What audio format should I import my CD's to iTunes in?

Discussion in 'Digital Audio' started by alexreich, Jan 19, 2012.

  1. macrumors 6502a

    alexreich

    Joined:
    Jan 26, 2011
    #1
    Ever since I got my first iPhone in 2008 I've been importing CDs and downloading tracks from iTunes to store and play on my iOS devices. Sadly, at that time I was not very picky on sound quality, and I was not very educated on the differences in format.

    In the last few years, I've learned that AAC was a good compressed audio format. So any MP3's I imported I converted to AAC, and any new CDs have been imported as AAC ever since.

    But now, after reading about audio formats and their differences, and learning that converting files multiple times (as I have done) ruins quality, I've decided that I will re-import all of my CDs. I want to import them as the best quality I possibly can, as I am becoming an audiophile.

    From what I have read online, the best format is Apple Lossless? Am I wrong?

    By the way, if it helps at all, all of the songs would be played on Apple devices. iPhones, iPads, AppleTVs and Macs. What would be the best quality format for playback in an Apple household?

    Any help would be very much appreciated!

    -Alex :apple:
     
  2. visim91, Jan 19, 2012
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 20, 2012

    macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Nov 13, 2011
    #2
    Listen, a lot of individuals will tell you the following: "Rip using EAC (Exact Audio Copy) to FLAC; then, convert to any format (Apple Lossless) that suits your needs best, keep the FLAC copy as an archive, a backup."

    I don't disagree. It's a great way to go about the whole process. With ALAC, you can maintain album art and other metadata you find pertinent to your music selection, with no reduction in quality.

    Here is a song I have ripped by Led Zeppelin, a vinyl rip, converted to Apple Lossless from my initial FLAC copy. Check it out: [MOD NOTE - URL REMOVED for linking to copyrighted material]

    Hear the difference? Files are bigger, sure; but, the content is rich and full of detail. Audiophile? No self-respecting audiophile toys around with AAC or MP3, shoddy stuff.

    And, yes of course, ALAC will play on all your iDevices.

    edit: please do not listen to my file with Apple headphones, or the speakers of your Mac; I implore you not to.
     
  3. thread starter macrumors 6502a

    alexreich

    Joined:
    Jan 26, 2011
    #3
    Wow. Amazing.

    The quality of that track gives me chills. Totally different than MP3 or AAC. Great job!

    How would I go about importing CD tracks as FLAC on my Mac? I don't see a setting to import as FLAC. Only Apple Lossless in iTunes...
     
  4. macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Nov 13, 2011
    #4
    Here's a great program for that: http://sbooth.org/Max/

    & Thanks!
     
  5. thread starter macrumors 6502a

    alexreich

    Joined:
    Jan 26, 2011
    #5
    Haha. :)

    Funny thing, I just pulled up that website to check it out.
     
  6. macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Nov 13, 2011
    #6
    Haha - oh, and in the interest of full disclosure, here's another program that I find quite easy to use as well, both work great, you make the final decision: http://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/23430/x-lossless-decoder Good luck!
     
  7. thread starter macrumors 6502a

    alexreich

    Joined:
    Jan 26, 2011
    #7
    Thanks for all of your help and speedy replies!
     
  8. macrumors 68020

    TMRaven

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2009
    #8
    Look, here's the blatant truth. And I'm not trying to disrespect people who are on the lossless craze, either.

    Lossless is undoubtedly the best thing you could rip your cds in for archival purposes alone, but that's if you're confident that you have the storage space and that you're confident that you're able to buy more of it later down the line. If you have the slightest thought otherwise, then a 320kbps aac file or mp3 will be 99% of the lossless.

