AIFF vs ALAC with iTunes?

George Fredrik
 
August 9, 2012 11:46 PM

I have got all the significant music - almost all but not quite every track - ripped from about 550 CDs in ALAC. I did a little experiment by converting to AIFF on a single track, and side by side, I could detect no change in replay ...

 

But in the process I set my default standard iTunes "rip" to AIFF, and without realising it ripped Schubert's Great C Major Symphony - Otto Klemperer with the Philharmonia in what I can only describe as the most phenomenal and emotionally satisfying performance I have ever come across - in AIFF. I had this on LP and it was one of those dull, and thick sounding recordings that did nothing to make this great performance, as recorded, lucid and musically satisfying on the vinyl release ...

 

After three seriously concentrated listens to this transcendental performance, I thought to myself that there is something going on here. The replay is free and at ease - almost totally unforced and natural even if no recording manages to be quite natural in any circumstances - something indefinably better than before. As much of a gain again as playing iTunes rips rather than CDs directly with a CD player.

 

So I did an experiement, and converted Schubert's Fifth Symphony [same performers] from ALAC to AIFF. And you know what, I am damn sure I could not tell the difference side by side, but after listening through it has the same ease and fluidity as the Great C Major [9th] Symphony recording. 

 

This is a confounded nuisance as it means that as I listen to everything from now on I shall have to convert the file type before starting, and with 7000 tracks to contend with, I am going to be at the conversion process longer than the initial rips took!

 

Am I wrong? Is there no difference as an AB style listen would suggest or is there something subliminal going on with the uncompressed AIFF presentation, so subtle that it takes a long listen for its ease to become apparent?

 

Please don't baby me. Be honest and tell me I am wrong to find this apparent ease. 

 

Any contributions will be most welcome, and any downright contradictions of what I am describing will also be read gratefully, but I think there is something good going on here.

 

Just wait till I get a better DAC as well. This iTunes thing is damn good, and after three years now, I think I have just stumbled onto a good lead to make it better!

 

ATB from George

 

PS: I have enough space to accommodate the bigger file type on the dedicated iTunes library HD in the computer ...

 
Last edited by George Fredrik August 9, 2012 11:54 PM
 
 
George Fredrik
 
August 10, 2012 12:03 AM

To clarify, I think the effect is actually slightly softer, but more natural. Less of a digital style sheen that can come when a recording is nearer to the edge than it ought to be.  Not quite so upfront, and further back with detail more integrated ...

 

Is this right? Possible? Or am I too far gone, and describing a nonesense.

 

I am asking if it is possible really.

 

ATB from George

 
Last edited by George Fredrik August 10, 2012 12:17 AM
 
 
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August 10, 2012 12:40 AM

Hi George -

 

Anything is possible, even hearing a difference between ALAC and AIFF (or FLAC and WAV).

 

I believe you are using a PC and an external DAC, correct?  Well, the reason why Naim chose not to support a USB connection on their DAC was because of how difficult it is to prevent a PC's electronic noise from being transmitted over that type of connection.  You may very well be hearing an increase in noise caused by an increase in processor load due to the need to uncompress ALAC, and when you listen to AIFF, the processor load and noise level is lessened. That's the theory anyway! 

 

Also, there are a number of tools out there than can batch convert your ALAC files to AIFF, so it would not be much work for you at all.  May take a little time, overnight perhaps, but it is easy enough to do.

 

Good luck!

 

Hook

 
 
 
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George Fredrik
 
August 10, 2012 1:02 AM

Dear Hook,

 

Yes I am using a small PC [external PS like a laptop] and USB DAC. It runs totally cool even with the slowest fan speed. I am going to try to rationalise this, but now I have found the difference - after undifference on my own part as I did not believe it! - I have identified what it is that is different, and it is ultra-subtle. Like stepping back two rows, but sitting in a nicer clearer hall.

 

Less demonstrative, and yet better at a slightly quieter setting than before. I converted a couple of 78 transfers, and the effect is even more marked. I guess that 78s are more of a challenge in any case. 

 

I am frightened to use a batch converter, as the whole lot could be ruined in a night of mayhem. First I have to buy another external drive, so as to back up today's position. I have one external drive here that offers the perspective from five months ago, but I have fixed a huge number of tagging issues - how roughly these are done! Wrong publication catalogue numbers, and even wrong musical keys given. In three year I have fixed literally thousands of errors that come fromt the record companies! 

 

That work is also worth saving!

 

It makes the search engine a very sharp and effective machine.

 

But this SQ advance is worth a good deal. Like the difference in the old days between the CDX and the CDS2, which I chose over the CDX!

 

ATB from George

 
 
 
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August 10, 2012 1:19 AM

Backing up to, and then regularly maintaining, a separate external hard drive is a really good idea George.

