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Deciding on Better Music Storage

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  1. joefig44
    I have all my music ripped to FLAC on my NAS.
    I have a subset of those files converted to ALAC in iTunes on my Macbook Pro which is sync'd to my iPhone X.

    I listen on a pair of Noble Encore CIEMs straight from my macbook or my iphone. I like being portable for even moving around the house easier rather than lugging my macbook around.
    I also just purchased an Audeze LCD-X + AudioGD NFB-11.28 which while I plan to listen from my macbook pro to the NFB11 for FLAC/DSD playback, using a portable device would be more ideal but not totally essential as since the NFB will be stationary my macbook pro can usually be plugged into it.

    I'm running out of space on my phone and would like to store more of my FLAC music library on it.
    As I don't want to upgrade my phone, I was considering ripping 320kbps mp3s from more of my FLACs and then storing that additional music on my iPhone instead of using ALAC.

    So my main question is: am I better off keeping my mobile music lossless rather than 320 mp3s and thus having to invest in a portable music player which I would use as main source to my NFB at home and portable; or am I ok to rip to 320kbps mp3s on my iPhone X and then use that as the device for mobile use as well as main player too for my LCD-X+NFB11 combo rather than using the FLAC player on my macbook?

    I'd like to avoid the cost of buying a dedicated mobile music player, but will do so if there would be a drop in audio fidelity with the 320 mp3s on my iPhone X rather than a dedicated music player.

    If I am to buy a music player, my max budget would be $800 or so.
  2. joefig44
    Due to overwhelming response, I thought I'd add another question:

    What's everyone using mainly to transport their HQ music (better than 320kbps mp3)?
  3. earChasm
    Synology NAS, all lossless because space is not an issue. My transport is an Aries Le. I also owned the SOTM and both bluesounds. All these transports/streamers are great but the Bluesound made my Bifrost crazy (click sound). I settled on the Auralic because I love the lightning OS.

    To answer your first question;
    Just do a quik "blind test". If you can't hear an obvious difference then switch to MP3, save your money and enjoy your music.

    I did some blind tests myself and when I needed to focus real hard and take my time, I decided it's not worth it to me. As in, I don't care. Some a/b's where so easy I could clearly choose what sounded best to my ears. And the latter is what matters.
  4. megabigeye
    I have ALAC stored on both an older Mac Mini and a MacBook Air. I stream to a Raspberry Pi with a HiFiBerry DAC+ Pro, or use a Dragonfly Red or old Fiio X5 as DAC to a Bottlehead Quickie+Quicksand setup.

    For portable, I use 256kbps AAC and, to my ear, whatever differences between that and lossless are so small as to be completely negligible and not worth worrying about. To be honest, I'm not convinced that there are differences.
    Also, agreed with @earChasm, do a quick "blind" test and see if you hear a difference. I've also read (though I don't remember where) that 256kbs AAC is comparable to 320kbps MP3. Doing brief tests confirmed that they're at least very, very close. iTunes will automatically convert your library to 256 AAC when you sync your iPhone, which would be way more convenient than converting everything manually. At least that used to be the case way back when, when I used an iPod.
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2018
  5. joefig44
    Your last line is a bit confusing to me: do you or do you not notice a difference between lossless and MP3s 320kbps?

    I did some tests (not blind ones) using my Noble Encore CIEM from a Fiio Q1 DAC from my Macbook pro - in all tracks I could "barely" tell the difference. What I mean is, I had to turn the volume up fairly loud (louder than I'd normally listen) and what I believe I heard, maybe, was a bit more detail in percussion hits or guitar string hits, and maybe heard overall a fuller, less thin sound.....maybe. I can't tell if it's just my brain and ears playing tricks on me.
    I also don't know if as it's only a Fiio Q1 if results would be different with a better DAC or DAP.
    So....I guess I should just convert to MP3s and keep using my iPhone X as the transport?

