Attn Audiophiles... I could use your expert advice.

Discussion in 'iPod' started by MacLadybug, Sep 18, 2008.

  1. MacLadybug macrumors 6502a

    MacLadybug

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    Jun 6, 2008
    #1
    I'm moving from an 8GB Nano to a 160GB Classic and will now have room for all of my music, photos, videos and movies. I'm new enough to Mac that the more I learn the more I want to do things over... more correctly. So when it comes to iTunes, I could use some expert advice so that I don't have to import and re-import my stuff. I realize my questions are elementary, but I want to do it right:

    1. Now that space is not a concern, what format and bit rate is best and why? My meager 8GB is Mp3 at 192 Kbps.

    2. Can my existing library be converted to a better quality and bit rate? Will it sound better? Or would it have to be imported at a higher bit rate and format for me to hear a difference.

    3. Is a Time Machine back-up to an external hard drive enough to reproduce my iTunes library should the worst happen or should I do something else as well?

    Thank you all in advance for your advice and for taking the time to indulge my "beginner" questions.
     
  2. greenday123 macrumors 6502

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    NJ
    #2
    1. I rip everything in 320 kbps MP3, i believe that is the best because it works in nearly an player, its very flexible, and 320 kbps is the best quality possible for MP3. If your looking for something more quality, encode in Apple Lossless.


    2. Nothing in your library will be able to be converted to a better rate, once its encoded, its encoded and its quality can not be made better.

    3. A time machine back up will restore all of your itunes music, settings, play counts, etc.. but at the same 192 kbps bit rate.
     
  3. MacLadybug thread starter macrumors 6502a

    MacLadybug

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    #3
    Could you explain the difference between Apple loseless and Mp3?
     
  4. slate1 macrumors regular

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    Sep 12, 2006
    #4
    MP3 is a lossy format - it reduces the file size by removing supposedly inaudible "pieces" of the digital music stream. No matter how you slice it - you're not hearing all the nuances of the music in an MP3 format. If you want a copy as close to the source material - use Apple Lossless. It's what it says it is - a bit for bit duplicate of your original CD.

    That being said - consider how you're going to listen. Personally, I use 320kb MP3's for casual listening in the car and on my ipod. For serious listening - it's pure analog all vinyl all the time on my home rig! I've transfered hundreds of LP's to 320kb MP3's for the car and am quite happy - I'm sure you'd find the same for your CD's.
     
  5. greenday123 macrumors 6502

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    #5
    Apple Lossless is a extremely high quality form of audio. If you really want great quality, Lossless is the way to go, and it will work on basically just your iPod and in iTunes. The bit rate of Apple Lossless is 1041 kbps. And it takes up quite a bit of space, a 2:30 long song is 20 MB.


    Mp3 is the standard for all players, it is the most flexible music format, has good compression, and works in virtually any music player imagineable. The highest mp3 goes is 320 kbps 6.1 mb for the same 2:30 long song.

    With that being said, if you want a pretty much exact replica of the music off the cd rip with lossless, but for an iPod i would rip at 320 mp3, your never gonna be able to tell the difference between the two on an iPod unless your using expensive headphones.
     
  6. huck500 macrumors 6502

    huck500

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    Southern California
    #6
    Apple lossless compresses the audio without destroying any information, so it will sound exactly the same as the original file, and is smaller, but is still pretty big. Mp3 makes the file much smaller, but destroys some information.

    The big question is whether or not you can tell the difference between a file encoded in 320kbps mp3 and the original (or lossless)... it's an endless debate, but seemingly no one can do it in a blind test.

    People are willing to suspend disbelief to incredible levels when it comes to audio, though... just encode a couple of files both ways and listen to them, and if you can't tell the difference, go with mp3.
     
  7. Bobioden macrumors 68000

    Bobioden

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    Denver
    #7
    I personally think the Apple AAC encoder is the best choice with iTunes. I have never had a problem playing any of my CD's in any CD changer, player etc.. I have read that anything above 256 kbps is just wasting space, unless you go lossless. So all of mine are AAC 256 kbps.
     
