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Music, Audio, and Podcasting Do you use your Mac to create music? This is the place for discussions on creating and editing music on the Mac!

Rips to iMac


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Seacliffe301

 
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I am about to resume ripping my CD collection to my iMac now that I've gotten a larger drive to work with. Of late, I've been reading much about XLD and it's merits, so I think I'm going to try that. As for formats, I've read that Apple Lossless, and wav files actually alter the sound in some cases in relation to the originals. At least to some peoples ears.
I want transparency. I am considering AIFF. My existing iTunes library seems to be a mixture of AAC, MP3 & wav.

Would someone please explain the basic differences between AAC, AIFF, & MP3 as it relates to compression, files size, transparency, sonic quality, etc.
I want to maintain quality, as well as maintain compatibility with an iPod. Thanks.
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RadDave

 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Seacliffe301 View Post
I am about to resume ripping my CD collection to my iMac now that I've gotten a larger drive to work with. Of late, I've been reading much about XLD and it's merits, so I think I'm going to try that. As for formats, I've read that Apple Lossless, and wav files actually alter the sound in some cases in relation to the originals. At least to some peoples ears.
I want transparency. I am considering AIFF. My existing iTunes library seems to be a mixture of AAC, MP3 & wav.

Would someone please explain the basic differences between AAC, AIFF, & MP3 as it relates to compression, files size, transparency, sonic quality, etc.
I want to maintain quality, as well as maintain compatibility with an iPod. Thanks.
Hi Seacliffe... - ya know all of this can be easily 'googled' by yourself, BUT I'll just put together my thoughts quickly (seen in the quoted listing below), and also make some general comments - for more specifics, just do some web searching.

There are two general categories of audio codecs: 1) Lossless; and 2) Lossy - Lossless codecs duplicate the CD audio data exactly - WAV is simply a way of putting your CD music onto a HD (or elsewhere) as an exact copy, BUT the size is the same as on a CD (about 10 MB/min); AIFF is Apple WAV so like CD-A (CD Audio), i.e. LARGE files; NOW, FLAC is probably the most popular lossless and compressed choice around - free open source, however, not all software and/or hardware will support playback; FLAC is a great choice to rip your music w/ no loss of information but a smaller file size; of course, the FLAC files can be converted to lossy formats, such as MP3 to put on portable devices (my iPod Touch has all MP3 files).

Lossy audio formats drastically reduce file size, so ideal for small portable players; however, the quality of the sound is also affected and can be regulated by bit rates chosen - for myself I rip CDs to MP3 using bit rates of 192 or 256 kbps - at these rates the music quality is similar to CDs (of course, many would argue one way or the other). MP3 (MPEG Layer 3) is more popular, used by many online music DL sites, and compatible w/ many portable players. AAC is Apple's equivalent to MP3 and is more efficient. WMA is a less used choice.

NOW, if I were ripping my CD collection (don't want to because it is over 4K @ the moment), I would likely do FLAC for archived lossless storage, and then use a converter program to MP3 files as needed - these can be put onto portable devices or 6-8 hrs. of music put onto a CD-R.

Hope this helps - Dave

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Audio Codecs

Lossless: non-compressed (NC) & compressed (C)
WAV (Windows NC) - duplicates CD-A - LARGE files (10 MB/min)
AIFF (Audio Interchange File Format) - Apple’s WAV version
FLAC (Free Lostless Audio Codec) - C file & saves space

Lossy: information lost but to a variable extent
MP3 - popular; bit rate affects quality; 1MB/min average
AAC (Advanced Audio Codec) - Apple’s MP3 equivalent; better?
WMA (Windows Media Audio) - similar to the others
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Seacliffe301

 
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Thanks, Dave. Just the type of overview I was looking for.
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chas_m

 
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Here's my approach:

1. I have my CDs, so I already have the music in a "lossless" form if I desire. Portable devices and the large files sizes of lossless formats really don't go together, so any music I put on my computer I use a "lossy" format, but one that retains as much accuracy of the sound as possible.

2. For me, this means AAC at 256mbit. Formerly, I used Frauhofer 320 MP3, but AAC won out.

So my collection is ripped to 256 AAC, it's compatible with all the devices I want to put it on, and sounds great. If I really need to critically listen to lossless music, I have my CDs ... but lack the $10,000 or so system and/or headphones I would need to faithfully reproduce it.

If you *do* go with lossless rips to something like an iPod Classic or high-capacity iPad et al, here's the headphones that should go with it:

Ears on: Shure SE846 high-end earphones | Electronista
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Seacliffe301

 
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Using the AAC format, is there any harm in choosing a mandatory rate of 320 kbps for all rips?
The thought being, using the highest bit rate possible for this lossy format.
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RadDave

 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Seacliffe301 View Post
Using the AAC format, is there any harm in choosing a mandatory rate of 320 kbps for all rips?
The thought being, using the highest bit rate possible for this lossy format.
Hi again - I usually rip at 256 Kbps from my CDs as MP3 files; AAC will produce similar results (look HERE for some comparative hearings @ different bit rates). Keep in mind these are not for 'archival' purposes - as already stated, the CD serves that purpose or if one indeeds wants ALL of their collection on a media server, then a lossless codec, such as FLAC, is appropriate. And remember, the higher the bit rate, the better the quality, BUT at the expense of increased file size, so your storage capacity becomes a consideration, especially if dealing w/ a LOT of music.

