VBR AAC (dBPowerAmp) vs LAME MP3 vs. iTunes AAC

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MrZebra77

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Since I keep all the CDs I borrow from the library or from my sisters as FLAC files, and that iTunes does not support FLAC, I downloaded dBPowerAmps's AAC Codec to do some tests...

First of all, we all know that iTunes AAC Encoder is only CBR which is why LAME MP3 can usually beat AAC at the same average bitrate.

When I converted an album with dBPA, I noticed that it's files were VBR, when you choose the AAC format, you can choose a quality number from 10 to 500 with 100 being the default. 10 gives an average bitrate of 50kbps and sounds horrible, 50 gives an average bitrate of 90kbps and sounds ok but I can perceive some artifacts. 100 gives a bitrate of ~120kbps and sounds fine to me. 500 gives an average bitrate of 240kbps.

Has anyone done any listening tests with that? How does it compare to iTunes's AAC or LAME VBR MP3?

Currently I encode all my new CDs at --preset-insane and the rest of my collection (Including borrowed disks) at --preset-extreme.

When I run low on space I will have to reencode everything at lower bitrates and am trying to decide between dBPA's AAC 100 quallity and LAME's VBR 5 quality which both give an average bitrate of around 128kbps.

Other than ABX Testing which I will eventually do, I'd like to know if anyone has compared the 3 emcoders.
 

Heitor

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MrZebra77 said:
First of all, we all know that iTunes AAC Encoder is only CBR which is why LAME MP3 can usually beat AAC at the same average bitrate.
Actually, iTunes AAC is more acurately described as ABR (average bitrate). Play some music encoded by it on Foobar2000, for instance, and see the bitrate slightly floating.

On a rather recent listening test, around 128kbps, iTunes and Lame were statistically tied, although Lame, for using VBR, has employed more bits on average than iTunes. The rest depends on your point of view: what is more important, compression or quality (or the promise of it)?


When I converted an album with dBPA, I noticed that it's files were VBR, when you choose the AAC format, you can choose a quality number from 10 to 500 with 100 being the default. 10 gives an average bitrate of 50kbps and sounds horrible, 50 gives an average bitrate of 90kbps and sounds ok but I can perceive some artifacts. 100 gives a bitrate of ~120kbps and sounds fine to me. 500 gives an average bitrate of 240kbps.

Has anyone done any listening tests with that? How does it compare to iTunes's AAC or LAME VBR MP3?
It look like you are using FAAC, that, despite recent improvements, is not on a par with Lame, Nero or iTunes.


P.S.: I've tried by all means to write down three links that illustrate my arguments, but the forum kept refusing my posting and telling me: "only established members are allowed to post URLs on this site". I know it is my first post here, but I'd like to make statements with some reason behind it, although I have no choice now.
 

MrZebra77

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On a rather recent listening test, around 128kbps, iTunes and Lame were statistically tied, although Lame, for using VBR, has employed more bits on average than iTunes. The rest depends on your point of view: what is more important, compression or quality (or the promise of it)?
I'm looking for the best sounding ~128kbps files...

It look like you are using FAAC, that, despite recent improvements, is not on a par with Lame, Nero or iTunes.
Ok, so if iTunes's AAC @ 128 beats FAAC's 100 setting (Which comes down to the same bitrate almost) then is there a way to convert FLAC Files using iTunes?
 

Heitor

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MrZebra77 said:
I'm looking for the best sounding ~128kbps files...

Ok, so if iTunes's AAC @ 128 beats FAAC's 100 setting (Which comes down to the same bitrate almost) then is there a way to convert FLAC Files using iTunes?
Sorry, but no easy way. You can convert FLAC do WMA Lossless (dMC can do it for you), and then import into iTunes in order to convert to iTunes AAC. Enough work.
 

underground

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Heitor said:
Sorry, but no easy way. You can convert FLAC do WMA Lossless (dMC can do it for you), and then import into iTunes in order to convert to iTunes AAC. Enough work.
If you are looking to make use of iTunes' AAC and have some experience using Foobar 2000, I recommend also checking out this ,its a script designed by Otto from Hydrogenaudio that allows you to use any of the iTunes encoders with Foobar, EAC, or any other aplication that use scripts. This way you can covert your FLAC files straight to iTunes AAC with Foobar.
 

kornchild2002

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MrZebra77 said:
I'm looking for the best sounding ~128kbps files...

Ok, so if iTunes's AAC @ 128 beats FAAC's 100 setting (Which comes down to the same bitrate almost) then is there a way to convert FLAC Files using iTunes?
Yes you can, go to http://www.dbpoweramp.com/codec-central-mp4.htm and download the Quicktime encoder. This requires a registered version of Quicktime, I won't go into other details about getting a registered copy of Quicktime for free as it is illegal but I think you can figure it out. iTunes uses Quicktime to encode AAC files so converting with dbpoweramp using the Quicktime AAC plug-in is essentially the same thing. Hope this helps.
 