  8. donga macrumors 6502a

    donga

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    May 16, 2005
    Location:
    AZ
    #8
    i thought a lot about this choice too, a few years ago.

    i ultimately switched from 320 kbps mp3 to 192 aac, and recently 192 aac with vbr.

    i thought a lot about the file sizes (320 is ginormous) and the audio quality. to me aac sounded better than mp3 at the same bit rate. the thing is that now i'm locked into ipod gear, unless i rerip my library again.... i am very happy with my choice though

    another note, what you use (headphones/speakers) you use to listen makes a big difference in audio quality too
     
  9. Moriarty macrumors 6502

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    Feb 3, 2008
    #9
    1: If you have the space, rip all your music in Apple Lossless. Or AIFF/WAV if you really have lots to spare, these two are the absolute best, though probably completely indiscernible from Apple Lossless anyway.

    It will be a royal pain to rip all your music into lossless format in another 5 years when you might actually be able to fit all your music on a single iPod in Lossless format.
    It is much easier to compress your music and transfer it over to the iPod and then delete the compressed files, therefore keeping a "lossless" version on your computer.

    A system is only as good as the weakest link. Do not let the file format of the music ever be that weakest link, because it's a real nuisance to re-rip everything.

    My experiences with audio formats: I recently did a test on my stereo setup, which is reasonably high-end, but purposefully warm-sounding (I do not like harsh stereos). This could impact these results slightly because it might hide a few imperfections, but probably not to a very significant degree.

    128kbps AAC VBR: doing a direct comparison, I could tell a difference between this and the original CD. The sound is slightly more harsh on the high-end and instruments are not quite as warm and natural sounding.

    256kbps AAC VBR: almost indiscernible from the original CD.

    Apple Lossless: Cannot tell the difference.

    When you are listening to an iPod through head/ear-phones, going beyond 256kbps AAC is pointless. If you are short of storage space, you would be very hard-pushed to tell the difference between 128kbps and a Lossless file on an iPod anyway, so go for 128 if you need to.

    But I cannot stress this enough. Rip your music in the highest quality you can fit on your computer. In another 5 years time an iPod will probably fit your whole collection in AIFF files anyway, so don't restrict the quality you will hear in the future based on the storage capacity of today's iPods.

    2: No, you can't just convert your music to a higher bit rate and magically get higher quality sound, because that quality isn't there in the first place. Your best bet is to re-import everything at Apple Lossless, and then compress these files to AAC files at the highest bit rate you can fit on your iPod, transfer them over, then delete the compressed files. Keep the Lossless files on your computer for future use.

    3: A Time-Machine backup is basically making a copy of your library onto an external drive, so if anything happens to your computer's drive, you can restore everything exactly as it was since the last backup. If you think having only 1 backup is secure enough, then that's all you need. And TBH, short of a fire burning your house down, there's virtually no chance of both your drives going bust at once and you losing everything. Keep a surge protector on your equipment anyway, just in case!

    Hope this helps.
     
  10. quasinormal macrumors 6502a

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    Oct 26, 2007
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    Sydney, Australia.
    #10
    One problem with using Apple Lossless on an iPod is that the iPod's cache is too small for the larger files.

    For me when i used Apple Lossless on my 2nd Gen Nano, this meant when I stopped in the middle of a song, it started on the next track when restarted.

    An old thread talks about it here

    i strongly agree about AAC being a superior codec to MP3.
     
  11. KJmoon117 macrumors 6502a

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    Jun 10, 2007
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    NC
    #11
    I agree that AAC is a lot better. I my rip CDs or convert my FLACs into 320kbps AACs. Although many say 320kbps is an overkill, space isn't much of a concern for me and it's a lot smaller than a lossless file.

    Now for those who don't agree, AAC is designed to be the successor of and is ten years older than Mp3. AAC works with a built in VBR, so I'm assuming that 320kbps, the quality will be at constant high quality throughout the whole song.
    Correct me if I'm wrong.
     
  12. MacLadybug thread starter macrumors 6502a

    MacLadybug

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    Jun 6, 2008
    #12
    It's all starting to make better sense...

    I knew I'd done it wrong. Looks like I need to start over with my music. Is it possible to guesstimate how much space 10GB of Mp3 music would take up if it were in Lossless format? Any ideas? That would help me figure if I can do this right or not. I was following you all fine comparing the Mp3 to Apple Lossless... now I'm hearing AAC and AIFF. Please explain those formats so I can better understand.

    What is on my computer also plays through my home stereo/theatre system. So I understand the concept that I need the best quality for that. The music on my iPod I use mainly for learning/practicing music. I use M-Audio IE30 Pro headphones. I play drums and I can hear the lows very nicely with those. (I also had to get those for a Hear-Back sound system for performing)

    My plan then will be to re-do everything at the best possible quality level... Lossless if I have the space and then convert to AAC(?) for my iPod. What's VBR?