Now using high bit rate MP3 or AAC likely makes little difference, particularly if your goal is to put the music on a portable player - however, such players are more compatible w/ the MP3 format (e.g. my DVD & BD players & my basement boom box only can read MP3 CD-Rs), so check your current electronic devices because the AAC format may not be playable. Dave
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Seacliffe301

 
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Thanks again Dave for the info.
Just to clarify, I like you maintain a CD (and vinyl) library for archival & critical listening purposes. The purpose of my file based library is for the convenience of a portable listening source when away from home. In my case I use an iPod. Regardless, I still wanted to maintain the highest quality with out resorting to lossless formats. I've noticed that anything that I've purchased from iTunes has been at 256kb. In the case of ripping CD's, I chose 320kbps in hopes of "not leaving anything on the table", or inducing any noticeable compression artifacts. Nothing scientific or proven.
If this is a waste of hard drive space, I'm open for any comments. Thanks
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chas_m

 
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This is probably more a comment on me and my hearing than the codecs, but anyone over 30 likely has some top-end hearing loss just as a natural part of the aging process (and more loss if they went to a lot of loud rock concerts in their misspent youth).

Consequently, I can't for the life of me tell the difference between 320kbps and 256kbps AAC when it comes to rock music. Others might be able to, and for them its worth the relatively small extra HD space (a meg or two per song) as well as for potential future-proofing. If I had more of a library of classical or early jazz, I would probably encode at the best available lossy level or even consider going lossless (ALAC for me -- FLAC has no technical flaws, but doesn't natively play back on anything that people actually use).

I don't think people who encode at 320 AAC are "wasting" their storage capacity if they have really high-quality headphones -- not necessarily the $1,000 pair I linked to earlier, but you know the RBH EP2s and the like (seriously good headphone models vary in price wildly, so cost is not necessarily an indicator of genuinely faithful sound reproduction). OTOH, in my experience my AAC files sound great on anything short of true "audiophile" level equipment IMO, including home stereo systems etc.
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RadDave

 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Seacliffe301 View Post
Thanks again Dave for the info.
Just to clarify, I like you maintain a CD (and vinyl) library for archival & critical listening purposes. The purpose of my file based library is for the convenience of a portable listening source when away from home. In my case I use an iPod. Regardless, I still wanted to maintain the highest quality with out resorting to lossless formats. I've noticed that anything that I've purchased from iTunes has been at 256kb. In the case of ripping CD's, I chose 320kbps in hopes of "not leaving anything on the table", or inducing any noticeable compression artifacts. Nothing scientific or proven.
If this is a waste of hard drive space, I'm open for any comments. Thanks
Hello again - well, from recent posts, you'll need to make a decision between MP3 & AAC; again I feel that the main factor is what your equipment can playback to you? Both codecs at the higher bit rates, e.g. 256 Kbps are going to sound similar when used on equipment that is NOT that hi-fidelity; ACC is better if going to lower bit rates - see the quote below from HERE which emphasizes that you don't need a large investment when listening to 'lossy' music.

For myself, CDs are my archival format, and I've chosen the MP3 codec mainly for compatibility w/ the players I own - my main uses are: 1) an older iPod Touch (2G) w/ about 90 hrs of music - I use this device w/ either inexpensive BT headphones or BT little speakers on the road; or 2) MP3 files burned to a CD-R for hours of music in my basement shop on a boom box - high quality is not an issue. SO, you need to define your uses & goals - MP3 @ 256 Kbps works for me w/ those purposes. ACC at similar bit rates would be fine also, especially on my iPod but not as burned CD-Rs - bottom line is that you have plenty of information by now to make your decision(s) - first, use the higher bit rates, such as 256 (you could go a notch lower but probably little need to go higher) and then decide on your codec based on the hardware you currently own or are anticipating to buy - about all that I can offer - good luck and let us know your results. Dave


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What does all this mean?
Basically, if you want true CD quality from the files on your iPod or music server, you must use WAV or AIF encoding or FLAC, ALC, or WMA Lossless. Both MP3 and AAC introduce fairly large changes in the measured spectra, even at the highest rate of 320kbps. There seems little point in spending large sums of money on superbly specified audio equipment if you are going to play sonically compromised, lossy-compressed music on it.

It is true that there are better-performing MP3 codecs than the basic Fraunhöfer—many audiophiles recommend the LAME encoder—but the AAC codec used by iTunes has better resolution than MP3 at the same bit rate (if a little noisier at the top of the audioband). If you want the maximum number of files on your iPod, therefore, you take less of a quality hit if you use AAC encoding than if you use MP3. But "CD quality"? Yeah, right!
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rubaiyat

 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Seacliffe301 View Post
I am about to resume ripping my CD collection to my iMac now that I've gotten a larger drive to work with. Of late, I've been reading much about XLD and it's merits, so I think I'm going to try that. As for formats, I've read that Apple Lossless, and wav files actually alter the sound in some cases in relation to the originals. At least to some peoples ears.
I want transparency. I am considering AIFF. My existing iTunes library seems to be a mixture of AAC, MP3 & wav.