    I mean, as I'm plugging in my iPhone X (or whatever I land on in the DAP area) into my forthcoming AudioGB NFB-11.28 anyways to my LCD-X I would think the DAC in the transport is bypassed anyways so it's fine using the iPhone X rather than a higher end DAP right?
    I mean, moving to a DAP for music transport was more about being able to fit lots more FLAC files on the mobile device, but since I can't tell much of a difference I might as well convert to MP3s and use the iPhone X still right?
  6. joefig44
    Ok, yeah as i noted above I can't tell much of a difference on my high end CIEMs with a low-grade DAC (Fiio Q1). So I guess I'll do what you recommend and continue to use my iPhone X as my main player both mobile and at home.
    I know that getting a DAP would have other advantages as in having a far better DAC, but my Nobles sound pretty good from my phone as it is. I was more wondering if I use my iPhone X with AACs to feed my LCD-X + NFB-11.28 would it matter or should I be using lossless for that as it's a far better setup and I'd hear a difference (i.e. don't have those components yet).
  7. castleofargh Contributor
    wondering if using lossy compression on a device with limited storage is worth it, really requires the same reasoning as wondering if it wouldn't be better to have a rack of car batteries and your home stereo on the go. the real question was never about losing something or not, but about how the pros and cons balance out in the end for you. some people are fine with having only a few albums in the highest storage form imaginable. and some would much prefer having a vast library available at all time, even if it's not hifi anything. there is no right or wrong, only you and what you want. if you really wished to have a lot of files lossless, you would procure a device allowing that. the fact that it's not your priority seems to me like you already know what concessions you are ready to make.

    as for the format itself, I would also suggest AAC instead of mp3 if you're going to convert your library. MP3 does nothing better at this point. there is even better if you were to consider using really low bitrates, but if you're thinking of using high bitrate and be satisfied with the gain of storage already achieved that way, then IMO AAC is the right option.
  8. joefig44
    Very good statements here, thanks.

    I think there are 2 questions:
    1. what do I want to use as a transport for home use (same device as what I use for mobile or my laptop which can stream all the FLAC files)? Decided I prefer to use same mobile device I use and plug into my NFB-11
    2. And, am I ok with my Noble Encores straight out from my smartphone rather than a higher end DAC/DAP? Decided I'd rather use a higher end DAC.

    So, I ordered a Fiio X7 mark II so hoping that's a nice middle ground that doesn't burn too big of a hole in my wallet.

    I was looking at more expensive DAPs, but decided it wasn't worth it.
  9. Jaywalk3r
    I store my media library on a 4TB 4x 1TB SSD RAID0 connected directly to my laptop via Thunderbolt 3 (10 Gb/s real world transfer speeds). Any changes to that drive are added to a 5TB HDD daily. I play directly from the RAID0, via iTunes on my MBP, through a pair of HomePods, when I'm at home. Lossless files are stored as ALAC. Lossy files are stored as obtained; if created locally, AAC 256.

    Until now, I've been manually creating AAC versions for my iPhone SE, to avoid transcoding any of the mp3 files I still have. For sorting ease, I prepended all such album names with "AAC ". I learned from a Sound Science thread yesterday that iOS uses AAC for all system sound, so I'm not actually avoiding the transcoding I thought I was avoiding. Therefore, I'm planning to delete the AAC version of those albums, and to change my sync setting to automatically transcode higher bitrate file to AAC 256 to simplify the process. Key takeaway: There's no benefit to paying for the extra storage required to keep higher (than AAC 256) bitrate files on my iPhone, especially considering iPhone storage is among the most expensive NAND memory sold to consumers.

    I also have a Cayin N3 w/ 256GB microSD card dedicated to my live Grateful Dead library, mostly lossless. Though still a work in progress, I've spent far too many hours curating the collection to start again from scratch, so it gets an extra backup, which I store in a DAP. (It's worth noting that even though most of my Grateful Dead discs are HDCD, I only ever extract the 16-bit files before storing the physical media.)

    I have a Pioneer XDP-02U inbound. It supports 2x (at least) 400 GB cards, so it should hold most/all of my music in lossless format (where available), and will serve as a backup. I'll also use it as my primary source/player at work, not because of dissatisfaction with my MBP, but because if I'm going to get tangled with the cord when I, for example, roll back from my desk, I rather it be the DAP, not the MBP, that is pulled from the desk. Since I'll be able to control the DAP from an app on my phone, providing the same convenience as wireless playback from my phone, it will probably also be my primary mobile music player. For actual wireless (BT/Airplay), my phone and my laptop will remain best options.

    Except for my main library, I only keep lossless files on devices if those devices are serving secondary duty as backup storage. Except for archival purposes, there's really no benefit to having music files with bitrates exceeding 256 AAC (or 320 MP3). 256 AAC is audibly transparent to human listeners, indistinguishable from lossless during playback. Even if you have the one in a million pair of golden ears to resolve the difference, you would have to be listening so carefully and critically to not miss the artifacts (that no one else can hear anyway) that it would be exhausting and not enjoyable.

    @joefig44 What is the appeal of FLAC for you? Are you using hardware that doesn't play nice with ALAC? My own experience is that ALAC is the much more convenient equivalent to FLAC on macOS/iOS. Or are you obtaining your music as FLAC, and the song files stay in that format until they get moved to one device or another?
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2018
  10. earChasm
    "Your last line is a bit confusing to me..."
    That's because I didn't wanted my post to start anything negative :.)
    But you answered your question for me. Exactly like that...