    Now if I don't have room for Lossless, what's the next best thing to store it on the computer? With 160 GB for nothing but music on the iPod space is no concern... it's my MacBook that I am thinking about... but I think I'm good there too.
     
  13. ftaok macrumors 603

    ftaok

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    Jan 23, 2002
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    East Coast
    #13
    Well, assuming that all of your MP3s are at 192 kbps and that Apple Loseless encodes at 1041 kbps ...

    This means that the Apple Lossless files are 5.4 times bigger. So your 10GB collection now becomes 54GB.


    AAC is essentially an "MP4", if you will. It's a better format for music, but you can still hear difference between AAC and the original CD. For your information, music from the iTunes store is at 128 kbps AAC, while iTunes Plus files are 192 kpbs AAC.

    VBR means Variable Bit Rate. Basically, a VBR encoder will analyse a song and adjust the bit rate accordingly. Theorectically, if a song has sections that are complex, the encoder will bump up the bit rate .. conversely, if the song has silent (or simple) sections, the encoder will turn down the bit rate.

    Personally, I can't really hear the difference between a good AAC or MP3 vs. the original ... but it's not like I have great audio equipment either. I would suggest encoding a few songs at a bunch of different settings/formats and then see which one works best for you. You'll have one more data point to help you decide what's best in terms of audio quality vs. hard drive space.

    If you run out of room on your Macbook, you could always buy an external HDD or swap the internal HDD with a bigger drive. It's very easy to change the hard drive on a Macbook.
     
  14. MacLadybug thread starter macrumors 6502a

    MacLadybug

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    Jun 6, 2008
    #14
    All Very Helpful Information...

    It all makes better sense to me now. Apple guides always give you options but they don't go into much detail on the definitions and the details that help you decide the options you want. You have all helped a lot in that arena. I feel much better informed and really ticked that I need to re-do my library. I knew when I did it I fouled up, I had that feeling.

    Here's one more question... I've heard that you don't want to move your iTunes file that everything will get messed up... but can you open iTunes on your laptop but have all your music stored on an external drive? Not that I want to, but just to better understand how iTunes works. Right now it's all in the Music folder in my Home.. right? So if the music were somewhere else, where are the settings to direct iTunes to look for it in another folder or drive? Or is this even possible or advisable? Like I said I'm not thinking about doing it now, but when my music library gets too large, that may be a consideration... that or the new hard drive FTAOK talked about.
     
  15. greenday123 macrumors 6502

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    NJ
    #15
    Im not quite sure what you mean, but if you open iTunes on a laptop and all of your music is on an external drive (I'm assuming you mean without the drive connected), iTunes will work fine, all your music will still show up. It just won't play, because iTunes doesn't know where it is. It is possible to set up iTunes with a different music folder once you have set it up with one, go into preferences and it should be under Advanced, if you change the itunes folder, it will keep all of your current music in the library, but when you decide to rip a new cd or purchase a song from itunes it will store in the new location. So when your library gets too large, i would advise getting an external drive and continue storing music on that.
     
  16. MacLadybug thread starter macrumors 6502a

    MacLadybug

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    Jun 6, 2008
    #16
    That's what I was wondering about... storing the music somewhere else when this drive won't handle more. I was under the mistaken impression that it was a bad idea to store your music on a secondary drive. Which made no sense when I would hear about some people's giant iTunes collections.

    I can figure this out now. I just have to set the time aside for the "do-over".
     
  17. greenday123 macrumors 6502

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    #17
    Yeah, its no worse storing your iTunes library on an external drive than on your internal drive, infact my iTunes library is stored on an external :)
     
  18. Moriarty macrumors 6502

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    Feb 3, 2008
    #18
    You haven't done it wrong. You just haven't got the best sound quality possible.

    Yes. Sort of. The bitrate (the space it takes per second of audio) of Apple Lossless depends on the complexity of the music, but an average track is probably about 800 kbps. When you see bitrates written as kbps, as they usually are, this means kiloBITS per second. There are 8 bits in a byte. So 800 kilobits per second equals 100 kilobytes per second - 0.1MB per second of audio. 0.1 * 3600 = 360MB per hour (roughly) for Apple Lossless. Adapt this to other bitrates to find out how much space your music will take up at a given quality level.

    If you have 10GB of 192kbps MP3, it will take approximately (800/192)*10 = 42GB in Lossless. This might vary depending on the sort of music you have, so with a format that is not a fixed bit rate, it's just a guesstimate.

