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Depressed / confused about music management

post #1 of 42
Thread Starter 

Hi folks. First off, I'm a new here. I'm sure what I'm about to ask/say has been covered before. I can't imagine it as unique. I've searched here but I don't see the topic covered as the title of a forum thread with "iPhone" in it. So here goes:

 

Not only am I new to the forum but I'm a returnee to the ranks of the audiophile... so long have I been an expat to the latter that my previous experience was all vinyl with portable music being largely in the format of cassettes... perhaps there were some burned CDs towards the end but I don't think so. Pretty much the advent of CDs coincided with child rearing and so... you can imagine the rest. It's not entirely true as my audiofile system remained well into the CD era but I digress. The thing is I'M BACK at least in a budget minded sort of way. The thing is, I've got a large library of "legacy" digital music going back to my early rips being largely 128k mp3 and maybe some at slightly better bitrate or of unknown bitrate from my brief times of torrenting, etc. Then enters the era of purchased digital music which is fairly extensive and largely through Amazon so what I'm understanding, some may be at 320k VBR but anything recent would be 256k VBR, right? So then recently I'd started ripping a few CDs into Apple lossless and today started reading... which is where depression enters in:

 

What I'm reading leads me to believe that even FLAC may not be the best codec. FLAC may be better for theoretical/philosophical/political reasons and ultimately AIFF is probably the route I should be going. That sucks because I'd just mentally decided to make the commitment to future purchases being largely through bandcamp as indie music in the FLAC format because FLAC is their best quality format, right? First real question then: Are you largely screwed from purchasing digital and being audiophile or do you "compromise" with the FLAC format?

 

Oh but wait there is more: I'm pretty much committed to the iOS world as my portable device format. I'm both an iPhone and iPad owner and I don't see that changing anytime soon. I bought a 64gb 4s as my music player and that is what it is for the foreseeable future. That being so, Apple isn't FLAC friendly. So here I am, what to do moving forward in terms of maintaining a coherent portable music library? That is the bottom line question of this whole, sad missive. I'm not willing to maintain multiple copies in multiple formats on an ongoing basis. That's just not going to happen. I know myself too well. So, what to do? The headphones and the DAC are purchased and on their way. I've got the vintage speakers, receiver, CD player already. I'm willing to buy a headphone amp if need be. But I can't figure out this musical library thing going forward. Any advice or ideas? Like I say, I can't imagine I'm in this boat alone.

post #2 of 42

Hm... so in short: you're depressed b/c you're not sure on which uncompressed format you'll be doing from now on?

Seeing that you're an iOS user, probably better to go lossless for the rest. All uncompressed files are very hard to differentiate (you'd have to be superman), so it wouldn't matter FLAC, WAV, AIFF, or w/e the format. It's just personal preference. 

post #3 of 42
Apple supports so called ALAC (Apple Losless Audio Codec) instead. Both ALAC and FLAC are lossless (an encode-decode cycle produces exactly the original signal) so you can transcode files back and forth between FLAC, ALAC and AIFF bazillion times without any quality loss.

Some people claim that ALAC and FLAC are worse because the action of decompressing them interferes with audio playback. To the best of my knowledge it's pure BS but if you are really paranoid you can decompress these FLACs before playing them and obtain the same AIFF you would get from bandcamp if they offered uncompressed downloads.
Edited by mich41 - 2/24/13 at 3:24pm
post #4 of 42

get a file converter (eg. dbpwoeramp) and convert all your flac files to alac

not a big deal

post #5 of 42
Thread Starter 
Didn't realize you could go back and forth between compressed and uncompressed lossless! That helps. But regardless, what I'd thought I'd read right here in these forums was that somehow AIFF was better than compressed and that FLAC was somehow better than ALAC. Further, I understood that even if I "compromised" on ALAC, there was something wrong with iTunes as a ripper. Or does all this boil down to audiophile folklore and Apple hate? On ray of sunshine since I last wrote is that bandcamp.com does in fact sell digital downloads in ALAC so I've been happily listening to Zoe Keating all evening albeit with my computers on board dac.
post #6 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by BigCabDaddy View Post

