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willbaker
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downloading mpeg-4s and burning to audio cds

I'm not certain what section of the forums this belongs in, but since it's about burning a cd using my pc's CD-ROM, I'll place it here.
I know next to nothing about the technicalities of sound reproduction like in 'mpeg-4' and audio cds. However, the other day I took a leap of faith and downloaded via ITunes Bach's Das Wohltemperierte Klavier Book played by Askenazy. Gramophone had given it a rave review and I had been unable to find it for sale. It came down in mpeg-4's. It took me a bit of time to figure out how to burn it onto CDs using ITunes, but finally I did. A year or so ago when one of my 'desert island' cds went bad and I could not find a replacement, I started burning copies of my favorites. At the time I learned about Memorex black CD-Rs and had been using them. I also found recommendations on the web to use 24x for the burn speed. Strangely, I had to use 4 cds for this burn. The last cd had only two 'pieces' of the 75 total on it. When I went back later to look at ITune's Advanced parameters for burning I found one that was for 'Gap between songs'. It was preset to 2 seconds. My guess is that if I had reset it to none, I would have gotten everything onto 3 cds.
Anyhow, bottomline......the sound out of those cds was absolutely spectacular. I have no better cds audio-wise in my collection. I later downloaded some Beethoven piano sonatas played by Garrick Ohlsson and burned it onto a non-black Sony CD-R for music. It also was spectacular. By the way the burning was done via the CD-ROM on my pc (Samsung CDRW/DVD SM325B). It's 2.5 yrs old. I have one of those CD lens cleaner cds that I used before the burn. My primary concern now is that I might go bankrupt downloading and burning cds.
I'm waiting for the record companies to enable me to download some of their no longer in print cds. Decca has kept their hands on a Gioconda sung by Milanov that is the only one of the favorites from my lp record collection that I haven't replaced with cds. They apparently did release it at one time, but I never got my hands on it and cannot find it anywhere.

Jim Tavegia
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Re: downloading mpeg-4s and burning to audio cds

You might find this intriguing. I have been dealing with this MP3 issue and converted a great sounding Laverne Butler track from MaxxJazz at 128K. It has lost some air and 3D, but still sounded very, very good. Very natural.

I get curious and play it back through WMP at the best setting in options. I then also play it back through my Cool Edit program and then through both of my Cd players.

Through WMP she was pushed forward 3-6 feet and it was very noticable how much closer to me she was in the mix. Through Cool Edit and my CD players she was pushed further back with much more 3D in the presentation. It was tremendously noticable.

If WMP has such a noticable slighly more than 1 dimensional portrayal of a stereo image it may be why so many are satisfied with MP3 quality and not given it much thought. I guess it is also because I am running this computer through a real stereo system and my old trusty AR 58's.

So much more to try and figure out. If most people are just listening on some marginal computer speakers I understand why MP3s are acceptable to them.

CECE
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Re: downloading mpeg-4s and burning to audio cds

www.mediasupply.com Some MAM (Mitsui) blanks. They seem to have reliable blanks. They even give a reasonable technical reason why it matters, the dye and stuff. Not mystical mumbo jumbo nonsense. Seems that MAM is a big OEM of a lot of popular branded discs.

jazzfan
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Re: downloading mpeg-4s and burning to audio cds


Quote:
...However, the other day I took a leap of faith and downloaded via ITunes Bach's Das Wohltemperierte Klavier Book played by Askenazy. Gramophone had given it a rave review and I had been unable to find it for sale. It came down in mpeg-4's. It took me a bit of time to figure out how to burn it onto CDs using ITunes, but finally I did. A year or so ago when one of my 'desert island' cds went bad and I could not find a replacement, I started burning copies of my favorites. At the time I learned about Memorex black CD-Rs and had been using them. I also found recommendations on the web to use 24x for the burn speed. Strangely, I had to use 4 cds for this burn. The last cd had only two 'pieces' of the 75 total on it. When I went back later to look at ITune's Advanced parameters for burning I found one that was for 'Gap between songs'. It was preset to 2 seconds. My guess is that if I had reset it to none, I would have gotten everything onto 3 cds.
Anyhow, bottomline......the sound out of those cds was absolutely spectacular. I have no better cds audio-wise in my collection. I later downloaded some Beethoven piano sonatas played by Garrick Ohlsson and burned it onto a non-black Sony CD-R for music. It also was spectacular. By the way the burning was done via the CD-ROM on my pc (Samsung CDRW/DVD SM325B). It's 2.5 yrs old. I have one of those CD lens cleaner cds that I used before the burn. My primary concern now is that I might go bankrupt downloading and burning cds....

