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iTunes playback settings (please help me understand this once and for all)

post #1 of 4
Thread Starter 


I have been a big fan of the head-fi forums for a long time, inevitably arriving here after a multitude of google searches on many different audio questions. I never did create an account, until now, as I considered myself too much of a newbie to discuss matters with the fine educated folks that dwell in these awesome forums. I still consider myself a newbie, but I am also an audio enthusiast, determine to make the most of what modest means of listening I have. This post is the result of sheer frustration with trying to search and unravel my audio queries by myself. In short: I need help - someone knowledgeable who can put things in simple terms for me.

My music library is mainly composed of mp3s with a bitrate of 320kbps. For me, that is the best compromise in quality while still providing an enjoyable listening experience. Very quickly, my setup is:


- a Sound Blaster x-fi xtreme audio soundcard
- Audiotechnica ath m50's (widely used, I believe).
- OS is Windows 7 64bit Ultimate

- media player is itunes

- Windows Control Panel sound settings are 24 bit and 48kHz (should it be more?)
- soundcard sample rate is set to 96khz (it might just be placebo, but I swear I notice a subtle difference in harmonics and soundstage with some files, namely a Chris Jones record)

So with those elements in mind, I essentially have 3 brutal questions:

1- what should be the optimal playback settings for itunes? Specifically refering to the sample rate and bit depth settings of the player?
Right now I have it set to 24 bit and 48kHz.
Since most of my music is, as I've said, 320kbps mp3s (which have 16 bit and 44.1 khz - am I assuming right?) I guess there must be some sort of upsampling going on. I tried setting itunes to 16 bit and 44.1 kHz and comparing. I am leaning toward the upsampling (sounds better to my ears, I think) but I can't be absolutely sure as everytime I switch these settings it requires a reboot of the software in order for it to take effect. When I listen to the same file again a good 20 seconds have passed.

2- Should I set iTunes to direct sound or WAS? What is the difference?
[EDIT: After doing a bit more reading shouldn't windows audio session send the audio stream directly from itunes to windows mixer without conversion? If that is the case then why can I still set the bit depth and sample rate in itunes when I choose WAS? This is all extremely confusing...]

3-  Please help me understand this. After searching and reading for what seemed like hours I am still unsure. I see a lot of mention to wasapi. What in the ever living giraffe's balls is wasapi? what does it do? Do I need it? Will it improve my audio listening experience?

If you read this far: thank you. I tried to keep it short and hope sometime to contribute to this forum which is jam packed with useful information.

Looking forward to gaining some knowledge.

Edited by Compfy Listenin - 5/23/13 at 12:56am
post #2 of 4

This is my first post even though I've been going to Head-Fi for a while, but I just recently became a member.  I have exactly the same questions as you do.


Additional Question:


Do I have to keep changing both the sample rate and bit depth in the Windows 7 sound settings, in order to match the music in my iTunes library?


Hope somebody answers this soon.

post #3 of 4
Thread Starter 

Hey, man.

Yeah, as you can see I never really got an answer. But I did come to some sort of closure by myself.

You might want to take a gander at this: http://hifiduino.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/itunes-11-02-playback-bitrate/

Basically: I can't say upsampling hurts my music in any way (trust me, I've spent a lot of time listening). I have iTunes set to the same settings as windows mixer - 24 bit / 96khz through windows audio session (many say it sounds better than directsound; beats me I just went with it) and everything sounds great. Some might say better than bit perfect (very subtle difference though).

Anyway, don't fret about it. Unless you want to fret about it then get foobar2000 and the asio plugin which will ensure you are always listening to your music bit perfect but that player is a bitch to setup and configure to a point where its pretty and intuitive so I said **** it, I don't even have that many lossless files anyway.

In my opinion, as the recent owner of some quality equipment, it's all smoke and mirrors. Upsampling through my Essence One muses DAC is botched (supposedly a firmware issue - basically it causes a considerable cut-off in higher frequencies like snares and cymbals) but software upsampling through iTunes and matched settings in windows mixer sounds great. You do not need to worry about switching bit depth and sample rate to match the songs you are playing. That would be kinda crazy.

Like I said, either:

- get foobar player and the asio plugin which will perform the switch to the desired sample rate and bit depth on the fly (to match the file being played). Be warned that this solution gives audio exclusivity to the audio player and you cannot listen to any other PC sounds while the program is running.


- or my personal recommendation - stop giving a ****. The differences are, as far as I'm concerned, almost non-existent.


Edited by Compfy Listenin - 1/8/14 at 9:51pm
post #4 of 4

Hey thanks for the reply, I appreciate it!  Thought nobody was going to see this and would not bother.


Yeah, I came to the conclusion of setting it to 96 kHz too on iTunes.  For the Windows sound settings thing, there is a shortcut that makes it easier to access the settings to change the sample rate.  However, I told myself, why bother?!  I barely have any hi-res files anyway (most of my music is in standard 16 bit 44.1 kHz cd quality, which is still very good).


I also thought about that foobar player using wasapi or asio.  I still want to stick to iTunes though as I love how it simply works, looks, and plays very well.


Anyway, thanks again for the advice!  I hope in the near future that there will be a software for Windows/iTunes (I know they have it for Mac) that will automatically do it for you.

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