The thing is, I've got a large library of "legacy" digital music going back to my early rips being largely 128k mp3
If you still have the original CDs, re-rip these as lossless files. There is not really anything that can be done to recover the missing data from lossy formats.
Quote:
Originally Posted by BigCabDaddy View Post

So then recently I'd started ripping a few CDs into Apple lossless and today started reading... which is where depression enters in:

What I'm reading leads me to believe that even FLAC may not be the best codec. FLAC may be better for theoretical/philosophical/political reasons and ultimately AIFF is probably the route I should be going. That sucks because I'd just mentally decided to make the commitment to future purchases being largely through bandcamp as indie music in the FLAC format because FLAC is their best quality format, right? First real question then: Are you largely screwed from purchasing digital and being audiophile or do you "compromise" with the FLAC format?
There is no difference between FLAC, ALAC (Apple Lossless), AIFF, WAV, or any other lossless/uncompressed formats as far as audio quality is concerned.

There has been some "debate" that playing back files in an uncompressed format (typically AIFF as it has good metadata support, unlike WAV) will sound better than a losslessly compressed format, but put bluntly, those people don't know what they are talking about. They are bit-for-bit identical, and decompressing a lossless file for playback is computationally insignificant.

If it's a lossless or uncompressed format, the audio data is the same. The differences between them are compression ratio/file size, metadata support, complexity, and compatibility.

As a general rule, lossless is likely to save you about 50% storage. Some tracks will compress better, and others worse, but overall it tends to be about 50% when spread across your entire library.
Depending on the lossless format you choose, you are going to be plus or minus five percent of that.

These days, the only real options are FLAC Level 5 (best balance between encoding time and compression) and Apple Lossless. Both formats have good metadata support (metadata is information such as track number/name, album name, artist etc.) and which format you choose really just depends on the devices you plan on using it with. If you have Apple hardware, then you want to use Apple Lossless files, and if you are using Android devices instead, then you probably want FLAC.

It doesn't really matter whether you have ALAC or FLAC files though, as you can convert between them at any time, because both formats are lossless.
You should never convert lossy files though, as you will only lose further information.


You say that you are already invested in the Apple side of things, but does that mean you are running a Mac, or do you have a Windows computer?
If you have a Windows computer, I recommend purchasing dBpoweramp and setting it up for secure ripping if you have a relatively large collection, as it really helps speed up the ripping process, and offers very good file conversion tools. (if you need to batch convert files from FLAC/AIFF to ALAC for example)

There is a free utility called Exact Audio Copy that offers similar functionality, but I would recommend spending the money if you can afford it. (though the results with EAC should be identical to dBpoweramp if you have a verified secure rip)

If you are using a Mac, I'm not sure what the best tools are for ripping there - probably not iTunes though.
Quote:
Originally Posted by BigCabDaddy View Post

I've got the vintage speakers, receiver, CD player already. I'm willing to buy a headphone amp if need be. But I can't figure out this musical library thing going forward.
For what it's worth, I would actually recommend not using the CD player. If you use a tool like dBpoweramp/EAC to rip the disc, you should have a bit-perfect copy of the CD. In the process of ripping an older disc, things may have to be re-read multiple times to get the data accurately, for example.

If you are using a CD player, it reads the data in realtime, so if there are any surface imperfections on the disc, it's an older disc, or it was a bad pressing, you may end up with audible errors when playing it back.
post #7 of 42

iTunes is good for ripping most of the time given your CDs are clean. The problem is that if there are errors, it's not going to catch them. As StudioSound mentioned, EAC and dbpoweramp are both good. The difference between them is that dbpoweramp has more features and is much faster. EAC takes an extremely long time to rip stuff.

 

The idea that lossless files are different than uncompressed files is nothing more than a nonsense conspiracy theory. The arguments I've heard for it, as well as the differences that are claimed to exist make absolutely no sense. ALAC = FLAC = AIFF = WAV when it comes to playback.

post #8 of 42

Try out XLD if you're using A Mac!!!  It's basically the EAC for MAC.

post #9 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by chewy4 View Post

 

 

The idea that lossless files are different than uncompressed files is nothing more than a nonsense conspiracy theory. The arguments I've heard for it, as well as the differences that are claimed to exist make absolutely no sense. ALAC = FLAC = AIFF = WAV when it comes to playback.