 

Whichever tool you pick, it would also be a good idea to run some small test cases, just to make sure all of your edited meta data comes across ok.  In theory, unless you tell the tool to replace the ALAC copy with an AIFF copy, it should simply make a 2nd file in a separate directory.  But once you grow comfortable with whatever tool you pick, it should be straight forward process to select all files (or your top most directory), and hit go.

 

Personally, I can not hear a difference between FLAC and WAV, but I have absolutely no doubts that other people do. With your keen ear for classical music, you are perhaps more able than others to recognize these subtle differences in presentation.  But the theory of why they exist is solid, and it exactly what Naim has been telling us for a few years now.  Also, it is why some guys prefer to place a USB-to-S/PDIF digital-to-digital converter between a PC and a DAC, even when the DAC has a USB connection -- lower jitter, and better noise isolation resulting a lower noise floor.

 

Will be interested to read if you hear these subtle differences across your entire collection, or if they are more obvious with some pieces of music versus others.

 

ATB.

 

Hook

 
 
 
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pjl2
 
August 10, 2012 2:24 AM

Dear George,

 

This is fascinating. Although I am certainly no authority on digital replay it seems to me that it would perhaps be more surprising rather than less if there were not audible differences between file types. After all, just about every other variable seems to have an effect on the sound!

 

Something I wonder about here. You have listened to files converted from ALAC to AIFF. Have you tried actually ripping to AIFF, assuming that is possible, and comparing with a rip to ALAC? I just wonder if the conversion process is introducing artifacts, albeit pleasant ones? Or indeed if an actual rip to AIFF rather than a conversion may be even better.

 

Best,

 

Peter

 

PS. Just thinking out loud here - with my (lack of) computer audio knowledge I may be talking gibberish.

 
 
 
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August 10, 2012 8:36 AM

Hi George

A few months ago, I went through the whole" which codec shall I use" debate between WAV, FLAC, ALAC & AIFF.  After taking into account the need to replay music via both itunes (for most of the family) and Naim (especially for me!), plus some back to back listening tests, I ended up with AIFF.

 

At the Signals DR power supply demonstration, the difference between FLAC and WAV encoded versions of the same track was not subtle when replayed via a top flight NDS/500 system, with WAV versions having demonstrably more life, air & vitality.  The FLAC versions sounded as though the life had been squashed out of them.

 

Perhaps the ALAC codec crushes more of the life out of music than the AIFF one.  Whatever the theoretical differences between the 2 (which I certainly don't understand), AIFF just sounds a bit better to me.  However, once the file has been converted via ALAC (and some of the life lost), I would not expect that life to be somehow re-injected with a conversion to AIFF.

 

So, looks like you will inevitably be destined to re-rip 7000 songs into AIFF then....

 

Best regards, FT

 
 
 
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August 10, 2012 9:30 AM

Originally Posted by Foot tapper:
However, once the file has been converted via ALAC (and some of the life lost), I would not expect that life to be somehow re-injected with a conversion to AIFF.

Why not FT ? ALAC stands for Apple Lossless Audio Codec. All the information from the CD is in the ALAC file (provided it was a bit-perfect rip). If the conversion tool is not buggy, the very same information that was in the ALAC file is in the AIFF file, just uncompressed.

 

It is not the information that is at stakes here, it's the processing needed to play the file. The musical information remains absolutely the same whenever you convert any lossless file to WAV, FLAC, ALAC or AIFF (or any other lossless format for that matter).

 

If you find that it's worth the trouble, just do it au fil de l'eau as we say George (or hire a bunch of friends and their PCs to help you over a beer or a six pack) !

 

ATB

Maurice

 
 
 
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August 10, 2012 9:36 AM

Originally Posted by pjl2:
Something I wonder about here. You have listened to files converted from ALAC to AIFF. Have you tried actually ripping to AIFF, assuming that is possible, and comparing with a rip to ALAC? I just wonder if the conversion process is introducing artifacts, albeit pleasant ones? Or indeed if an actual rip to AIFF rather than a conversion may be even better.

Well Peter, it shouldn't if the conversion tool is not buggy. In doubt, ask the usual suspects to teach you how to check the data chunk of both AIFF files.

 

Thus said, bugs happen.

 

ATB

Maurice

 

 
 
 
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Guido Fawkes
 
August 10, 2012 10:28 AM

Dear George

 

I can only comment from a technical perspective and subjective viewpoint on my own system.

 

Subjectively I can hear no difference between ALAC and AIFF and it makes no differences which format I rip to or store my files in. However, I avoid USB preferring S/PDIF optical and my music server is a Mac and DAC is Naim ... so it is not really like for like. 

 

ALAC and AIFF contain exactly the same PCM data - just like a zip file and a document contain the same text. The difference is in processing, it takes longer and more effort to open the compressed (ALAC, Zip) than the uncompressed (AIFF, original document). However, the processing difference is small and possibly offset by the disk access which is less with the smaller file. 