Hi Will,

Sorry to the bearer of bad news but someone has to tell you this before you go any further. MPEG-4, otherwise known as Apple AAc Audio, is a compressed audio format. The following quote is taken directly from Apple's iTune's website:


Quote:
iTunes 4: About Music Store Song Bitrate
This document describes the bitrate for the songs available from the Music Store.

Purchased songs are encoded using MPEG-4 Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) format, a high-quality format that rivals CD quality.

Songs purchased and downloaded from the Music Store are AAC Protected files and have a bitrate of 128 kilobits per second (kbit/s).

The purchased song should sound as good as or better than a 160 kbit/s MP3 file. Because the bit rate is lower, though, the AAC file takes less disk space than the MP3 file.

So beware. The label "digital" does NOT guarantee high quality - you must always check and then double check.

Okay, that takes care of problem number one, however I fear that you may have a second problem on your hands. It appears that you are using iTunes to make copies of your own CDs. Bad idea. Using either iTunes or Windows Media Player to make copies of CDs is not recommended. Here's why.

The default setting in both of these programs is to first rip a compressed copy of the CD onto one's hard drive and then uncompress that copy when making the copied CD. So if effect what your getting is a CD that has gone through the following steps:

CD Audio -> wav -> AAC -> Wav -> CD Audio

When what you really want is progam which will copy a CD with just the following steps:

CD Audio -> wav -> CD Audio

Try using Exact Audio Copy instead. It's freeware and it works great.

By the way, although what I've written may and does sound quite outrageous, it is nonetheless true and is quite easy to varify via the various settings within iTunes and Windows Media Player. I believe that Apple and Microsoft set the defaults this way to avoid lawsuits with the music industry over copyright issues. However, whatever the reason I strongly suggest that if you care about the quality of your music (and it does appear that you do care) then you take the necessary steps to ensure that you're getting the highest quality that digital audio is capable of delivering.

willbaker
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Re: downloading mpeg-4s and burning to audio cds

I've been using NTI CD-Maker 6 Platinum to burn copies my cd's. I would have used it to do the mpeg-4's also, but I haven't updated the software for a couple of years and I could find no evidence that it could deal with the mpeg-4's. I'll definitely download Exact Audio Copy...thanks for the suggestion.
I certainly 'see' what you're saying about the limitations of mpeg-4's; my ears don't seem to 'hear' what you're saying, but they're not all that trustworthy and they're certainly not trained as yours undoubtedly are. Maybe to my ears, less is more somehow. What I will do is puchase the actual CD of the Beethoven sonatas played by Ohlsson and, then, see if I can tell any difference.
I have not downloaded any organ music that reaches down, down, down. Perhaps the lower notes will be missing when I do.
Re your remarks: 'So beware. The label "digital" does NOT guarantee high quality - you must always check and then double check.'. Exactly what do I check? For example, ITunes has some LA Philharmonic live performances for download. What do I look at to see if they're ok? Thanks.

jazzfan
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Re: downloading mpeg-4s and burning to audio cds


Quote:
I don't quite follow, Jazzfan. When you rip a CD into itunes you can set the import to WAV encoder and get a WAV file. Are you saying that itunes then compresses to AAC automatically?

