Terrible audio quality from iTunes - but only on songs

Discussion in 'MacBook Pro' started by superuser2, Aug 30, 2008.

  1. superuser2 macrumors member

    Mar 1, 2008
    I'm getting consistently awful audio quality when playing back songs in iTunes. These are songs that sound nearly perfect when the same file is played on my 5-year-old iPod Mini. And my $2200 Macbook Pro can't handle them. Um?

    I have really nice earphones (they're intended as studio monitors and used by serious musicians), the Ultimate Ears super.fi Pro 5. They're absolutely wonderful and I love listening to music with them.

    However the audio quality of any music in iTunes just flat-out sucks. I hear these really annoying modulating waves of static and intermittent high-pitched whining sounds of different frequencies (as if you'd pressed your ear up to a CD player reading a disk, though there's no CD in the drive). On top of that the sound is flat and sounds cheap and plastic, as if it were coming out of my mom's iBook's internal speakers. Blech.

    And again, this is the same stuff that sounds awesome, tight, and clean on my iPod (there's a slight static noise but it's barely noticeable unless listen to classical).

    I also hear the static and the cd sounds when the headphones are just plugged in, though it seems to cut after ten seconds or so and goes silent (the sound card going to sleep?).

    The catch: none of this is ever noticeable when I'm watching TV shows from iTunes or Hulu. The sound is nearly perfect, just like listening to my iPod. Though if I pause or end an episode the noises return. I'm not sure if I just don't notice it because the TV show's background noise fills the spectrum more or something, but it seems worth mentioning.

    Mac OS 10.5.4 on a 2.4GHz Macbook Pro with 2GB of RAM. Bought new in February w/AppleCare. (The issues have always been present).

    Any and all ideas appreciated. Thanks.
  2. munson macrumors 6502


    Mar 23, 2008
    Boston, MA
    That's really strange. I've never noticed anything like this from my rig...

    Even when trying to listen for it I can't tell.

    What types of music files are they, and what bit rate? Maybe that has something to do with it.
  3. Schmoe0013 macrumors regular


    Aug 27, 2006
    Minneapolis, USA
    Hrm. I would test it with a recently downloaded song with a high bit rate.
  4. superuser2 thread starter macrumors member

    Mar 1, 2008
    That seems logical but I swear that's not it. I can tell the difference between downloaded and ripped listening to my iPod most of the time, but in iTunes everything is awful, even the stuff that sounds amazing on the iPod.
  5. munson macrumors 6502


    Mar 23, 2008
    Boston, MA
    I feel like there is probably something that is making iTunes do this that is not iTunes. If it were iTunes itself, I feel like there would have been enough commotion for Apple to fix whatever causes it.

    Have you tried playing the audio files in other programs? Maybe it's not just iTunes.
  6. Coldwater macrumors member

    Jul 18, 2008
    Sorry to hear that, I really don't have a solution to your problem but wanted to chime in and say that you've got good taste in headphones, I love my 5 pros to death and I know how disappointed you must feel because they really do sound amazing. My only suggestion would be to try another player, or different song format (FLAC or .ogg or something)
  7. benlangdon macrumors 65832


    Jan 13, 2008
    dude i get this same thing.
    even with good or bad headphones.
    but the weird thing is, i do not hear it when hooked up to my amp and stereo through the same line (maybe its feedback or something along that line, and my amp just grounds the signal better, i mean all my cables are gold plated and bigger than needed, not length but thinkness)
    and when i listen to it just as is on the mbp with not going through anything i do not hear it either.

    i thought it was just crappy headphones, i mean mine are not great but i like them (westone um1)
    and my stereo is, how i say this, way f*#(ing better.
    so listening to headphones is not paramount.

    i've been just kinda ignoring it since it doesn't happen on my stereo, but every once in a while i use headphones and bam.
    also due to the fact that if im out and about, i listen to my ipod, and not my mbp as its hdd would be overflowing with music.

    o and fyi
    hulu sucks.
    try surf the channel
    no commercials at all.
  8. MowingDevil macrumors 68000


    Jul 30, 2008
    Vancouver, BC & Sydney, NSW
    I can't stand ear buds....maybe its just my ears but they start to hurt in no time. I believe they sound great but are these 5 pros comfortable?
  9. snaky69 macrumors 603

    Mar 14, 2008
    It's a laptop, it's probably badly grounded and you can't do much about it. Try high impendence headphones.
  10. superuser2 thread starter macrumors member

    Mar 1, 2008
    Well I get the same thing in VLC playing a Sheryl Crow CD that has the same problem in iTunes but not in my iPod. Though it does sound a little better... later I'll try it with some classical or something.

    Improperly grounded sounds right. But can it be fixed any way other than buying new headphones? Because I love mine.
  11. munson macrumors 6502


    Mar 23, 2008
    Boston, MA
    Well, you mentioned that this is only while using your computer, right? My guess is that replacing your headphones won't do much good anyway.
  12. benlangdon macrumors 65832


    Jan 13, 2008
    ya as i said, i have used good and bad and everything in between, no change
  13. superuser2 thread starter macrumors member

    Mar 1, 2008
    Somebody referenced "high-impedance" headphones... is there some kind of adapter I can get?
  14. Coldwater macrumors member

    Jul 18, 2008
    They aren't really earbuds, they sit even further into the canal of your ear but they have either silcone or foam tips that you can change sizes to see what fits best for you.