 

You are using iTunes and send the music data (PCM) to your DAC. iTunes will send exactly the same output to your DAC irrespective of whether it is ALAC or AIFF. Your DAC cannot (doesn't need to) know the original file format. 

 

You are using USB which has some electrical noise. The async mode will obviate the jitter, but not the RFI/EMC. An optical connection is better in this respect, but not an option for you. So it is possible you may get a little more noise from ALAC, but .... 

 

You have a PC ... if you bring up the Task Manager (you right click on the strip on the bottom and it is an option) then you can see exactly what you are running - a lot of it will be garbage (stuff you don't need to play music and it will also change depending when you do it). All of this will inject noise and that noise will vary over time. You can see Apps, Processes, Services and Performance. 

 

Can you hear the noise .... don't know, but try doing something aggressive like running a PC application to see if affects the sound while it is loading ... if it doesn't (and I suspect it won't) then the difference in residual noise between ALAC and AIFF is also very unlikely to do so. 

 

So I never doubt people can play something twice and hear differences, but my take is it has nothing to do with whether the file is in ALAC or AIFF (this may be different on an integrated player like the Naim NDX or NDS though it should not be in my view). 

 

In the analogue domain the difference are subjective ... but in the digital domain it is more black and white (1s and 0s), However, interference from the digital domain can affect the analogue (a mobile phone can interfere, yet it is often used as a remote). 

 

I would stay with ALAC if I were you, as it takes up less space and is quicker to load in to memory than AIFF. You may need a bigger disk if you expand everything to AIFF, which you could do by letting iTunes process all of your files overnight. 

 

All the best, Guy

 

 

 

 
 
 
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George Fredrik
 
August 10, 2012 5:38 PM

Well I have opened a can of worms with this!

 

It was a discussiion with a leading Forum member a couple of weeks ago, and he said the FLAC was not as good WAV. Then we had a few thoughts on what "might" be the case between WAV and AIFF. AIFF keeps the splendid tagging of ALAC.

 

So I tried converting a few tracks, and perhaps I was not receptive - too tired, not drunk enough, no sufficiently recently broken legs and loads of morphine - but honestly it made no difference when done as an A/B between the two versions of the track in question.

 

But in the process I adjusted the default rip in iTunes to AIFF, and later ripped a CD as per the opening post.

 

After a few passes just adoring the music making, it suddenly seemed to me how bloody good it was actually sounding, So I made one of the AIFF tracks into ALAC, and yes it was back to my normal happy listening, but by now I could find the difference, which I described above. 

 

I wish it were not so, but it is. The difference between good and poor recordings is much more significant of course, but it must be down to the "uncompressing" of the ALAC that is somehow less good on the fly [i.e. it is affecting the analogue output in some way] than simply allowing the ITunes to convert from ALAC to AIFF, whilst not playing the track, but playing it afterwards without the need to uncompress the new file on the fly. 

 

There is absolutely no way that I would re-"rip" the whole lot! But conversion to AIFF works for a neat little free gain in quality in my latest experience.

 

As my hard disc is less than one third full - a dedicated hard disc for the iTunes library alone - then about doubling the actual file sizes will not matter.

 

It will probably be a gradual process, ... of doing them as I listen!

 

If anything interesting crops up, I'll let you know!

 

ATB from George

 
 
 
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August 11, 2012 7:50 AM

George, i think you have  now heard what some  of us have also heard, and once you aware of it, it's very hard to ignore. As you say the difference between good and marvellous.

Although I don't think I have ever streamed ALAC to my network player I would expect the differences npbetween AIFF and ALAC to be broadly similar to WAV and FLAC.

 

Simon

 
 
 
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August 11, 2012 7:55 AM

Yep - tried ALAC and prefer AIFF. This was on the ADS and NDX.
 
 
 
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George Fredrik
 
August 11, 2012 1:06 PM

As Simon suggests, once the improvement is found it becomes hard to ignore!

 

I have been converting a lot of chamber and solo instrumental music from ALAC to AIFF, as it seems to me that this quiet music is where the change is most clear. In music that is most nearly correct in recordings in any case. Segovia playing the guitar is more obviously right or wrong in replay when things improve! An orchestra of 120 playing hammer and tongs is less open to this sort of improvement, because the recordings are far more compromised in the first place.

 

What is a surprise is that files sizes are actually increasing in the order of three times larger on quiet music. 

 

It maybe that I have to replace my half TB drive with a one TB unit before the end!

 

It is a discrete drive dedicated to the iTunes liabrary alone so that is not a problem with the current hardware. I would rather keep at least 30% free space on any hard drive.

 

As Simon said, this is going from good to great. I cannot disagree with his comment.

 

Thanks James for your observations when considering much better equipment than I have.

 

ATB from George

 

 
 
 
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August 11, 2012 3:09 PM

Aiff every time.

