Apple Lossless Confusion

There’s a lot of confusion about audio encoding, and how to get the best out of your digital music. Obviously we at B&W are keen to promote the benefits of lossless encoding, especially with our Society of Sound music downloads and Zeppelin iPod speaker system.

However, confusion abounds about how to get lossless versions of your music onto your iPod, as is clear from this thread on the What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision forums.

Unfortunately for people who have already ripped their record collection at a lower bit rate – even say 320kbps – you’ll need to re-rip your CD collection if you are looking to upgrade the sound. Just reformatting your music in Apple Lossless won’t make any difference.

The good news is that the effort will be well worth it: it will sound a lot better and with the cost of hard drive space dropping by the day it will only cost you time to do it!


  • Mohsin says:

    I’ve tested Apple Lossless files with my CDs and compared it with WAV/Aiff.

    I’ve also compared your downloads in FLAC/Apple Lossless.

    I know ‘lossless is lossless’ but in all cases Apple Lossless sounds duller and a bit lifeless.

    On my iPod which I connect to my hifi I am now only loading Aiffs (I decode your FLACs to WAVs and use iTunes to convert to Aiff).

    Compare your own Spiro album – I guarantee you’ll find the FLAC sounds better.

  • Chris Adair says:

    I recently came across an article written by a man who designs “lossless” encoding and he mentioned that the lossless encoding became lossy at times to preserve bandwidth limitations. This lead me to compare Apple Lossless to WAVs. to my amazement the difference was HUGE whether using a propriety DAC (Bryston) or just stereo out from a MAC mini. Suprisingly I tested on 3 customers, all are discerning , and all said STRAIGHT awaay that the WAV was hugely superior, chalk and cheese. Listening carefully the final sustain on notes was lost on the apple lossless version and the character of the sounds were less “real”. on a revealing system the piano sounds like a recording of “a” piano with the Apple lossless, yet the WAV preserves the characher and feels like a recording of the artists piano (more life like an real) but most importantly the WAV file held my attention and captivated me to the performance and the apple lossless didn’t. No doubt apple lossless is way better than MP3 , but is apple lossless lossy or is something else going on ? very disappointing as WAvs are such a pain to use.
    Anyone analised the “bits” coming out from decomprssion ?

  • JPF says:

    Dear Chris Adair:

    I will not try to decode if whether you would detect the effect of this “double blind.” Instead, I would use the programmer in me to decide if the CPU would be able to decode the compressed Apple Lossless file with CPU cycles to spare in advance of the rate of playback.

    In other words, maintain the tempo of the playback… .which would mean that a operating system (OS) would need to be designed for playback of music. So that the first priority would be the creation of the audio output in synch with the designated audio rate (clock). An interesting proposition…

    We need to output at a certain frequency at a certain time to maintain musicality. Or, we can have a buffer, and never exceed a certain processing fraction of CPU time.

    In the past we would designate this a RTOS (Real Time Operating System), and think of Silicon Graphics (SGI) hardware, or similar UNIX-based.

    What is the current SOTA (state of the art)?

    We’ll have to assume if your listening impressions are accurate (double-blind) then, the OS-X (Apple OS…) is definately -not- a “RTOS,” or “…inclined for music….”

    I have read about a “music OS” and now see the reason for it. Preemptive multitasking is the aged technical term, where the pre-emptvive past is clocked-based SPDIF (or similar) audio ouput.

  • Chris Geldner says:

    I have been experimenting with different file formats when ripping either CDs or digitalizing any of my vinyls.

    At the end of the day it is safe to say that Apple Lossless is better than any higher resolution MP3s but in no way competing with either FLAC, WAV or, my favourite Aiff.

    Aiff, just like WAV will chew up your HDD capacity fast but is by far better than Apple Lossless. This is why I have selected Apple 160GB iPod Classic to be used on my bedroom’s Zeppelin or if I take along music to listen to in other places. Even on my iPhone or iPad, I rather use big Aiff-files when I listen to music via headphones when I am on the road.

    Friends and I have compared different file formats in their sonic quality on top end audio equipment for valid conclusions.

  • Jens Henriksen says:

    Some misunderstandings at play here. The difference between FLAC and ALAC (Apple Lossless) is that everything about the implementation and structure of metadata and so forth is openly available for FLAC while Apple as usual keeps a lid on it. The music part of the files are identical down to every single bit when decompressed!

    The only thing needed to prove that is compressing a 24bit/96KHz DTS 5.1 signal and playing it back through a known bit-perfect chain. If that plays music when send to a surround capable receiver/processor then the bits are identical. The DTS format has literally no resilience against bit-errors and any error at once turns the signal in to an unbearable noise (killing the tweeters if played loud). Both Bluesound and Foobar2000 (with WASAPI output) are capable of playing the 5.1 tracks perfectly whether they have been compressed with FLAC or ALAC.

    What Chris Adair writes I find a little hard to believe – but off course I may be becoming deaf. Even though I am way beyond discerning (more like an obnoxious pain in the …. when it comes to sound) I have never been able to demonstrate any difference between WAV or FLAC. ALAC has not been tested systematically against WAV/FLAC but as the input stage of the DAC re-clocks everything and any difference in jitter from decompressing FLAC or ALAC is effectively removed at that stage. Lots of pre-loudness war cd’s however can be clearly distinguished from their less than clear sounding m4a versions in iTunes Store – or the even worse “Mastered for iTunes” versions which should be renamed “Brickwalled for use on worthless $4,99 earbuds by quality ignorant or hearing impaired people” ;-)

    I anybody can name a track or album (other than Spiro) where the differences between ALAC, FLAC and WAV stand out it would be appreciated.

  • Jens Henriksen says:

    – oh I forgot: The bandwith issues resulting in dropping of bits sound to me as if it has to do with streaming over (wireless) networks, not the encoding of files. I have not been able to find the article mentioned though.

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