Hi Cliff,

No, not quite. What I'm saying is that the default settings for iTunes do not import (rip) a CD into a file wav but rather into a highly compressed AAC file automatically. If one is smart enough to override the default settings one can import a CD as a wave file or as a lossless Apple file and than things are somewhat okay as the program still does not perform the error correction that Exact Audio Copy performs. The same thing is also possible with Windows Media Player, but these settings are not the default settings and most (I don't know let's say 99.99999999999999999999999999999999999%) users do not override these settings. IMHO that make these programs completely useless from the viewpoint of sound quality.

What I'm finding out since Stereophile launched this forum back in 9/05 is that for most audiophiles the world of computer audio and lossy and lossless compressed file formats in particular is rather new and as such as a group we seem to be somewhat behind the times and subject to all the misconceptions and misinformation filling cyberspace. Please do not take this a personal attack, I do not mean you any slight since I don't even know you nor do I have any reason to want to slight you in any way. What I'm trying to do is share some of what I've learned over the past several years of working with computer audio and lossy and lossless compressed file formats and stiffing through all the various nonsense that has come my way in order to help my fellow audiophiles avoid some costly mistakes.

Believe it or not, there are many computer geeks out there who are very much concerned with the sound quality of their audio files and they are working very hard to make computer based audio worth listening to. Not all of it sucks.

Jim Tavegia
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Re: downloading mpeg-4s and burning to audio cds

Jazzfan is right on...high end audio is so soooo much easier to figure out. Once you start venturing into this mp3 quagmire you can see how non-audio types can be lost and listening to poorer audio without even knowing about all the settings and possibilities.

I have learned quickly that even the players like WMP have their own sound, so experience like Jazzfan's is important when skating over the MP3 ice.

Then you deal with all the half-truths about sound card quality in the "consumer" arena and no wonder the masses are where they are. I hope you have a serious sound card as that can make a huge difference.

It can be fun and just another way to enjoy all the music we own and love. That is what it is about anyway.

jazzfan
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Re: downloading mpeg-4s and burning to audio cds


Quote:
Re your remarks: 'So beware. The label "digital" does NOT guarantee high quality - you must always check and then double check.'. Exactly what do I check? For example, ITunes has some LA Philharmonic live performances for download. What do I look at to see if they're ok? Thanks.

Will,

iTunes offers downloads only of files compressed at 128kb using it's AAC audio codec, which basically means fairly low quality, at least from an audiophile perspective. Lots of compression, which means lots of data tossed away, which means lots of music tossed away, which means the baby is gone along with the bath water.

Now if you want to go ahead and believe the nonsense that Apple (and Microsoft) put on their websites about the near CD quality of the music they sell in their music online music stores, well I have this great bridge here in NYC for sale and if you act now I'll even throw in the car and trucks at no extra charge.

All kidding aside, I look at this whole digital music business musch the same way I look at most other things in life. Basically it's my job to educate myself to insure that I'm getting my money's worth for the products I buy, otherwise there will always be someone out there who is prefectly happy to rip me off.

The average consumer couldn't get LPs to sound any good, couldn't get cassettes to sound any good, can't get MP3's to sound any good and most likely will not get their HDTVs to look any good - I just don't want to end up like the average consumer and I hope that you agree with me.

willbaker
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Re: downloading mpeg-4s and burning to audio cds

Have you ever had the experience of, say, walking by a hog dog stand where there's an old portable radio playing Beethoven's fifth and you're simply carried away by the music? I always thought I had pretty good ears. I've subscribed to Stereophile for years, tried this and that tweak, bought expensive (to me) interconnects, followed Tellig's recommendations for equipment more than once. I downloaded from ITunes on a whim and crossed my fingers....and I really wanted the Bach played by Askenazy. I did not research ahead of time to find out if the sound was going to be lousy. I just decided to let my ears be the judge. Reading what you are saying gives me pause. I've replayed the burned cd's and they still sound fantastic. Bottom line is that I must have lousy ears. I can live with that.....no choice really. I only suggest that others actually do a download and listen.....maybe they also have lousy ears and will be delighted with the sound like I am. In this case it seems to be an advantage.......sort of like not being able to tell much difference between Cabernets......if the $7 bottle tastes great......such a deal!

jazzfan
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Re: downloading mpeg-4s and burning to audio cds

Hello again Will,

I love finding those great tasting $7 bottles of Cabernets, problem is as soon as I find them the price always seems to jump up to $12 or the quality goes down.