 

Tog

 
 
 
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Guido Fawkes
 
August 11, 2012 11:47 PM

I can't hear any difference between the PCM extracted by my Mac from an ALAC (Apple format) or AIFF (Amiga format) and sent through an optical interface to my Naim DAC. As I understand it the data in the DAC's buffer are identical in both cases and it plays these from that buffer. So it is playing the same thing. if instead of sending it the Naim DAC I send it to my UQ and out again and capture it ... the PCM is the same. 


Using Audacity I see no difference. 

 

Even if you load the Mac with a program just to divert processing power from rendering music for the sake of it, I can't hear a difference. OK, if you nice the rogue program you can introduce a stutter, but the effect is the same irrespective of file format. 

 

Also if check the processes running on a Mac then they differ over time as the Mac does its housekeeping, but despite this behaviour I can't hear any difference. 

 

Of course I prefer AIFF because it was designed for the Amiga and the sentimental attachment remains, but I really cannot hear any difference between WAV, ALAC, FLAC and AIFF ... and when configured for bit perfect playback I cannot hear the difference between iTunes, Decibel or other players. 

 

I can clearly hear the difference between a Naim DAC and the Chord DAC though. 


However, I still advocate there are other reasons that folk hear differences and that the file format when using a computer to feed a DAC is not the reason.


However even if the differences heard are psychological (and I'm not saying they definitely are) then it still a good idea to choose the format you like best.



 
 
 
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George Fredrik
 
August 12, 2012 12:07 AM

I have found that I like AIFF..

 

I wish I did not, because I am only 10 per cent through making AIFFs out of ALACs, but the consideration is my main and only music system, and no money is at stake - just the patience to make the conversion, 6974 tracks, one at a time ...

 

It would have been easier if I had not found this.

 

Even on a modest system, Quad ESL 57s would show up a gnat having a poo on a microphone stand, so that I am well enough placed - quite apart from my hearing - to find this most unfortunate development ...

 

Getting a better DAC will only magnify the improvement, but will involve less work if more cost ...

 

ATB from George

 
 
 
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August 12, 2012 7:38 AM

George, if you have your file in ALAC, you don't need to re rip to get into AIFF, you can simply use a format converter such as DBPoweramp to do a bulk conversion. There must be OSX equivalents.

As ALAC is lossless, if the software is working correctly no info is lost in this conversion.

Simon

 
 
 
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August 12, 2012 7:41 AM

Originally Posted by Simon-in-Suffolk:

George, if you have your file in ALAC, you don't need to re rip to get into AIFF, you can simply use a format converter such as DBPoweramp to do a bulk conversion. There must be OSX equivalents.

As ALAC is lossless, if the software is working correctly no info is lost in this conversion.

Simon

ITunes will do this. No need for any external converters.

 

James

 
 
 
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August 12, 2012 8:10 AM

Thanks James... Yesure opulent remember  whether iTunes could and didn't want to give a bum steer.

Simon

 
 
 
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Guido Fawkes
 
August 12, 2012 9:55 AM

If you set iTunes to rip to AIFF and then select your entire library - just select one track and hit Command-A - then do a Ctrl-Click - a context menu will appear with the option Create an AIFF. Be careful though because you end up with all your files in both formats and then you need to delete the ALAC files. So if you leave the conversion process running over night you need to make sure your disc has sufficient capacity. 


You could create an AppleScript that converted an album did the deletion and then did the next album and so on ... 


Or you could buy a big NAS and store every album in lots of formats .... I'm still mystified how the same data loaded in to the Naim DACs buffer can sound different depending on what format it was stored on disc though.


This is not the same as the NDS/NDX where you are sending it ALAC or WAV and relying on Naim to do the rendering ... assuming Naim rendering is optimised for WAV, differences are understandable.


If you give a DAC just the bits then how does it know what format you stored them in originally. Are we saying there is more jitter produced from ALAC than AIFF .... if so I still can't see how? I can't understand how RFI comes in to play if the Mac, that is isolated from the DAC by some glass, is doing the rendering. 


The CPU usage on a Mac is not constant ... iTunes takes between 6.2 and 6.7% of the CPU to play Arcade Fire's Woodland National Anthem (ALAC) and between 5.8% and 6.3% for AIFF. So yes there is a measurable difference, but I can't figure out how my DAC knows this (or how it can possibly make a difference to SQ). 


As I say I can't hear any difference, but that could just be my age. Is there any logical explanation why others could hear a difference? 

 
 
 
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August 12, 2012 4:25 PM

George

 

Not a criticism but for info: 

 

Are you running i-tunes on a PC or a MAC? According to your profile looks like you are using a PC.

 

If it a PC it is also of interest to know what Windows version you run. Windows XP and Windows 7 process audio through different software manipulations neither of which are good for the best rendition of audio files. In the case of XP for example I believe everything is adjusted to 48 KHz even if it starts out as 44.1. There are ways to circumvent this situation but they are op system dependent. 

 

Just a suggestion but it maybe the audio differences between ALAC and AIFF are made apparent by this.