    The led zeppelin rip is nothing special to me. I've heard plenty of mp3 and aac files that sound just as good. The BIGGEST factor when the quality of a song is concerned is the original recording and mastering. The better the mastering, the more dynamic range a song will have. It just so happens that vinyls are almost ALWAYS mastered in such a way to have higher dynamic range than their cd counterparts. Why is that? Most likely because the common populace in which cds are targeted like the sound of compressed songs better on their sub-par systems. Dynamically compressed songs can get louder on lesser systems with amps that tend to distort very easily. Higher dynamic range songs will sound lower in volume because most of the range is centered around huge transient peaks that make the songs sound more natural, crisp, punchy etc. This is why modern masterings usually sound like garbage compared to the originals. A lot of people like to jump on the vinyl bandwagon as being the superior medium, but that's not really true at all. What people are hearing are better masterings with higher dynamic range. Recording plays a big role too. If the recording method was sub-par, you won't get very high fidelity out of the instruments within the song. Kick drums might sound anemic without low bass impact, or the mics might distort with too much volume thrown their direction.

    The Led Zeppelin song 'gives you chills' because it's both recorded and mastered nicely. I guarantee if you take the same file down to 320kbps aac you'll still get plenty of chills from it.

    My method when it comes to ripping CDs is twofold. I usually stay at 320kbps aac as a nice balance between file size and quality for 90% of my rips. If it's an album and cd variant I know that is recorded and mastered beautifully, I might take the dip and make it a wav file. Otherwise I'm personally not losing much. I've done plenty of abx tests with my Beyer and Denon headphones, and my PSB speaker rig.


    So bottom line, determine what suites you the best. If you have an iPod and would like as much songs on it as possible, then perhaps ripping to lossless isn't the best thing, for example.
     
  9. macrumors member

    dj-anon

    Joined:
    Mar 23, 2011
    #9
    You say you are becoming an audiophile. As an audio engineer, I'd tell you to beware the advise from an audiophile.

    You have three options:

    1. Assuming you are into the iTunes ecosystem, just rip all your CDs within iTunes using the AAC Encoder and the iTunes Plus setting (256 kbps, variable bitrate.) That way all your music will be at the same quality, including songs you've purchased from iTunes and also iTunes cloud matched songs, if you have iTunes Match.

    2. Choose the best format and bitrate yourself. Perform an ABX test. Ignore what others say and just follow what your ears tell you.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ABX_test
    http://emptymusic.com/software/ABXer.html

    3. The future proof option is to first rip all your CDs to your favorite lossless format. When it comes to lossless formats, the difference is, mainly, compatibility and to some extent, file size output. There is no sound quality difference between formats when it is lossless.

    Once ripped as lossless files, convert those files to your favorite lossy format. The logic behind this is: Just rip your CDs once and store them safely, away from humidity, etc. The resulting lossless files will then become your main digital backup, so storing them in an external hard drive is recommended.

    As time passes by and new lossy formats appear or you change devices, you might find that the previous lossy format you used is not the best one for your new needs. So instead of ripping all your CDs again, and taking the risk of scratching them, you just use your lossless backup files and convert those to whatever new format you fancy.
     
  10. thread starter macrumors 6502a

    alexreich

    Joined:
    Jan 26, 2011
    #10
    I planned on importing all of my CD's in FLAC format, and storing them somewhere safe like an external hard drive, similar to what is mentioned above. After creating the FLAC files, I will import them to iTunes as Apple Lossless, but keep the FLAC files as well.

    When times change, I can create another file format from the lossless ones I created.
     
  11. visim91, Jan 19, 2012
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 20, 2012

    macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Nov 13, 2011
    #11
    Everything you have said regarding mastering, DR etc. is absolutely correct.

    However, you should also note that, in regard to vinyl, a digital copy is only as good as the equipment used to obtain the rip. This is fact. Mastering may be immaculate, but if I use a shoddy rig, the sound will be poor.

    I am old, and have been collecting vinyl for a long time, don't assume I have just begun obtaining records. Do not be so quick to dismiss my work as a fad. I didn't get on any damn bandwagon, I have had a wagon of my own for quite some time now, and if some people have decided to hop on, then so be it. Things sound good on my wagon.
     