    I need to focus real hard and keep switching to hear a differences that might not even be there. And the differences are mostly about more air, more natural and less digital. That is, if the MP3 is made from the same lossless file. Because space is a non-issue I decided to rip to FLAC. If someones converts all those files to lossy when I'm sleeping, I probably wouldn't notice a thing :.b

    When I talked about things were I can hear obvious differences I meant DACs, Amps and beter power supplies.

    PS1: For on the go I don't care about lossless so I also let iTunes convert my files to whatever is standard on my iPhone. I own an Opus #1 (flac files) but I don't bother using that.

    PS2: I kicked Microsoft out of my house a long time ago but somehow I'm still use flac files over ALAC. Can't remember why but since I scripted my own music libary it could have something to do with custom tags.
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2018
  11. joefig44
    The appeal of FLAC is that that is how I've decided to store my archival collection of music in a lossless format. However, my thinking was that as I was running out of space on my iPhone X for playback purposes (which has a very small subset of ALAC files on it), I was thinking I'd just get a DAP and then be able to store my whole collection of music on there AND it would be lossless as FLAC. Plus, I'd then benefit from the better DAC for my Noble Encore CIEMs when out and about, and also have a better portable source for walking around the house with for driving my LCD-X when I don't have the LCD-X plugged into my forthcoming desktop DAC/amp (AudioGD NFB 11.28).

    So based on your analysis, are you inferring I'd be best to just allow iTunes to convert my FLAC collection to AAC 256 and then sync those to my iPhone X for mobile purposes (both out and about with my Noble Encores, and around the house with my LCD-X)?

    P.S. I've had a Fiio X7 Mark II here on loan and it does sound smoother with the Nobles, but I'm thinking I'm just going to get sick and tired of carrying a second portable device around when I'm out and about - just playing from my smartphone is just so much easier, especially since I can stream Spotify right from there, etc. even though I may not be achieving 100% pristine audio quality....
  12. Jaywalk3r
    This is essentially how I'm set up, except I've standardized on ALAC so iTunes can directly access and play the lossless archives as they're stored. Those lossless archives are backed up to microSD cards, which live in my DAP, allowing me to use that backup on the go. I also have AAC versions of the library on my phone, mostly in case I forget the DAP while leaving my apartment in a rush, but also in case I want to listen wirelessly (my phone supports Airplay and better BT codecs than the DAP).

    I believe in backing up data, including music files. I'm not aware of any reason that the backup shouldn't live on a DAP, provided you recognize that loss or theft of your DAP is loss or theft of your backup. If it's just music, that's probably not going to be much of a data-security risk.

    For myself, I don't mind the second device, if I have comfortable pocket space. What I don't like is fumbling with a wired device, particularly if I'm wearing a seatbelt. My DAP (Pioneer XDP-02U) has a companion app that provides basic transport functionality for the DAP from my phone. I route & stow my cables in my clothing once, and they remain untouched. I have all the benefit of my wired ER4XR, with most of the convenience of wireless.
  13. joefig44
    So on that last part, you are basically saying you are transporting the AAC 256 music on your phone to the O2U which is then playing it to your headphones so you don't have to fumble with the O2U?
    That's a good way to do it - wonder if the Fiio X7 Mark II has that. Otherwise, maybe I'll get an O2U.
  14. Jaywalk3r

    The Pioneer DAP plays files stored on its microSD cards. Those cards are an ALAC backup of my home iTunes library. But I can remotely control the Pioneer (play, pause, next, previous, volume, etc.) from my phone via an app, allowing me to keep the DAP in my pocket.

    My phone also has its own copy of (most of) the library, but in AAC 256. These files aren't typically played, unless I forget my DAP, or I want to stream my music. (My phone supports AAC over Bluetooth, whereas the DAP is limited to AptX HD, making my phone the superior BT source.)
  15. joefig44
    Got it.

    Hey, question on converting my FLAC. I think I want to do the same as you, and convert to ALAC, and the to AAC 256 for my phone and a copy of ALAC to my micro SD card for a DAP I'll use (not decided if I'm keeping the Fiio X7 Mark II I have now or not).

    Anyways, I usually use fre:ac app for music file conversions. So I think if I configure the encoder in fre:ac to ALAC, and then convert all the FLAC to ALAC it should do that. Then import them to iTunes, but then what do I need to do to get them onto my iPhone X in AAC 256 format?
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