 

Regards

Geoff

 
 
 
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George Fredrik
 
August 12, 2012 4:36 PM

Dear Guy,

 

I cannot risk batch converting with iTunes, because it might hit the limit of my dedicated internal hard drive. Only iTunes library on it. It is clear that uncompressing to files to AIFF is in some cases even mutlipying the space taken by four times. None is less than twice the size. While I might get the whole lot on the drive in AIFF, I would definitely run into trouble if the ALACs were not deleted as it went along!

 

In any case, I'll have to get a large internal HD so that I may eventually put onto it the complete Bach Canatas sometime soon! 200 of them or slightly more! This is the biggest gap in my library of recorded music, and of course I may want two cycles in time, as rarely is one cycle lovable in every single piece!!

 

I have started manually converting, and it is a good, but before I do too much more, I'll get a one TB USB HD to back up the current part and part position, and also then get a one TB drive inside the little PC. Then I can carry on. Possibly even batch convert the lot once I have adequate larger back-up storage. My current back up is a half TB USB HD, last fully adjusted five months ago. Not many CDs added since then ....

 

As for the sonic thing, I was convinced that there was nothing in it at first as reported above. The improvement is marginal, but if the only cost is a pair of new one TB hard drives plus my time, well I'll go for it. 

 

I can understand how some would not find the same results as I did, and at that more or less by accident. Certainly I had not released that I had ripped the Schubert Great C Major Symphony in AIFF, and after three serious listens to a wonderful performance, I suddenly thought that I had never heard such a vintage [.c~1960] recording sound so splendid. Then I tried to find out why ...

 

So not a question of expecting the result, but really an accident of a harmless sort! 

 

But it does involve quite a lot of work to actually do it all!

 

I am absolutely not going to use a separate NAS. With the absolute requirement to set up a network, it is too complicated with too many additional wires and boxes to accommodate  All I have now is an amp, a small DAC, and a PC apart from the old ESL 57s. I am certainly not going to add more to this. I can put all this into some small IKEA style cupboard with an open back for ventilation, but with a door, so I don't have sight of anything but the speakers, and monitor [used for DVDs also], plus mouse and keyboard.

 

ATB from George

 

 
 
 
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George Fredrik
 
August 12, 2012 4:47 PM

Dear Geoff,

 

It is only a little PC with XP. Two internal drives - one for the operating platform and the other [half TB] exclusively for the itTunes library folder.

 

I was possibly wrongly under the impression that it is possible to make it work in 44.1 sampling without conversion with a certain amount of setting up. I did not do this. It was done for me, when I got the little computer about a year ago. It goes very nicely.

 

Of course a MAC Mini would be very nice, but I have not budgetted for it.

 

ATB from George

 

PS: Maybe next year should see a Mini come? I don't know, but it might be the best next move. Even then it is not such a big expense compared to the proprietary solutions that really are far beyond me in price, although guaranteed to work ... 

 
Last edited by George Fredrik August 12, 2012 4:57 PM
 
 
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Guido Fawkes
 
August 12, 2012 5:22 PM

Dear George

 

One option with AIFF is mono. I'm not sure what the effect would be, but it is certainly an interesting option where I have some recordings that were enhanced(?) to stereo by some well meaning marketing studio person, as it may send the back to something akin to how they were meant to be heard. iTunes dors not give options with ALAC.

 

I am surprised that AIFF is more than twice the size of ALAC on my Mac ALAC files are about 60% of the size of AIFF ... however I do embed 300 x 300 (low resolution) artwork in my files and I don't think you bother with artwork if I recall correctly. With a CD the AIFF cannot be much more than 700 MB as AIFF is more or less what is on the CD. 

 

I do hope at some stage we can forget about formats and just play our music, but as long as we can hear improvements then I think we'll be trying to optimise. Funny thing is with vinyl I just play the music and forget tweaking - wasn't it supposed to be the other way around. 

 

The Mac Mini may not suit you as well as your current set-up without significant investment as I think it works best with OS X and iTunes are on Solid State Drives and an add-in like Bit Perfect push the music from and external drive in to memory (this makes it work silently from a mechanical viewpoint). You can use a DAS rather than NAS to avoid networking using its Thunderbolt interface, but again the price is not good. 

 

I obviously don't know much about PCs (yes I have to use one for work, but if it goes wrong I just reboot and if that doesn't work phone support and they remote control it) so I wonder does iTunes get the sample rate right. On my Mac it is not very clever at ensuring the incoming sample rate matches the one it puts out: Apple recommends up-sampling to 24/96, but that doesn't seem right to me. I use bit perfect because it sorts out that problem/feature. I guess you can fix it to 16/44.1, but I do have a few high resolution recordings. There is a paper (please click here) that discuss it. 


Did you switch to a Rega DAC? I know you were thinking about it. 


All the best, Guy

 
 
 
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George Fredrik
 
August 12, 2012 5:34 PM

Dear Guy,

 

My observation of four times the size is always with mono recordings. Perhaps the compression see mono as being dual mono saved once and recreaeted a dual mono in AIFF?

