Mac OS X, itunes and Apple fail audiophiles and prosumers

Discussion in 'Digital Audio' started by Tarkovsky, Dec 9, 2007.

  1. Tarkovsky macrumors 6502

    Tarkovsky

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    #1
    (posted on the apple support message boards)

    Apple have rendered the digital outs included with their products worthless.

    After moving to OS X I've never looked back until now. Despite recent improvements in the windows itunes incarnation, itunes for mac os X is now implementing poor quality sample rate conversion regardless of settings in the audiomidi setup utility (applications>utilities).

    Try it for yourself listen to a track on VLC, then on itunes. In fact I'd noticed this difference before even hearing about what os X is doing. This may well be unnoticeable to the casual user, but having invested money and time in hard drives to store lossless CDs an external DAC, good speakers and a half decent amp I feel let down by Apple because they have taken this step backwards from bit transparency and negated my expenditure. Unfortunately VLC does not come with any form of Library. I'm now looking for alternative media/library players.

    Why there isn't an on off feature for sample rate conversion and even sample rate switching as opposed to mac OS X's poor sample rate conversion is beyond me. I was ready to accept being tethered to itunes by apple's array of snappy products, which when considered as a bundle represent good value IMO, but now I'm thinking of moving away.

    I invite apple to address this issue NOW instead of messing around developing better versions of itunes for windows before OS X looses any more credibility as an audiophile system.

    http://www.stereophile.com/news/120307samplerateconversion/
     
  2. Sesshi macrumors G3

    Sesshi

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    #2
    Yes, but the author has missed a vital point as far as listening seriously for pleasure on the Mac is concerned. Apple is about shiny. You shouldn't care about stuff like quality, power or control, especially if your only options are VLC (really? It's an option?!?) and iTunes.

    His reasoning is also possibly a little flawed, but I couldn't comment decisively without checking out VLC's codecs again.

    About 'moving away' though it looks like he's only just beginning to wake up, and started to realise that Apple is truly the Bose of computing. Figuratively speaking I slapped myself in the face a long time ago and abandoned my wishful thinking plans to make the Mac a source once I became thoroughly familiar with it.

    If you want quality, versatility and depth in your listening - and indeed, arguably computing - solution, you'll buy a proper computer - a Windows machine with a good ASIO interface and software which can output that way (of which, unlike the Mac, are many excellent solutions all the way from the highly involved and completely customisable Foobar to the iTunes like - but much more powerful and versatile - j.River Media Center).

    Mac and a quality 'prosumer' listening setup? Not really happening right now. It would be nice to see a few options that makes the grade though. I see how OS X based media solutions can work for many who don't have any knowledge or interest in the field beyond a vague idea of quality, but in exactly the same way I occasionally use my Bose speakers or headphones for their ease of-live-with-ability but have to compromise between that and quality/versatility, OS X also compromises quality and versatility for simplicity.
     
  3. Consultant macrumors G5

    Consultant

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    #3
    Interesting, the article said it's only narfed in Mac iTunes 7.5.

    Thankfully I am NOT on iTunes 7.5.

    complain to: www.apple.com/feedback
     
  4. Scottyk9 macrumors 6502a

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    #4
    I'm having some trouble contextualizing this. A blog from a magazine (read by those who consider $500 speaker wire essential) states that iTunes has "compromised audio quality" in "testing" (doesn't sound like these are listening tests).

    Perhaps I am exaggerating, but the real world implications for "music lovers" (not audiophiles...) who use iTunes in OS X is not clear to me...
     
  5. Avatar74 macrumors 65816

    Avatar74

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    #5
    While I agree that bad sample rate conversion can be a problem, conversion from Lossless to 16-bit LPCM output does not generally involve sample rate conversion... it's a bit-rate conversion (assuming both are 44.1kHz), different thing, different issues. I think there has been a misunderstanding on your part. Worse, I think there's an even dumber misunderstanding on Stereophile's part, who are arguing about something different (and they're still wrong).