Would someone please explain the basic differences between AAC, AIFF, & MP3 as it relates to compression, files size, transparency, sonic quality, etc.
I want to maintain quality, as well as maintain compatibility with an iPod. Thanks.
I ripped my vast collection of CDs to ALAC (Apple Lossless) and can discern no difference in sound, it is after all lossless and should be identical to the CD. They are both digital versions of the same music, just in different formats.

I prefer lossless no matter whether it is ALAC, FLAC or APE because I love Classical, Jazz and other music where detail is important.

ALAC lets iTunes manage my music and convert it to the best format for any portable devices on which I may listen to it.

Unless you are listening to your music on Hi-Fi equipment, with top speakers in an otherwise quiet setting, the whole issue of fidelity is frankly a load of old bollocks.

We live in very noisy environments, with most people listening through earpieces out in public. The fact you can hear anything beyond the background muzak you'd get in a lift is a miracle.

To test just how well your audio experience is, play something with normal voice eg an audiobook and see how much you can make out in the surroundings and with the equipment you have. In most cases you can't get most of it. So really fine nuances in pitch and tone are moot.

AIFF and WAV are exactly the same as the original CD.

ALAC is exactly the same but compressed to about half the size, it is uncompressed on the fly, which makes no difference to you the listener, but saves hard drive space.

AAC uses a slightly better compression and frequency algorithm that edges out MP3 at lower sampling rates, which is why it is used in DAB, x264 video and telecommunications, to get the smallest file size. You can choose the sampling rate, the lower the number the smaller the file but also the worse the sound. You get metallic artifacts in the sound at too low levels (under 64 kbs), particularly with music. Voice requires a smaller frequency range and can be encoded at a much smaller sampling rate (32kbs really is the minimum for me).

MP3 is not as good as AAC but if it has variable sampling rate gets close. AAC's main trick is actually variable sampling rates. MP3s ubiquity is its main advantage.

OGG-Vorbis is another good and open source format, but nowhere as widespread and supported.

Every format depends on good software to create it, as a great deal depends on the trade-offs made to compress lossy sound.

Except for lossless files, everything else damages and reduces the quality of the sound. Recompressing or changing the format of music from one lossy format to another is particular bad for the sound. Think of it like layering a screened pattern over another screened pattern, the artifacts just get very noticeable.

It is very easy to test all of this for yourself. RIP some CD with which you are extremely familiar to all different formats and bitrates, labelling them as you go. Then play them back on the same hardware and see what your impressions are.
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Originally Posted by aicgrad View Post
I too rip my CDs to my iMAC and am fairly happy with the results. However, I would like to improve the sound quality. Anybody know which DAC (manufacturer and model number) that is in my iMac OS X version 10.7.4. I'm considering buying an outboard DAC to possibly improve the sound quality to my headphones. Thanks
Hello & welcome to the forum! First, hope that you've read the previous posts and also the excellent post after yours? Second, you need to explain 'I would like to improve the sound quality', i.e. how are you currently ripping your CDs and what is the problem(s) w/ their current sound quality?

You really do not need extra hardware to attach to your Mac, but a better explanation of your situation - please describe your current concerns better and more specific suggestions can be provided. Dave

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As this thread popped up again, I thought I would add an endorsement for a pair of headphones (over-ear) that sound magnificent and don't cost the earth. Blue Microphones (of which I am an enthusiastic customer, as a veteran podcaster) have made what they call the Mo-Fi, which are amplified headphones. The design is stunningly clever, ensuring a perfect fit -- and the sound is AMAZING with the amplification on or off.

Unlike many mainstream headphones, the amplification in the Mo-Fi is totally flat if you want, or bass-enhanced (and I mean "enhanced," not just amped up to overpower the higher frequencies) if you like. The amplification is really just there to save battery on your mobile device by not requiring it to supply amplification. Because there is an amp in the headphones, they are heavy ... but OMG the music sounds *incredible.* Highly recommended. Check your local musician's store to see if they are carrying them, and hear for yourself. To me, they sound better than anything I've tried in the $700-$1K range.
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Honestly ripping to AAC would be your best solution and if you want to improve the sound quality of your headphones you can purchase a cheaper 5.1 surround sound usb card at amazon there 5.99 and run excellent on mac i needed one for my recording sessions on garageband and they have been great i decided to purchase 5 more for my older powerpc macintoshes as well.
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Thanks all for your constructive recommendations.
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I'm glad I looked at this thread. Although my hearing isn't the best, I'm still interested in making quality recordings. If I can figure out how to use Garageband, I'd redo my songs there if the quality is decent enough. My understanding of all this is very limited, so I have a LOT to learn. Awhile ago someone tried explaining to me about the different formats and which ones are best, depending on the purpose. The recommendations mentioned here for headphones is very helpful, too.

This site is so awesome.

Sincerely, Quietone
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