You should not be surprised by the fact that the iTunes downloads sound pretty good. After all quite a bit of effort went into making them sound good, at least superficially. You see that's the whole idea behind lossy compressed audio formats - the program throws away data that it assumes the listener cannot hear or will not miss. Well I miss that data and I want it back! All those masked frequencies and 18 kilohertz tones belong in the files and I'll be damned if Apples going to keep them from me. I paid good money for all that hard disk space and download speed so why deny me big fat lossless files?

My basic problem with lossy compression is not really with the format at all, it's with the fact that the format is being misrepresented as "near CD quality" or, worse yet, as "CD quality" sound. And that's just not true. NO WAY, NO HOW.

I have two daugthers, one is 18 and the other turns 21 tomorrow. When I look at the music on their computers and see the poor audio quality of the vast majority of music on them, I just cringe. And believe me, I've tried to educate them about sound quality but I might as well talk to the wall for all the good it's done. By the way, you can "see" poor audio quality by looking at the bit rate of a given MP3, AAC or WMA file, the lower the bit rate the worst the sound quality.

So this is it my fellow forum members, we are the rear guard. The future may not turn out too bright but I sure hope I'm wrong.

willbaker
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Re: downloading mpeg-4s and burning to audio cds

Earlier I said that I was going to buy the cd of Ohlsson's Beethoven sonatas 4/24 and, then, do a compare. I also intend to get the Askenazy Bach cds. (Neither seem to be available yet!) It may be that I can then hear the 'tossed away stuff' as it is returned on the cds. I may even wonder why I thought the mpeg4 burned stuff was so good. (I suspect that I focus a great deal more on Bach and Askenazy than on wondering where the 'tossed away stuff' went.)

Jeff Wong
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Re: downloading mpeg-4s and burning to audio cds

I guess while you're focusing Bach and Askenazy, jazzfan is only hearing Bch and Asknzy. I don't always need the highest resolution system to enjoy music; I'm capable of grooving to tunes coming out of an old pocket transistor radio (partially out of nostalgia) but, I relate to jazzfan's experience. I want my bits.

I haven't given in to the whole iPOD thing yet. I do have a portable CD player that can handle MP3s burned to a CD. But, I've barely used that, other than for some Books on CD, and I'm usually dozing off before the 1st chapter is done. Maybe it's the fatiguing highs?

Maybe I'm too much of a purist when it comes to audio. I know I could get an iPOD and load uncompressed files... maybe that'd be an option at some point. I've played with various lossy and lossless files on the PC (MP3PRO, Monkey's Audio, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC) out of curiosity and to scratch the techno-geek itch in me, but, the idea of lossy compression in general is such a turn off. When listening, all nuance and subtlety is gone, and that's the stuff that makes the magic for me.

jazzfan
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Re: downloading mpeg-4s and burning to audio cds

Will,

Don't sell yourself and your ears short. There's quite a good chance that you will indeed hear the differences between the CD versions and the compressed versions.

I'll give you an example. Back in the early days of mp3's (not all that long ago really) a friend of mine made me some discs of some mp3s by the rock group Little Feat. We were able to play back these discs on my main stereo using a portable disc player. The music sounded fairly decent, in fact it was quite listenable, kind of like a really good cassette recording but without any hiss, tape warble or those strange dolby artifacts one used to get.

On one of the songs there was this cymbal like sound in the background which we could not make out all that clearly but we were quite sure was a cymbal. Now mind you these mp3s were encoded at 192kbs, which is a pretty respectable bit rate. I happened to own the same recording on an LP so I put that on and lo and behold, the cymbal was not a cymbal after all but turned out to be a tambourine and quite clearly so. Oh yeah, compression throws out data all right, data one needs to tell the difference between various kinds of musical instruments!

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