 

Stereo is about twice as a rule. But about four in ten of my recordings are mono in the first place. I am growing to appreciate stereo as it comes. Because my ESLs are so close together than stereo is never exaggerated with them. It is as narrow as in real life, and I am not disturbed by vague directionality, but only when this is exaggerated to a Technicolour Panavision version, which normally spaced apart stereo speakers can well achieve.

 

 

More follows.

 

ATB from George

 
 
 
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George Fredrik
 
August 12, 2012 5:50 PM

Dear Guy,

 

Obviously my thoughts concerning a PC/MAC have been a question of moving forward from an existing position. One of initally using an ancient [now retired] PC tower with USB out only. Thus I got a suitable USB DAC, and so the new PC was equipped with this in mind! My pervious experiments with optical and co-ax spidf disinclined me to go back to it after what USB brought. Not least that the clocking is within the DAC as it is seen by the computer as an off board sound-card, and the on board one is bypassed. One clock is better than two trying hard to synchonise. 

 

The ultimate USB audio implementation of today is the asynchronous system adopted by such [at the budget end] by Arcam. Rega do not yet have this, and consequently have optimised their DAC for SPIDF via optical and co-ax, whereas Arcam optimised for asynch USB. I did the demo on the Arcam, and liked it very much. In fact it is a something that is supposed to be suitable for use with a MAC as well as a PC, but I remember what Earwicker [EW of this Parish, but more or less lapsed these days] told me some time ago. PC is harder to set up for good audio, but if properly set up is not less fine than MAC is by default. Just that PC is cheaper, and offers the chance to go wrong!

 

In reality, with budget replay, all I do is discuss with those who know better, learn, optimise, and then see if I like it. If I do then that does for me.

 

I am open minded, but the budget is not limitless. 

 

With the ESLs and the Nait 5i-2 being such a blessed partnership, I know that part is not going to change, and it is quite fine enough to reveal changes and improvement at the source end. 

 

I'd say that ESLs have a way to make such as the SBLs sound a little crude., and yet those are regarded as fine enough for the Olive Naim topline. 

 

The front end is in flux as things improve, and I have no carved in granite view on exactly what will come in the future!

 

ATB from George

 

 
 
 
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August 12, 2012 6:08 PM

Regarding CPU utilization on a PC for AIFF vs ALAC vs WAV in iTunes, there is no real difference. I have played a few songs on my computer, and from a simple test of looking at task manager resource graphs ... There is no diff
 
 
 
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George Fredrik
 
August 12, 2012 6:17 PM

Dear Zinger,

 

I certainly did not do an examination of the CPU usage, but as reported above merely was struck - inadvertently as it goes and therefore not a coloured view, but one unforced by expectation - by a change for the better in the enjoyability of the replay. Nothing scientific, and as you will see reading the early posts, not immediately obviously or even definable by me via short A/B style swapping over.

 

It will involve some small cost and efforts in file type conversion over the next couple of months. I am not calling this day and night, but only something worth the effort.

 

I remember almost ten years ago reporting here that playing a Nero rip off the computer had a way of sounding better than playing the same CD in the computer. I was laughed at for this observation at the time, but I only reported what I found.

 

Sometimes life is stranger than fiction.

 

And it is quite free for anyone to discount - on scientific grounds - what I have found from time to time!

 

ATB from George

 
 
 
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August 12, 2012 6:42 PM

George, Frankly, I don't know either. My tests were not scientific at all. I still cannot explain what there would be a diff. I can only tell a very small diff between AIFF/WAV vs ALAC/FLAC in very few songs. So I decided to not dig into it too much and left it as is. I'm supposed to be an engineer, but I'm pretty clueless about this as well haha I figured I don't know much about these things ... So better spend my time listening to music rather than digging in on the format issue. I just wish streaming would become much simpler down the road, or that web based services could supply decent quality music for a serious system. I just love the simplicity and reliability of a CD setup ... Yet I cannot bring myself to invest in a technology that is sorta dying in a way.
 
 
 
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August 12, 2012 6:56 PM

Originally Posted by George Fredrik:

Dear Geoff,

 

It is only a little PC with XP. Two internal drives - one for the operating platform and the other [half TB] exclusively for the itTunes library folder.

 

I was possibly wrongly under the impression that it is possible to make it work in 44.1 sampling without conversion with a certain amount of setting up. I did not do this. It was done for me, when I got the little computer about a year ago. It goes very nicely.

 

Of course a MAC Mini would be very nice, but I have not budgetted for it.

 

ATB from George

 

PS: Maybe next year should see a Mini come? I don't know, but it might be the best next move. Even then it is not such a big expense compared to the proprietary solutions that really are far beyond me in price, although guaranteed to work ... 