  12. macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2007
    #12
    But have you tried making a 320Kbps copy and listening to it?
     
  13. TMRaven, Jan 20, 2012
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2012

    macrumors 68020

    TMRaven

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2009
    #13
    Hey if they're all vinyl rips I'll gladly take them. :)

    I have Dsom, In Rainbows, Led Zeppelin 1, etc but they're all cd masterings. Nude is perhaps the highest DR song on In Rainbows that's otherwise a brickwalled mastering.

    And yes, of course, this is all assuming we have proper rigs to play the music back on.

    Comparing the vinyl rip and my rip of In Rainbows right now. The vinyl rip has a noticeable treble rolloff and the analog noise comes through more, especially on the right channel. It makes the song darker overall. If I were listening to this on darker gear, I wouldn't be happy at all. Thom's voice sounds either more muffled, distant or warm on the vinyl version depending on your preferences in music and your own personal subjectivity. The microdetail people love to talk about with lossless recordings isn't there for me compared to my 320kpbs rip. Hi-hat decay seems about the same, the texture within Thom's voice comes out more on the CD rip I wanna say. Soundstaging is pretty much the same on both. Dynamic range seems to be a tiny bit better on the vinyl version, but not as much as I had hoped; the strokes of the guitars can be heard a tad better on the vinyl rip because of this I feel.
     
  14. visim91, Jan 20, 2012
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2012

    macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Nov 13, 2011
    #14
    Looks as though the moderators choose to delete my links. Wow. For "Warez, serials, cracking"? What is this - some kind of joke? Does the moderator even know what "Vinyl rip" means? Pirated? ADrive is the equivalent of DropBox, a personal Data storage site. How the hell do you expect me to have a discussion about sound quality without sound? Without any form of tangible corroboration, my words are empty and lack any meaning. Thanks for the bottleneck, "maflynn".

    Did you get a chance to listen to the whole playlist? (Yes, they were all vinyl rips.)

    Edit: With respect to "Nude" by Radiohead - I did find modern music, especially electronic music, to not have as great of a benefit from being ripped from a Vinyl source vs a properly mastered CD. I agree with the statement about darkness. However, on the other hand, King of Limbs received a much-needed DR boost on my vinyl rip vs the CD mastering that I heard over a friend's house. I really enjoyed that album, actually. I hear some people did not; I can see how they may be a victim of brick-walled mastering.
     
  15. macrumors 68020

    TMRaven

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2009
    #15
    Sadly only the Radiohead one. :(
    I was going to compare Pink Floyd next as it might've been a better song.
     
  16. macrumors 6502a

    bwhli

    Joined:
    Jan 9, 2012
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    #16
    If you're using iTunes, why not just use Apple Lossless?
     
  17. thread starter macrumors 6502a

    alexreich

    Joined:
    Jan 26, 2011
    #17
    I've decided that I will have a FLAC library for playback via VLC on my computer, and keep my iTunes library as-is for syncing with my mobile devices. Thanks for the input all!

    Now I wonder if there is a FLAC player in the iOS App Store... :)
     
  18. macrumors 6502a

    bwhli

    Joined:
    Jan 9, 2012
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    #18
    I doubt there is, but I'm just wondering why have two separate playback libraries on two different programs, when having just iTunes would be much simpler?
     
  19. thread starter macrumors 6502a

    alexreich

    Joined:
    Jan 26, 2011
    #19
    What's the difference in FLAC and ALAC? Is the only difference compatibility and library management requiring less effort?
     
  20. macrumors 6502a

    bwhli

    Joined:
    Jan 9, 2012
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    #20
    They are both lossless codecs is the same. ALAC can be managed with iTunes, FLAC can't. If you want lossy versions of your songs, I suggest making "Lossless" and "Lossy" playlists in iTunes.
     

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