    If you play it through your home stereo, you DEFINITELY want Lossless format. It's indistinguishable from the original CD, and because it's a digital file, even more future-proof. If you re-rip your music, make sure you turn "error correction" on, so if it has trouble reading a CD because of a scratch or dirt, you are less likely to have anomalies in the ripped track.

    VBR is "variable bit rate". You can turn it on in the Import Settings menu by going AAC encoder > Custom. It assigns more data to the more complex parts of a song while giving less data to less complex parts, therefore improving overall quality for a given file size. But the average bit rate for the whole track is maintained at the average you set, ie, 128kbps.

    But if you will only have 40-50GB of music, you won't need to compress it at all. You could fit all the Lossless files easily on a 120GB iPod Classic. So if you haven't already bought a 160GB, a 120GB would do fine.

    The next best thing: MP3 is a "universal" format. Almost anything can read MP3. If you're after maximum compatibility, go for the highest quality MP3 you can fit, and use VBR. If you are only going to be dealing with things that can read AAC, like iTunes and iPods, then AAC is better because it's encoding is more efficient, ie, a 128kbps AAC sounds as good as a 160kbps MP3.
     
  19. Moriarty macrumors 6502

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    Feb 3, 2008
    #19
    Yes, it certainly is possible to run an iTunes library off an external drive. I'm doing it right now :). Of course, iTunes says it can't find the library when the drive isn't connected.

    BUT, with a 250GB drive in your Macbook, unless you have a lot of other stuff, your music should all fit easily in Lossless format, because it shouldn't take more than about 50GB, possibly even 40GB or less depending on the type, and complexity, of music you listen to.

    Just FYI, here's how you move your library to an external drive:

    1) Find your "iTunes" folder inside your "Music" folder.
    2) Copy and paste it over to your external drive.
    3) If iTunes is open, quit it. Reopen it again while holding down the "Option" key.
    4) Select "Choose library", navigate to the copied library on your external drive, and select the "iTunes" folder.

    If you ever want to change libraries, just hold the option key while opening iTunes. Keep the old library there, or a Time Machine backup of it, at least while you make sure nothing has gone wrong during the transfer, and your music files play OK, etc.
    But nothing should go wrong, it keeps all your music, all your album art, and all your settings. It's an exact copy of how it was, just on a different drive.
     
  20. opivy1218 macrumors member

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    Mar 1, 2008
    #20
    Use EAC and LAME and rip it to V0.
    Actually, if you're on a mac I think theres someway you can use the LAME encoder inside of iTunes.
     
  21. KJmoon117 macrumors 6502a

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    NC
    #21
    Yup, the iTunes-LAME converter~

    Yet I just get AIFF/WAV/LossLess files and convert them down to 320kbps AAC using Max. Max also uses LAME3.97...

    Amazing program...
     
  22. ftaok macrumors 603

    ftaok

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    #22
    I'm guessing that iTunes can play the LAME files, but can an iPod?
     
  23. omgwut macrumors 6502

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    Jul 28, 2006
    #23
    Honestly, if pure audio quality is your thing, set iTunes to import your music with Apple Lossless and forget about the bitrate garbage. I did this with my entire CD collection a few months back. It took a few hours, but it was worth it. A 160GB Classic is freaking huge, don't worry about space (Well, I don't know how BIG your library is but, still). Apple Lossless is great.

    And if you're worried about not being able to move your lossless music over to work with other devices or platforms besides iTunes and iPod, there are freeware utilities and plugins out there that you can use to convert it over to lossless FLAC quickly and easily.

    MP3 is obviously kind of the universal standard as its the best format around when you just want to make sure your music works EVERYWHERE -- ripped CDs, any music device, whatever -- but that's not what I do, so I don't bother with that.
     
  24. ChrisBrightwell macrumors 68020

    ChrisBrightwell

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    #24
    Apple Lossless. MP3 and AAC, regardless of bitrate, are destructive. Apple Lossless is not.

    Converting a 128 Kbps MP3 to a 256 Kbps MP3 will almost always result in a REDUCTION OF SOUND QUALITY. Start with the original source.

    This is all about personal preferences, but having a copy on the iPod and a copy on a backup disk should be sufficient for most folks.
     
  25. blurredline macrumors 6502

    blurredline

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    #25
    I have nothing to add, but just wanted to say thanks to all of those sharing their obvious wealth of information on audio in this thread. I just learned a tonne! Thanks again!
     

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