibility.
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Old Jan 4, 2011, 10:58 PM   #16
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Audiophiles have a habit of making stuff up to justify their latest purchase, and how their new unobtanium-coated carbon nanowire power cable makes such a huge difference. .
Militant extremist audiophiles can be a PITA .

Quote:
Originally Posted by tkermit View Post
AirTunes uses a 44.1khz 16bit Apple Lossless encoding for streaming your music, by the way, which is equivalent to CD quality. In fact, John Atkinson over at Stereophile managed to confirm that the AX base station's output is in fact bit-perfect if your source file is also encoded at 44.1khz/16bit.
Good to know. That was the sort of reference I was looking for. Thanks!

Quote:
Originally Posted by TuffLuffJimmy View Post
and there isn't a difference in sound quality. The only difference I would really consider is compatibility.
...and that is what it comes down to now. With sound quality questions out of the way, it is up to me to decide what is more compatible for my current and possible future needs.

Thanks all!
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Old Jan 5, 2011, 04:57 AM   #17
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Check 'Use error correction when reading audio CDs' in import settings, increases the chances of getting a bit perfect file. Some would say that using Exact Audio Copy (windows only) and the likes is the only way to be sure, but I find that a bit to troublesome

Maybe this goes without saying - if you're concerned about audio quality you need to use the optical output of the Airport Express and connect it to a quality DAC, I have a Cambridge Audio Dacmagic - it makes a huge difference.
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Old Jan 5, 2011, 05:35 AM   #18
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Now I have to decide if I want to prepare for the possibility that I will leave the cozy confines of the Apple ecosystem. I don't see it happening, but like I said before I want to be prepared for later. It sounds like AIFF would be the way to be sure.
Not a problem. Just import everything with Apple Lossless. If you change your mind, set your import settings to AIFF, make sure you have enough hard drive space, select everything that is Apple Lossless in your iTunes library, and convert to AIFF.
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Old Jan 5, 2011, 06:51 AM   #19
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44.1kHz, 16-bit AIFF (and WAV) files are uncompressed PCM audio. Except for different file headers and containers, 44.1kHz/16-bit AIFF (and WAV) is identical to CD audio in both audio quality and file size.

Apple lossless is a compressed audio file format. Most say it is pretty close to CD/AIFF sound quality but using roughly half the file size. Apple lossless (and most other lossless formats) will not sound significantly different from aiff/cd audio in casual consumer use.

Lossless formats however are not used in professional audio recording applications, in which 44.1kHz/16-bit PCM audio is the minimum standard.
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Old Jan 5, 2011, 09:16 AM   #20
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Apple lossless (and most other lossless formats) will not sound significantly different from aiff/cd audio in casual consumer use.
In what context exactly would you expect a lossless file format to sound any different than aiff/cd audio?
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Old Jan 5, 2011, 10:21 AM   #21
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Ugh!

Now I have to decide if I want to prepare for the possibility that I will leave the cozy confines of the Apple ecosystem. I don't see it happening, but like I said before I want to be prepared for later. It sounds like AIFF would be the way to be sure.

Do AIFF and Apple Lossless both support iTunes and other systems file tagging formats? I am pretty detailed in my tagging and would hate to lose that if I did switch to something other than Apple and iTunes.
I think not only is AIFF uncompressed but I don't recall any support for tagging.

I went ALAC and it's not a big deal to convert to FLAC when/if you need it -- MAX or XLD on the Mac, dbPowerAmp on the PC will make the task easy, and since they're both lossless there is no generational loss in re-encoding.
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Old Jan 5, 2011, 02:33 PM   #22
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Lots of good info here guys. Thanks a TON for helping.

So it would seem that ALAC is the way to go since it is lossless and compressed, saving HDD space.

One more question - I thought transcoding from one format to another would lead to a degradation of sound quality. Is that only from one lossy format to another (like AAC to MP3)? If I understand correctly, lossless is lossless, then going from AIFF to ALAC and vice versa will NOT reduce the sound quality.
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Old Jan 5, 2011, 02:45 PM   #23
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One more question - I thought transcoding from one format to another would lead to a degradation of sound quality. Is that only from one lossy format to another (like AAC to MP3)? If I understand correctly, lossless is lossless, then going from AIFF to ALAC and vice versa will NOT reduce the sound quality.
Essentially what you're saying is correct. Generally speaking:

Lossy -> Lossy = More Lossy. Lossless -> Lossless = Lossless.

For some months I've been evaluating this same decision - choosing a file format into which to re-rip my whole CD collection. When I first started using iTunes, I was a digital file noob and didn't realize I had to choose the better ripping format over the default (which is awful 128k AAC), thus I have a large collection of 128k files that need replacing.

After much reading and consideration, I've decided to move forward with Apple Lossless. I'm looking forward to a better-sounding digital collection, and have plenty of space as part of this change includes a healthy pruning of said library.
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Old Jan 5, 2011, 03:27 PM   #24
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Maybe this goes without saying - if you're concerned about audio quality you need to use the optical output of the Airport Express and connect it to a quality DAC, I have a Cambridge Audio Dacmagic - it makes a huge difference.
If the file is digital and the wireless signal is digital, if I have the optical cable from the AX to my receiver, why do I need a DAC?

That is something I did not know about before at all.
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Old Jan 5, 2011, 04:14 PM   #25
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If the file is digital and the wireless signal is digital, if I have the optical cable from the AX to my receiver, why do I need a DAC?

That is something I did not know about before at all.
If you're running optical into your receiver, it has a DAC, naturally. In the end all things must go analog. The point he's trying to make, however, is that most built-in DAC's are crap, for both receivers and other items (AX, your computers, etc). While I don't know personally how good the DAC is for your receiver, many people opt to go receiver -> DAC -> speakers to remedy this problem.

If you're just running stereo off of your receiver, and it has an optical/digital out, then I'd recommend the Super Pro DAC 707. It sounds pretty cheap, but in reality it has higher-grade components than most higher-priced solutions. If you need multi-channel however and you only have one digital out, you'll need to look at other pricier solutions. That is, of course, if you care enough about the built in DAC of your receiver.
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