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Topic: MP3 encoder vs. Apple Lossless Encoder

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Old 08-19-2009, 10:29 AM
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MP3 encoder vs. Apple Lossless Encoder

I've been ripping CDs at 320kbps mp3, should I switch to Apple lossless encoder for better sound quality?



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Old 08-19-2009, 12:03 PM
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I doubt that you will be able to effectively hear a difference between Apple lossless (ALAC) and a 320kbps mp3 file. Lossless formats should really only be used as an archive of your music collection. In other words, you rip your CDs once to a lossless format and the convert those files to a lossy format (mp3, AAC, etc.) for portable iPod use.

You can either keep encoding to 320kbps mp3 (which is overkill) or rip to lossless and then convert to 320kbps mp3 for iPod use. If in doubt, you can always conduct a blind ABX test. Download foobar2000, install the program (also make sure to download the ABX plug-in), and conduct a blind ABX test comparing a couple lossless files to their lossy versions. That is the only true way to determine if you can hear a difference. Switching between the songs in iTunes won't work as you can suffer from the placebo affect.



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Old 10-11-2009, 08:25 PM
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In order of quality, highest to lowest, obviously lossless is first, then aac, then mp3.
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Old 10-11-2009, 08:40 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Podgeek66 View Post
In order of quality, highest to lowest, obviously lossless is first, then aac, then mp3.
Absolute bollocks.

In practical terms, there is zero difference.

In not so practical terms, lossless is better because it is the original source, and mp3 and AAC are statistically tied in listening tests and have been for years assuming we're talking real encoders (e.g. LAME mp3, Nero AAC, iTunes AAC).

The iTunes mp3 encoder is pants, that much is true, but don't label the technology as any worse sounding than AAC because it's not.
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Old 10-11-2009, 11:16 PM
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The big benefit is, half the space.
The downside is, before conversion to another format (or burning another CD, which would be the exact same quality as the original CD) Apple Lossless is only usable by iTunes or QuickTime.
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Old 10-12-2009, 07:51 AM
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No it isn't. Apple lossless can be used by a variety of programs now. dBpowerAMP works with ALAC and so does foobar2000, MAX, XLD, and a variety of other programs. You aren't limited to iTunes and QuickTime for the playback/conversion of ALAC files.



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Old 10-12-2009, 09:06 AM
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Really though, this, like all these subject-oriented threads, can be boiled down to this:

Lossless is only useful as an archive format. It is useful to archive music with tags, artwork, even ratings embedded somehow, etc. so that you can always create lossy versions with better/different encoders in the future without going to the trouble of re-ripping, re-tagging, etc.. Because any lossless format can be converted to any other lossless format, worrying about which format to use is purely a personal decision based on how you plan to manage things. Myself, I keep my DVD archives as FLAC and am working on creating an iTunes indexed copy of the lossless files on hard drive in ALAC.

The reason why lossless is really only useful as an archive format is that unless you are, literally, a one in a million (and probably rarer) golden ear, there is some lossy encoder option at which you will never be able to genuinely distingish between the lossy encode and the original lossless. In over half a decade of reading and participating in discussions about audio encoding, I've seen one person who was able to post evidence of being able to distinguish between LAME V0 and the lossless with 100% accuracy, and by their own admission, the particular song used was an outlier, something so difficult to encode that they could always spot the slight artifacts that others missed. For the other 99.99% of with 99.99% of our music, whether we're opting to simply go for the maximum 320 kbps, or ABX testing to determine where our particular cutoff point is for transparency, we will easily save tons of disc space and battery life by opting for a lossy encode of some level versus lossless.

As for which lossy encoder to go with, there are two that should be evaluated for their compatibility with your near future audio needs and plans, not their quality: LAME mp3 and AAC (either Nero or iTunes/QuickTime). The hypothetical superiority of AAC is for formats that are not used in any widely available music oriented system as of now. AAC is, conceivably, better than mp3 because it contains support for things like multi-channel stereo, alternate audio tracks, and encoding options that could allow for very passable sound quality for audiobooks and movie audio at much lower bitrates than anyone is discussing today, but for the two channel stereo that we're all pumping into our ears with music, there is no definite advantage to either format. At this point, AAC is becoming nearly as ubiquitously supported as mp3, a natural consequence of Apple choosing to promote it over mp3 for financial and licensing reasons, but it is also still undeniably true that mp3 is more compatible than AAC, it being almost impossible to find a device that does not support it.
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Old 10-14-2009, 09:19 PM
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^Pretty much sums it up.

I backed up all of my CD's, DVD Audio Rips, etc. to Apple Lossless. Some of my DVD's have PCM audio, which is lossless. Many have AC-3, which is lossy, but I convert to ALAC anyways so if I want to convert to lossy, I don't have to re-rip the audio, I can go straight from the ALAC files and it's the same as ripping the DVD again.

In fact, I even backup crappy audio (such as audio from Youtube rips) to Apple Lossless. It wastes space, but again, you get the benefit of being able to go back to that lossless file at any time and its the same as re-ripping the audio from the video without actually doing it (a benefit to me, since I don't keep most of the videos I rip the audio from).