    Their entire argument is predicated on the idea that you should be able to "throttle up" the wordlength of each sample with a "24-bit volume control". First of all, volume has NOTHING to do with amplitude. Volume control is an attenuator, period. It does not increase or decrease the amplitude of the source signal.

    Secondly, if such systems exist to actually increase amplitude headroom on the fly, it wouldn't matter, because upconverting a 16-bit PCM signal to 24-bit PCM is not going to actually benefit you for several reasons.

    First of all, anti-aliasing filters are used in 16-bit systems... a combination of a 20kHz low-pass filter and dithering will reproduce a signal so accurately that if you think you can actually detect aliasing you should contact Guinness Book and James Randi, because you'd have supernatural abilities to detect what isn't there.

    Second, 24-bit PCM's major benefit is increased dynamic range... about 140dB as opposed to 96dB. The problem here should be obvious... added headroom, if it is possible (and no it is not... amplitude throttling only really exists in ADPCM and the like), will not actually increase the recorded dynamic range of the source signal. Sorry, you've got 40dB of wasted amplitude... especially if compressor/limiters have been used (and they usually are) to ENSURE that the amplitude never exceeds the dynamic range of the 16-bit format.

    If you want to listen to 24-bit material at its full dynamic range, you have to obtain a recording that was originally recorded, mixed and mastered to 24-bit, and put on a DVD-Audio or other medium that supports 24-bit Linear PCM.

    So, in conclusion... A volume control is dictated, always, by the source signal, because volume controls only attenuate the full-scale source (measurable in -dBFS, or minus decibels from full scale). If they're referring to GAIN, then no, there is no added benefit of increasing the GAIN of a source signal in playback as it will only induce distortion and artifacts that weren't there to begin with. The people at Stereophile are idiots.
     
  6. Luap macrumors 65816

    Luap

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    #6
    Avatar74, Thanks for that. It was a great and interesting read (Unlike Sesshi's rubbish (And thats putting it mildly)).

    However, getting back to the OP's point.. I do think something is slightly amiss with iTunes 7.5 quality wise.. I noticed problems around the time I got my new intel iMac, but I couldn't be sure what it was. Or even if it was there at all! I suspected maybe the drivers for my firewire audio interface were not quite working as they should on my new intel mac, or something long those lines..
    I completely forgot however that the transition to iTunes v7.5 essentially occurred at the same time I got my new iMac and noticed this slight quality issue. I had not even considered that perhaps iTunes was at fault.

    So perhaps there is something in this after all?

    As to what the sound 'issues' are.. I had noticed a lot of the material (all or most I think) just sounds rather flat and dull, almost mono. And it never used to. Like its being played on a cheap system.
    Its not a radical difference, and I expect many users just dont notice it. As I said, even I was not certain there was really an issue, or if it was just my hearing playing tricks.

    I've not tried vlc (it has its uses, but music playback is not really something I would want to use it for) But I will try reverting back to iTunes v7.4 or something, as im pretty sure it all sounded good with that.
    :)
     
  7. Sesshi macrumors G3

    Sesshi

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    #7
    Ooooh, do please enlighten me why my post is rubbish when all you have is iTunes and at a pinch, VLC :)
     
  8. Tarkovsky thread starter macrumors 6502

    Tarkovsky

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    #8
    What a load of tosh. For power computing a basis in linux and berkeley are essential, and if I remember correctly ASIO is GNU free software! Funny how IT professionals choose such systems over windows systems.
    Apple the Bose of computing? Rubbish. Again if macs were inherently so bad at audio, so useless in terms of professional recording, why are they the de facto standard for audio recordinig?
    You have entirely missed the point that apple provides a wonderful audiophile solution but lacks the player atm.