    I am exactly like you. I couldn't use the earbuds that came with my iPod. And I mean couldn't use. After two minutes the pain was unbearable. (Perhaps I just have small ears? :D) Well after trying a pair of Shure's that my friend owned, I decided to buy the Pros. At the start I could only keep them in for 30 minutes or so, but now the combonation of the tips softening up and my ears getting used to the tips means that I can keep them in all day without any itching or pain at all. That took about 3-4 months of use, but the sound was well worth it.

    You're headphones aren't the problem. Does it happen when you play a CD in the MBP or just when you play ripped songs? And does the same thing happen with songs downloaded from iTunes or elsewhere that you didn't rip yourself? If it does, bring it to Apple, I've heard of a few laptops with a grounding problem.
  15. benlangdon macrumors 65832


    Jan 13, 2008

    i hear the sound regardless of types of headphones and regardless of itunes or youtube or w/e im listening to, everything when it stops playing i hear it.
  16. atomoboy macrumors member

    Jun 22, 2007
    Birmingham, AL
    I'm guessing you loaded the songs on your computer and then dumped them to your iPod. If that is right and they sound good on you iPod then we can pretty safely say it's a playback issue on your laptop. I can't imagine that the quality of the headphone amp is significantly different between the ipod and your computer.

    Double check that you haven't jacked around the eq settings or boosted the preamp setting on the equalizer in iTunes. You can't quickly make stuff sound really bad if your not careful. Turn off the sound enhancer and sound check. Go to the sound control panel and make sure the balance is centered.

    Another crazy thought is to double check that the headphones are plugged all the way in. I've seen mini-phone plugs on gear be slightly out of tolerance and the pins not make a good connection. Test this by wiggling the plug on the headphones where it plugs into the laptop. If you hear a loss of frequencies, a crackle or the signal drops out in a channel it might be the problem.

    Good luck and let us know what the verdict is.
  17. kashik macrumors regular

    Jan 16, 2008
    Also check and make sure the Airtunes options in the preferences is turned off completely.

    For some reason after a recent itunes update, Airtunes got switched on for me. The quality of the sound took a nose dive and songs were slow to start and seek. Took a bit of time to figure out what had happened, but once I found Airtunes on, and switched it off things were back to normal.
  18. fiercerubbish macrumors newbie

    Oct 15, 2008
    Same experience with awful sound quality

    I've played the same files in itunes and VLC player, and the difference is incredible. Not a subtle difference, either. I don't remember this happening in the past, maybe it's always been there and I haven't noticed until in the last few months. I can't find anything online to address this issue, but I'm playing these files on a MacBook Pro, and whether it's with headphones or from the laptop speakers, the sound quality is really low when played in itunes. Since I've played the same files in various programs, it's not the compression quality of the songs, it's definitely something with itunes.

    This doesn't help the thread much as far as information, but wanted to express that you're not alone. It's really frustrating.
  19. benlangdon macrumors 65832


    Jan 13, 2008
    hey i still have it to.
    if that helps.

    but i do have something to add.
    i got my um1's from westone a while ago.
    they replaced them for free because of some problem.
    i tried the new ones on the headphone jack on my mbp.
    same problem.
    then i connected my amp to it and plugged my headphones into my amp.
    it was amazing. best i have heard through them.
    i think i disconnected the cord of my headphones without turning the volume down or turning my amp off and the sound came back.

    i hate this.
    this is totally gay
    i want good audio
  20. fiercerubbish macrumors newbie

    Oct 15, 2008
    i finally found what the problem was, at least how to fix it for my laptop. it was actually the equalizer causing the problem, which is something atomoboy said a bit earlier in the post. sorry for not reading a bit more clearly on that.

    at some point during the upgrade to the newest version of itunes, it set the equalizer at some random "manual" setting, and when i turned the equalizer off, it immediately fixed the poor quality issue. simple fix, at least on my end, and i'm feeling pretty dumb for missing that the first time around. i usually don't use the equalizer, so didn't think it would be an issue all of a sudden.

    either turn off the equalizer or set it to a setting that doesn't distort the audio unfavorably.

    thanks for the help on this post, and hopefully this helps anyone else.
  21. benlangdon macrumors 65832


    Jan 13, 2008
    actually i was trying to listen to this opera and that sound was coming on even through my amp.

    i was looking through the setting to turn off that little circle with the arrow to take you to the itunes store but stumbled onto something else.

    apparently, in, preferences, playback and then sound enhancer
    turn it on (which mine was on already)
    and turn it to as low as possible.
    cleaned it right up. (even if i did fall asleep trying to listen to it)

    headphones still buzz though and all that jazz. but it did help
  22. KilljoyPBN macrumors regular

    Oct 14, 2008
    I find the quality of mp3 downloaded off of amazon.com to be better than the ones downloaded off of iTunes.
  23. benlangdon macrumors 65832


    Jan 13, 2008
    im talking with 1000kb cd ripped songs

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