Agreed 100%. Anyone who says different is either using  flawed equipment for playback, or is deluding themself. 

post #10 of 42
Thread Starter 
Thanks so much one and all. ALAC it is then knowing that I can readily convert to another format should the need arise. That being said, any sources other than bandcamp for digital downloads? As far as ripping goes, I'm presently on an aging and failing Win7 machine but see myself transitioning to Mac come tax returns. So I'll probably hold off much ripping until the transition and then check out XLD.
post #11 of 42

This was a very helpful & informative thread. 

 

Thx for starting it Big Daddy ;)

 

...and thx for the informative post Studio Sound.

 

Great stuff!

post #12 of 42

I use a Mac Mini as my media server. Everything is AAC 256 VBR, which in my testing is audibly identical to lossless. I have well over a year and a half worth of music on a 2 TB hard drive. My Mini not only streams music through my Airport to every room in the house, it also drives my 1080p projection video system. It can pretty much play anything.

 

I'm an old time audiophile too. I think you'll find that modern audiophiles tend to worry more about theory than in the old days. Back in the 70s when I started out, sound quality was something you could hear. Now for some people, it only exists in numbers on paper. I'm old school. I want to hear it.

post #13 of 42

+1 to bigshot.

I find it hilarious how people are arguing about sound quality of FLAC vs ALAC vs WAV etc. when the difference between 320 and FLAC is incredibly hard to hear. 

 

Don't listen to half the buffoons on here and do an ABX test for yourself. I've had people convinced that they can hear an improvement if they upconvert 320 into FLAC.

 

Yeah.

OK. 

 

EDIT: Seriously. Didn't you even think about attempting to hear the difference for yourself before worrying about how to convert music to a rumored better format?


Edited by Xinze - 2/26/13 at 8:19pm
post #14 of 42
Thread Starter 

Yeah, I'm picking up on some of that new attitude. But some of that existed back then too. Remember when all the popular Japanese manufacturers started pooring tons of negative distortion into their amps and receivers to get the thd numbers down? In the process the sound just went to h*ll but boy those numbers sure looked good. One test my favorite audio shop did back then was to have their listening room setup with only a pair of speakers. Then they'd bring in another not powered up or anything. Totally screwed up the sound... I don't know why exactly. But then go to all the other stores where you "demo'd" one pair of speakers from a solid wall of them. No way did you get an accurate representation even for that particular room.

post #15 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by bigshot View Post

I use a Mac Mini as my media server. Everything is AAC 256 VBR, which in my testing is audibly identical to lossless. I have well over a year and a half worth of music on a 2 TB hard drive. My Mini not only streams music through my Airport to every room in the house, it also drives my 1080p projection video system. It can pretty much play anything.

I'm an old time audiophile too. I think you'll find that modern audiophiles tend to worry more about theory than in the old days. Back in the 70s when I started out, sound quality was something you could hear. Now for some people, it only exists in numbers on paper. I'm old school. I want to hear it.
If you can't hear it, then there's no need to use anything more than 256k VBR AAC I suppose. You mention that you are an "old time audiophile" so it is possible that you simply can't hear the upper frequencies that are most affected by compression, for example.

In my testing, I can definitely hear the difference between 192k and 320k MP3 for example, and I haven't done enough testing yet to see if I can hear the difference between 320k MP3 and lossless - but it seems like I probably can.

At the end of the day, hard drive space is not a concern for me, and if I am ripping my entire CD collection, that's a job I only want to do once, and I want it to be exactly the same quality that I originally paid for.

Even if I spent the time to do ABX testing between 320k MP3 and Lossless, and found that I couldn't hear a difference, what if I then upgrade to better headphones/speakers, another amplifier or DAC and suddenly find that now I can hear the difference between them.

Or if I have guests over and they can hear the difference. Obviously I wouldn't say anything, but I have been over to friends' places with moderate sound setups that they are happy with, but they sound terrible to me because they are just playing 128k MP3s that they ripped years ago, or music purchased off iTunes. Maybe they would hear the difference if they cared to listen for it, but they just don't have an interest in that. I would hate to be doing the same thing to someone else.
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