    If you had read through the article you may have noticed that sample rate conversion, not bit rate conversion (which is effectively transparent), is the issue as itunes is resampling everything it outputs.

    scotty - people enjoy their music in different ways. Whilst high fidelity is not always a consideration in my listening, there's no reason to suggest people who enjoy hi-fi aren't directly interfacing with their music. Logic would dictate the opposite.

    Luap - Yes the difference between VLC seems clear to me. I can hear punch, positioning and better timing. Do you know were I can find a link to 7.4?
     
  9. Sesshi macrumors G3

    Sesshi

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    #9
    My premise that Apple is the Bose of computing is based on the fact that Bose provides attractively designed, simple to use items for people who don't much understand what they're using, which are heavily and successfully marketed to the general populace to be 'quality' items regardless of their actual overall performance. It's very amusing to see Bose bashed here by rabid Applemaniacs for that reason - you might as well be kicking yourself in the head.

    The 44.1/16 audio output capable from a decent Apple or PC setup is essentially the same. Pro production software is just as developed on the Mac as it is for Windows right now. The big difference is however the software support and the much, much larger options available to Windows users in terms of library management, playback options both in terms of format and manipulation options (upsampling for example), as well as superior options in a simple HTPC-like layout for playback in living room systems.

    If I were you, I'd do your research for both platforms before going ballistic. OS X based media playback solutions for home and 'prosumers' are shiny (well, except for VLC), decent to an extent but pretty limiting. You can have exactly the same on a PC, but you can also go better.

    So as I said, you want the Bose of HT/media playback PC's - go Apple.
     
  10. Tarkovsky thread starter macrumors 6502

    Tarkovsky

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    #10

    OK so given up on the power computing issue?

    I use both x86 ''nux and macs and I still don't really see exactly what your argument is except that they are well marketed and that their hardware is underpowered for the price. Yup.
    I'll set you right on a few things first and then explain why this is actually an advantage.

    1)44.1/16 NO macs do 96/24 out of their toslink.
    2)The software is as developed on PC - Logic? -Pro Tools Le? - Have you tried running PTLE on a PC? Use of that bit of software is half the reason I have a mac
    3)Strangely enough there is a lot more software, especially free software for mac than windows, it's just open source. Find it here www.freemacware.com
    4)Yes I would agree with you on the media software front
    5)Macs are shiny? Well yes. They are well marketed. Is this a particular problem for you? There are some general advantages that macs have over PCs.
    a)Security, they're built on strong open source code
    b)Developer friendly for the same reason

    and finally why do we accept their caveats their generic and generally overpriced underpowered hardware?

    If you work with your computer and compatibility and stability are important to you as opposed to being able to endlessly tweak, generic hardware prevents software hardware incompatibility issues. Having an operation system designed to run on a particular set of hardware really does ensure a greater degree of stability. Hardware goes wrong and code is often imperfect but if someones mac does screw up it's usually seen as unfortunate as opposed to an everyday occurrence.
     
  11. Sesshi macrumors G3

    Sesshi

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    #11
    Power computing issue? I have a year-old quad-core, overclocked consumer computer with two powerful graphics cards which has never been offered on a Mac, which can still handily beat any Apple - the current Pro included - as an entertainment platform in terms of stability (both of the H2C's together have BSOD'd less than any Mac I own) or power.

    I would also draw your attention to the matter under discussion. That Macs may be just as, if not more frequently used in professional audio production environments is not in dispute. It is the relative suitability / superiority of the platform as a higher-end / prosumer home media playback solution. Do you play back your tunes on Pro Tools? No.

    The combination of power, stability, flexibility and capability is why I chose Windows over OS X, after a long trial of each as a home media entertainment platform. Both platforms support hardware of a sufficiently high caliber to interface with my 'front-end' audio hardware so that was not the basis of making a choice.

    I'm not sure why we got into open or free software but there are plenty of open source tools for all kinds of things available for both platforms - however, since we're on the subject would you be able to tell me how many of those freeware apps are actually worth using, as opposed to comparative Windows software as far as the matter under discussion goes?