Anyways, I back up to ALAC and then convert everything to 192kbps VBR mp3 with the most recent LAME encoder. My lossless files are simply used as a backup, I find no use in listening to them. My library is lossy. In fact, I even though I buy iTunes plus music and archive it, I convert it to 192kbps mp3 as well. I know lossy to lossy conversion causes further audio loss, but it's negligible to me and I prefer having everything in mp3 format. If I ever can tell the difference (however doubtful it may be), I still have the original purchased AAC files on hand.
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Old 10-22-2009, 06:56 PM
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Lossy Encoder

This was an interesting post to come across as I had an issue recetnly where my MP3s (although 192kbs +) didnt seem that great a quality, volumes were different and they sounded muddy and supressed, all these CDs were ripped using iTunes.

A friend told me albout the Aplle Lossless so doing a test on a couple of tracks i could really tell the difference and so started the process of re-ripping my tunes to apple lossless, the main problem is space, the files are massive and the capicity of my iTouch has gone through the floor.

I dont actually need to archive my stuff in lossless format, and so am thinking of going back to MP3 where even at 320kbs the file size is so much smaller than the lossless, so my question is this.

What is the best application to rip my CDs to MP3? code monkey mentions that the itunes MP3 encoder is pants and judging by the mixed bag of quality that i have i agree, but what SHOULD i use? I assume they all will keep the artist/album information though?

thanks
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Old 10-23-2009, 09:57 AM
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A couple of things:
  1. Any difference that you heard was likely due to songs that weren't volume matched. Louder songs give the false impression of being higher quality. I can encode a track at 96kbps mp3, boost the volume, and people will think that it sounds better than a -89 dB 256kbps AAC file.
  2. Any difference that you heard can be thrown away due to the placebo affect. You need to conduct a series of blind ABX tests if you statements are going to be taken seriously. foobar2000 is a free program (Windows only, there are Linux and Mac OS X alternatives) that allows you to conduct blind ABX tests.
  3. Conducting blind ABX tests would allow you to determine the proper lossy (ie mp3, AAC, WMA, etc.) encoder and setting for you to use. 320kbps (for any encoder/format) is overkill for 99.9999999999% fo people with 99.999999999% of samples. The majority of people out there cannot properly distinguish between a 128kbps VBR AAC/mp3 file and the source lossless material. This doesn't make them deaf, it doesn't mean that they don't appreciate the music, and it doesn't mean that their equipment is crap. It just means that the lossy encoder is doing its job.
  4. There are plenty of guides here on iLounge to help get you going with CD ripping.



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Old 10-23-2009, 10:03 AM
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Thanks Kornchild, I'll look into those blind ABX tests and download foobar when I get home from work. I checked out the foobar website though and it just looks like a media player, how will this help me determine the quality of listening to a track? (apologies if this is a ridiculous question)

Some other points though, how can I ensure volume levels are matched when using iTunes as I rip the tracks.

Also the problem where he music seems surpressed (sounds like your listening to it from the other side of a door for example), would that be the encoder? when I listen to the CD itself via headphones it sounds ok, but on the iTouch it has problems.
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Old 10-23-2009, 10:53 AM
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There's a plugin for foobar that allows you to conduct a true ABX double blind test.

You give it two tracks, say a lossless one and a 192 kbps file ripped from the same lossless source. You calculate Replay Gain info for the tracks so that their volumes are identical, then you select the two tracks, r-click and select the ABX plugin.

What happens is you have four buttons A, B, X, Y, in a 2 x 2 pattern. The samples are randomly arranged: Either A=X & B=Y, or A=Y & B=X. It's your job to listen carefully to the four samples, you can scrub back and forth and listen to them transition seamlessly as the track plays. When you think you know whether A=X or A=Y, you click your answer and lock it in. You keep doing this for somewhere between 5 to 10 trials. If you really can hear a difference, you'll wind up with a probability that you weren't guessing based on your percentage correct and how greatly outside the 50/50 split you would get by guessing.

You want to do this with different types of music you listen to with a variety of bitrates, some tracks are harder to encode than others, these are your outliers. When you find something you *can* ABX successfully, those make good tracks for testing the limits of your ears. For instance, there's a Jayhawks song called "Ten Little Indians" that I can ABX with about a 90+% success rate up to about 150 kbps, after that, I'm just guessing. It's full of cymbals and guitar distortion, two things that I am proficient at noticing encoding artifacts for. For most music, I can't even ABX a 128 kbps CBR LAME mp3 file from lossless. The take away is that as long as I encode at anything beyond ~150 (VBR) kbps, I know empirically that the lossy encode is 100% identical to the lossless as far as my hearing is concerned and any deficiencies are either imagination or inherent to the source material.
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Old 10-23-2009, 11:56 AM
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fantastic information, thanks for that code monkey, ill check all that out later and get on with some testing.
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Old 10-23-2009, 06:08 PM
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ok, downloaded foobar2000 and the ABX Comparator, but there are no instructions on how to get the app to run the Comparator, I cannot see how to get it to work.
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Old 10-23-2009, 06:46 PM
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s'ok, i found it
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