Dear George

 

It is quite possible the setup has optimised as much as is possible. I actually prefer XP for audio replay though it doesn't have as many settings availabe as Win 7.

 

In reality you are clearly getting a sound you are very happy with and thats what matters.

 

I do think moving to a Mac mini when funds allow would bring a performance enhancement. For one thing it is possible to use 'Bit perfect' to replay out of i-tunes on a Mac as Guy has mentioned, which does an excellent job. 

 

Of course if you do go for a Mac Mini your rips in AIFF should be ideal and you will have the option of an optical digital out which will widen your DAC options as well.

 

In the meantime I am sure you are enjoying your music.

 

regards

Geoff

 
 
 
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George Fredrik
 
August 12, 2012 7:07 PM

Dear Geoff,

 

Thanks for your post.

 

Indeed, I have never had more pleasure from replay than in the last few years. I am quite open minded about exactly where the source/front end/computer actually goes. Having found such high quality from Radio Three on the internet, and iTunes ticking the boxes as well, I am at a point where for the time being, it will be finessing, rather than radical change. But in a few years maybe something quite different will come.

 

What is sure is that the amplifier and speaker situation is utterly sorted. 

 

All the best from George

 
 
 
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August 12, 2012 8:37 PM

Dear George,

 

Although the issues you raised at the outset have been sifted, I thought I might add a couple of observations. First, FLAC streamed to my UnitiQute does not sound as open to me as does an AIFF file of the same track ripped from a CD. My son, who is into computers in ways that I am not, thought I must be wrong. He pointed out (correctly) that an AIFF file can be compressed to FLAC (or ALAC) and then expanded to a file that matches the original AIFF exactly. Of course, that presumes no errors. However, we did the experiment and could not find one error across many iterations of compression and expansion. (The computer did the file comparisons, not my ears.) So, I conceded that point. He then suggested that he test me, by playing back the same tracks without my knowing which was AIFF and which FLAC. He bet me I could not tell. I won. (In all cases, files were streamed from a LaCie NAS across a wireless network to an Apple AirportExpress that is in turn physically wired by to the Ethernet input on the UnitiQute.)

 

 

With only the best,

Steve

 
 
 
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George Fredrik
 
August 13, 2012 2:40 AM

He then suggested that he test me, by playing back the same tracks without my knowing which was AIFF and which FLAC. He bet me I could not tell. I won. 


Dear Steve,


I am finding that the difference is a little like the difference in CD playback between a CDS series machine and a CDX series one ...


Just as much energy, but just that little bit less forwardness. An ease and flow in projection. Nothing major in the short run, but valuable in lengthy and concentrated listening to a great piece of music. 


When I bought my long gone CDS2, I did a comparison with the then current CDX. No doubt the CDX was immediately more impressive because it was more forward and exciting. In terms of musical detail then there was nothing in it. 


My comment was that I'd prefer to take my excitement from the music than the replay.


It's subtle, but once discovered, impossible to ignore in terms of raising the game at only a small additional cost with my existing hardware. 


ATB from George

 
 
 
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August 13, 2012 7:45 AM

Steve, if your son is into computers, get him to think about power and bus decoupling in low level hardware design, and settle time consideration in low level drivers, then he might get an appreciation of why FLAC in the real world causes different side effects to WAV/AIFF.

We ate talking here about the differences between Computer Science and Computer Engineering. Designing and implementing a CPU from first principles makes you very aware of these issues, and makes anyone saying well its only 1 and 0s sound ridiculously naive.  

 

 
Last edited by Simon-in-Suffolk August 13, 2012 7:52 AM
 
 
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August 15, 2012 7:45 PM

Hi George,

here is another piece of evidence for AIFF > ALAC:

 

http://www.avguide.com/forums/apple-lossless-or-not

 

This has convinced me in favour of AIFF, but I guess the difference in sound quality is not proportional to the difference in file size (well, I just bought a 512 GB SSD for my MacBookPro, so this should suffice for a while).

Best,

Stefan

 
 
 
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Guido Fawkes
 
August 15, 2012 10:30 PM

Originally Posted by SteveG:

Dear George,

 

Although the issues you raised at the outset have been sifted, I thought I might add a couple of observations. First, FLAC streamed to my UnitiQute does not sound as open to me as does an AIFF file of the same track ripped from a CD. My son, who is into computers in ways that I am not, thought I must be wrong. He pointed out (correctly) that an AIFF file can be compressed to FLAC (or ALAC) and then expanded to a file that matches the original AIFF exactly. Of course, that presumes no errors. However, we did the experiment and could not find one error across many iterations of compression and expansion. (The computer did the file comparisons, not my ears.) So, I conceded that point. He then suggested that he test me, by playing back the same tracks without my knowing which was AIFF and which FLAC. He bet me I could not tell. I won. (In all cases, files were streamed from a LaCie NAS across a wireless network to an Apple AirportExpress that is in turn physically wired by to the Ethernet input on the UnitiQute.)