    Slight off-topic aside, alas.

    Last of all, let me set you right on one thing: Condescension is only amusing if offered from a knowledgeable perspective, not a one-sided fanboy perspective.
     
  12. WinterMute Moderator emeritus

    WinterMute

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    #12
    No self-respecting "audiophile" would dream of using a standard output from a computer to deliver audio, hi-res or not, even us lowly professionals choose to use discrete D/A conversion via kit like the Apogees or Prisms.

    With the advent of hi res surround codecs Apple will have to deliver better support, but I've never considered any computer capable of delivering world class audio without extra kit.

    The PSU and shielding alone make it almost impossible to deliver S/N ratios and unmodulated audio in the same class as dedicated audio hardware, regardless of whether its connected to a computer.
     
  13. Sesshi macrumors G3

    Sesshi

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    #13
    Very true. Which is why the audio hardware itself is not under discussion.
     
  14. Tarkovsky thread starter macrumors 6502

    Tarkovsky

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    #14
    In terms of using computer as source I would heartily disagree, considering most music is made on computes these days.
    For information on why using a computer can provide less jitter -

    http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue22/nugent.htm

    The point was that the toslink built into the headphone jack on a mac can handle 96/24, or even sample at that rate - but I was not advocating about onboard D/A.

    'Power computing' doesn't refer to hardware. It's usually used in the context of being able to customize your OS, build your own drivers, etc not being able to play the latest first person shooter. And AFAIK mac pros offer good graphics cards.
     
  15. Sesshi macrumors G3

    Sesshi

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    #15
    Both platforms (both versions of Windows too) have various issues when it comes to the ideal reproduction of sound in an audiophile and pro-audio sense. But nevertheless, both manage to provide decent results in a 44.1/16 and 96/24 environment - eventually. Of course, it doesn't end there. It's how you manipulate the sound reaching the next item down the chain - be it directly to a powered speaker from your computer's line jack, home theater amp, an Apogee/Grace/Benchmark/etc DAC, or in my case a collection of boxes from RME, dCS and Bladelius in one instance - and how you control and access the music that really matters, if the general quality capable from top-end interfaces are similar and hardware solutions of equal capability are available for both platforms.

    Apple with iTunes has decided to base that end in a decidedly low-end consumer manner. It's a perfectly good tool in many ways but like all the other iApps, it can be limiting depending on your setup and it is easy to grow out of. One of the main issues is of course that on the OS X platform there is nothing to grow out into. Even going by your definition of 'power computing' which I'm afraid I misinterpreted since your points were rather incoherent given the facts at hand, that argument falls flat on its face. Oh well.
     
  16. Tarkovsky thread starter macrumors 6502

    Tarkovsky

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    #16
    Stating the obvious doesn't make the previous rubbish you talked any more correct.
    Various issues? What issues? If you aren't going to state any that's thread filling twaddle and you know it.

    Mac OS X limiting? No. Head to freemacware.com. If you don't find something you like, you can code it happily in os x.

    My points incoherent? Perhaps this is because you don't fully understand the nomenclature of computing?

    Low end? You still haven't explained this.

    Hardware solutions equally as capable on either platform? Yes, that would be rather odd if they didn't, considering that the vast majority of them run on either platform.

    I just don't think I can justify the rubbish you are talking with any more answers. If you're interested in the subject as opposed to trolling all over these boards check out any of the numerous links posted around these forums.
     
  17. QuarterSwede macrumors G3

    QuarterSwede

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    #17
    I hate to break up your disagreements but has it every occurred to you that iTunes wasn't made for the audiophile but for the average joe?
     
  18. Tarkovsky thread starter macrumors 6502

    Tarkovsky

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    #18
    Yes you're right. But as my first post illustrated it used to work fine for audiophile purposes but they've subsequently downgraded it, which really ticks me off.
     
