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reakins
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Recommended hi-def file formats

I am a regular reader of Stereophile and am avidly following the development of more convenient sources for high definition audio. I am going to buy my first iPod soon because it seems to have the best combination of ease-of-use and options for storing music at a high quality. I will likely, at some point, set up something to play my music from a computerized source too. I would like to rip my CDs only once, however. My priority would be to get as close to the quality of the original CD as possible in a file format that I can play on an iPod and on a computerized source such as the Slim Devices Transporter or other set-up.

Can some kind savant either point me towards a source to research this or give me your opinion? I am aware of at least two options: Apple Lossless and FLAC. I would also like to be able to download music in the same format, but that would be a secondary priority.

Thanks in advance for the help!

ROLO46
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Re: Recommended hi-def file formats

Apple lossless for economic hard drive storage,
WAV files for any track that needs nip and tuck ,eq etc.
Sound Check OK, Sound Enhancer NG.
Roger

struts
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Re: Recommended hi-def file formats

Hey all ears,

I have just gone through a similar exercise. I don't claim to be an expert but here's what I've found:
- There are lots of formats to choose from but you will probably find that there will only be one or two that make sense for you. You minimally need to choose one that is supported by the software you intend to use to rip and manage the music (e.g. iTunes, Winamp, etc.) and the hardware (e.g. iPod, Slim, Sonos, etc.) you'll use to play it. As you have identified ALAC and FLAC seem to be the princiapl contenders.
- Different codecs have different strengths and weaknesses, way beyond the obvious (at least to me) parameters of compression ratio and sound quality. For a helpful overview see: Lossless Comparison, there are also several more comparisons in the 'links' section of the Wikipedia FLAC entry.

Information comparing sound quality is hard to find, perhaps because this depends as much on the implementation of the encoder/decoder (for open file formats there are multiple) as on the codec itself.

One datapoint that may help is that I have tried hard to compare the sound quality of ALAC and FLAC using iTunes 7 to rip and replay the former and Winamp 5.32 the latter. The replay system was a Dell XPS PC driving a Grace m902 DAC/headphone amp via a Supra X-ZAC Toslink cable, listening with Sennheiser HD650s and Ultimate Ears UE-10 Pros. Within the time I have been able to devote to this I have been unable to identify any clear differences that I can convince myself are not figments of my imagination.

As a postscript, my own decision was to continue to use ALAC as my main file format as it works well with iPod/iTunes and is supported by the Sonos streamer I use as a digital source to my big-rig.

The convenience is just fantastic. I'm warning you, once you arrive here you won't ever want to go back!

Good luck!

silence
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Re: Recommended hi-def file formats

Thanks struts! Great help in the format jungle. I think about buying the Slim Devices Transporter. I have some music already ripped into 320 kbs MP3. What is your opinion, if one compares MP3 320 kbs with ALAC/FLAC, how would you grade the diffrence in quality?

bobedaone
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Re: Recommended hi-def file formats

I used to have all my CDs ripped in 320 kbps AAC (Apple Audio Codec), which is similar to MP3, but tends to give attention to elements of the music that are more important to me and sounds, to my ears, smoother and fuller. I recently decided to re-rip my CD collection in ALAC because I had the hard disk space and desire to achieve the best sound possible. Played through my humble JBL computer speakers, the advantage of lossless files over AAC was marginal at best (although I would have realized a greater improvement as compared to MP3). I intend to integrate my computer with my stereo in the near future, probably using an Apple Airport Express and an older DAC (wish I had the coin for a Transporter! ) That was a key reason for my choosing to import my collection in ALAC. I guess my message in all this is that the improvement you will hear is system-dependent. With a Transporter and the caliber of equipment that will likely accompany it, you will probably find it worth your time to re-rip your CD collection in Apple Lossless. If your CD collection is large and the task seems overwhelming, you could always pay a kid to man the computer - surrounded by stacks of CDs - and import for you for a day (or two)! Best of luck with your digital endeavors!

struts
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Re: Recommended hi-def file formats

silence,

I have no experience of mp3 at 320kbps, but I do have a lot of music ripped in AAC at 320kbps so these comments assume the sound quality is similar. If that assumption is valid then whether and how you perceive the difference really depends on the listening environment and playback system.

I find AAC 320 perfectly adequate for listening on my iPod when out-and-about, even through Ultimate Ears UE-10 Pros which are meant to be among the better resolving buds. I know a lot of purists can't bear to listen to anything but losslessly compressed music even on their iPods but even with the isolation provided by the UE-10 Pros I usually find that I am getting enough backrgound noise in the street, on busses etc. to make the difference inaudible.

On the other hand, on the one occasion I accidentally cued up an AAC 320 track through the big-rig (I had somewhat rashly indexed my AAC 320 as well as my ALAC iTunes library in my Sonos and when searching by Artist or Album for tracks I had in both libraries it was not readily apparent which version I was playing) it sounded so obviously 'wrong' I thought something was broken. The sound had a very strange quality where the noisefloor moved up and down with the music. The sound was 'closed in' and subjectively rolled off at the frequency extremes. The difference was completely obvious (even THE BOSS noticed it!) and, compared to the sound I am used to, completely unbearable.

As always, your mileage may vary. Good luck!

ohfourohnine
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Re: Recommended hi-def file formats

I agree with you, Rolo on all points except for "Sound Check OK" . In almost any mix of music it will lead to inappropriate volume levels on some tracks.

Elk
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Re: Recommended hi-def file formats

MP3 320 kbs sounds surprisingly good for a compressed lossy format. However it does not compete with ALAC/FLAC on a decent system. MP3 has a harshness, especially in the high end, that is exhausting and the highs are smeared. Timbre of instruments is compromised, bass loses its texture and impact.

I agree with Struts: high bit-rate MP3 is great for portables but unacceptable for serious listening.

But try them out and see what you conclude. Your ears rule!

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