 

 

With only the best,

Steve

 

Interesting Steve

 

However, in this case the UQ is doing the rendering and Naim systems seem not play compressed formats as well as uncompressed ones. I still believe that if a computer with a powerful CPU is doing the rendering and filling up a buffer in a Naim DAC with exactly the same data irrespective of the source file format then there is no difference in SQ between ALAC. FLAC, AIFF and WAV. Surely, if a DAC performs digital to analogue conversion on data in a memory buffer it is unconcerned what format the original file was in ... I cannot see how it would ever know. 

 

This is one reason I see no point in my buying the NDS as it is optimised for WAV - one format I avoid because it simply doesn't work for me. If I converted my files to AIFF I'd need more disc space than I currently have. Fortunately, I can't hear any of the reported differences in the way I have it. 

 

With my UQ in the office it gets FLAC to play. Perhaps AIFF or WAV would sound better, but it sounds OK with FLAC and I've no way to transcode on the fly. 

 

All the best, Guy 

 
 
 
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Guido Fawkes
 
August 15, 2012 10:42 PM

Originally Posted by Stefan Vogt:

Hi George,

here is another piece of evidence for AIFF > ALAC:

 

http://www.avguide.com/forums/apple-lossless-or-not

 

This has convinced me in favour of AIFF, but I guess the difference in sound quality is not proportional to the difference in file size (well, I just bought a 512 GB SSD for my MacBookPro, so this should suffice for a while).

Best,

Stefan

Stefan - I would not call that evidence, it seems like somebody's opinion.

Why does he call FLAC .. "so called lossless" ... FLAC is lossless whatever the opinion on SQ. 

I'm still totally unconvinced a FLAC, ALAC or AIFF or WAV file sounds any different through my system

 

>  I just bought a 512 GB SSD for my MacBookPro

A very nice addition ... I really like booting from SSD as it runs like a rocket compared with the old HDD. I wish SSD was cheap enough for us to be able to buy 2TB disks - perhaps one day. 

 

All the best, Guy 

 

 
 
 
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George Fredrik
 
August 19, 2012 5:02 PM

I am sorry to have only just seen this.

 

Thanks to Stefan Vogt, for the link and Guy for making the quotation from Stefan.

 

I read through the link and it seems that I am not the first to notice a difference, and the difference noted was the same. 

 

With a so-called "lossless" format like FLAC (or Apple Lossless, etc.), it is possible to restore the original, bit-for-bit (as proven down to the sample level in a null test) BUT this is true ONLY when the extraction is performed outside of real-time, i.e. NOT while listening but as a separate process performed by the appropriate software.

On the other hand, when extracted in real-time, i.e. while listening, there is a sonic price to pay as the result sounds harder and brighter than the original, un-reduced, linear PCM file. This is not a "night-and-day" difference and I can imagine some listeners on some systems not detecting it. Nonetheless, the difference is quite audible and on our system, I was able (and every one of my listening partners were able) to identify the reduced file within the first few seconds of play. This was in a blind, direct comparison with the original file. Everyone got it 100% of the time, with different types of music and playing the files in different software applications (some of which are pro level apps I use in my work).


I have spoken with some colleagues about this and their experience has been the same. It is much the same as the case with the best sample rate conversion algorithms: when used off-line (i.e. not while listening), they can be utterly transparent; when used in real-time (i.e. while listening), the sound gets brighter and harder. (I hear exactly the same characteristics with DACs and CD players that apply real-time sample rate conversion, and so, I avoid them and don't recommend them.)


It is strange, but among CD players, the only ones that I have found that did not seem "slightly" bright, and on some recordings actually more edgy than right, was the CDS2 and CDS3. I am not familiar enough with the CD 555 to say on that!

 

As I noted earlier, that sense is of slightly more distanced presentation, yet with all the detail naturally proportioned and clear, because there is not the slight brightness, which naturally makes the replayed music sound slightly nearer, but with additional detail, of course. 

 

Of course it is nice to find someone agreeing with one, especially when they said it first in an unknown source!

 

Mind you it is gratifying that the Nait 5i-2 and ESL 57s are good enough to show what apparently does not show on all replay systems!

 

ATB from George

 

 
 
 
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October 2, 2012 10:24 AM

Originally Posted by james n:
Originally Posted by Simon-in-Suffolk:

George, if you have your file in ALAC, you don't need to re rip to get into AIFF, you can simply use a format converter such as DBPoweramp to do a bulk conversion. There must be OSX equivalents.

As ALAC is lossless, if the software is working correctly no info is lost in this conversion.

Simon

ITunes will do this. No need for any external converters.

 

James

James and others

it's true that itunes will do this but my experience (with a few files as an experiment) is that it will result in the original ALAC and the AIFF files being retained (as mentioned elsewhere). Sorry if I've missed the solution but, is there a way to easily delete the ALAC file at the time or after conversion without going through all the files, please.

 
 
 
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