  19. QuarterSwede macrumors G3

    QuarterSwede

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    #19
    That I can understand. Not sure why they'd do this though.
     
  20. Sesshi macrumors G3

    Sesshi

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    #20
    That is the crux of the discussion. Tarkovsky is apparently the classic Linux nerd with no sense of reality - he believes that if a solution does not exist, it should be industriously coded in Open Source in his basement. I don't subscribe to that theory as it's not practical - I don't live with my parents, I have a job, and although I have people who can program entertainment software for me* and I'm certainly not paying them to reinvent the wheel on OS X when there are better options I can pick up off the shelf for Windows - a practically superior OS in terms of application choice and everyday use if you do actually know what you're doing but don't spend your nights polishing code. I also appreciate at the extreme geek end the development experience of Apple is also superior, but it is interesting to note that this superior dev environment hasn't produced software that's commensurately superior at the enthusiast level.

    iTunes is for the average joe, and it ends there on OS X. Windows is capable of the same audio output as a baseline, and what is more the software available is far more capable and versatile, as well as providing some neat bells & whistles for audiophile or indeed casual purposes. That is basically my point. Argue it if you wish, but as I said if you are the sort of person who buys Bose because you think it's the be-all and don't want hassle as long as it's generally OK, Apples are for you as a media solution. If you know you're better with that, you should be looking at the "Dark Side".

    *First project took long enough, a background FLAC > MP3 transcoder
     
  21. WinterMute Moderator emeritus

    WinterMute

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    #21
    iTunes is a useful toy really, I can't stand to listen to any compressed audio format for very long (well, maybe lossless, depending on what it's been transcoded from), and I can hear .aiff limitations when compared to 96/24 or 192/24 audio.

    Apple has it about right really, they know that most pros wouldn't use iTunes for encoding, and so they dumb it down a little, so what? It's free, it's convenient and it's really just designed to be a front end for iTMS and to drive iPod sales.

    TANSTAAFL.
     
  22. Sesshi macrumors G3

    Sesshi

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    #22
    I don't believe anyone's asking for a free lunch. The problem here is that you have a prawn cocktail sandwich, a slightly off-looking mixed salad and a roast chicken dinner that's missing half the stuff it should come with as the only choices under OS X. In Windows you can have sushi, all day breakfast sandwich, a roast beef dinner with all the trimmings, ramen, lobster salad, etc etc - as well as the prawn cocktail sandwich.
     
  23. Luap macrumors 65816

    Luap

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    #23
    Sesshi. Your analogies are laughably bad. And why on earth you insist on throwing Bose into the equation is anyones guess. Evidently you know little about this company too.

    No one is stopping you using your Windows machine for whatever it is you choose to do with it. So go use it and stop spurting your nonsense all over a Mac forum. Its verging on trolling.
     
  24. Sesshi macrumors G3

    Sesshi

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    #24
    What ever. Instead of calling my posts crap perhaps you'd like to explain why. That way, anyone reading it would know who is the one spouting crap - and I wouldn't think you were hard of thinking.

    iTunes on both platforms has certain fundamental limitations in both playback and library management. It is potentially not as large a problem for Windows since there are other, better, options available in Windows once you get past the 'iTunes is the only media player that I know of' syndrome, which deals with audio playback correctly and also adds some nifty features over iTunes. Under OS X, there are no other equivalent (or superior) options - VLC for example is essentially a file player, not an integrated media tool. Regardless of whether the problem is fixed or not, from an audiophile perspective OS X is actually more limiting as a platform - as it is in many other areas.
     
  25. Tarkovsky thread starter macrumors 6502

    Tarkovsky

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    #25
    It's not about the encoding, because that's not an issue with open source stuff like max lieing around, but that they've changed a bit transparent player into one that is no longer.

    Seshi - some disagree with me, but you're just getting slated.
     

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