MrZebra77

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Hehe, yeah I know how to "Register" QuickTime, it's just that I rarely use it so I just don't bother anymore...

That would allow dBPowerAmp to use the same encoding engine as iTunes, but is iTunes's Encoder (Which is CBR) better than FAAC (Which is VBR)?

I haven't done tests against my ~128kbps VBR LAME Encoder Command-Line Profile to see if there's a point in even using AAC here, that's why I'm asking if others have done tests...
 

Morfious

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Another idea for the orig poster is to use Apples lossless codec. That way you could convert it to any form you wanted right from iTunes. I realize that this does not help you for the albums you already have, but it might save you some work in the future. For my personal taste 192 is my minimum quality level. I rip most of my stuff using lame and alt-preset standard. For my favorite stuff or classical music I use alt-preset extreme. These have worked well for me in my Jeep and in my home stereo. I just use AAC for audiobooks (192 mono ~= 96 k)
 

MrZebra77

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The Problem with Apple Lossless, it's that I'm stuck in iTunes. I'd rather keep my music in a non-proprietary format (Which is why I chose FLAC) and then from that, convert it to any format I need (At that point, a proprietary format is not a problem since I can always reencode from the original FLACs if I need to switch format)

I currently separated my music collection in 6 Groups:

1. New CDs.
2. Recent/Favorite CDs.
3. Rest of my CDs.
4. Borrowed CDs.
5. Special CDs (Some soundtracks and compilations I don't listen to anymore, but still wants to have with me if I want to listen to a track from that, not part of any playlists)
6. Downloads and other tracks I don't have on CD.

Currently #1 is at preset insane, 2,3,4 and 5 are at preset extreme and 6 well, I have no control over bitrate/quality for those so it ranges from 128 to 320.

For #1,2,3,5, I have all the CDs so I can rerip them any time. It is in my medium-terms plans to get either a DVD Burner and/or a new hard drive to keep those as FLAC Files as well for quicker converts. Having to rerip my collection if I switch format/bitrate will be faster if I can queue a whole tree of subdirectories (1 per album) of FLACs instead of changing disks for each albums.

For #4, the FLAC files is all I have.

When I run out of space, I plan to reduce the bitrate of #5, then #4, then #3, then #2 and then #1. Preset Standard might be an option, VBR 5 (Which gives a bitrate of ~128kbps) might also be a good choice. And that is why I'm wxploring the alternative of using AAC for that bitrate here.
 

Teqnilogik

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In my opinion, LAME MP3 would be your best solution at 128 kbps. LAME is the best sounding MP3 encoder at that bit rate and higher and MP3 is compatible with everything.

iTunes AAC files at 128 kbps sound just a little bit better than LAME MP3 at 128 kbps to me. I would go with MP3 since the quality would be just about equal to iTunes AAC and you'll still have compatibility with anything.

Use the --alt-preset 128 command to create average bit rate 128 kbps MP3 files with LAME. Average bit rate files will give you higher quality than constant bit rate files.

You may also want to consider the --alt-preset medium preset available in LAME 3.96.1. It provides really decent quality at bit rates around 160 kbps. Personally, I find this the best quality setting if you are crammed for space. Albums will come out to be only a little larger in file size than 128 kbps MP3s and you will notice a nice quality difference.

About dbPowerAMP VBR AAC vs. LAME MP3 vs. iTunes AAC:

FAAC = dBpowerAMP uses this AAC encoder. FAAC is a free and open-source project, however, it is not as good as Nero and Apple's AAC encoders.

LAME MP3 = best quality MP3 encoder, PERIOD. It is statistically tied quality-wise with iTunes AAC at 128 kbps.

iTunes AAC = best quality AAC encoder at 128 kbps according to a listening test conducted months ago. Not sure how much Nero has progressed since then. A new listening test should be done once Apple releases VBR AAC.

From the above info you gotta make your own choice and do your own tests and find out what is the best solution for your needs. Good luck! I know it can be a pain choosing a format. :)
 
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MrZebra77

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I'm not too worried about compatibility, I keep the FLAC files so I can reconvert them to another format if necessary.

The Preset Medium option in Lame 3.96 is I believe the same as "--VBR 4" and my ~128kbps LAME Profile uses "--VBR 5" so slightly under.

For below 128, I use VBR 8 and VBR 9 which lowers the sampling rate to 32khz and 24khz to get 96kbps and 64kbps but I don't intend to go that low (With a MultiGig iPod, on a SubGig flash player that was useful but not with an iPod).

My goal is ~128kbps file. When I encoded an album I'm very familiar with at ~128kbps VBR AAC, it sounded better than what I remember my LAME ~128kbps profile sounded like. Didn't do a direct comparison though, so I could be wrong here...
 

Teqnilogik

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No I would agree with your comparison. To me, the iTunes AAC was noticably better than the LAME MP3, however, the LAME MP3 at 128 kbps sounded very close to the AAC. Kind of surprised me considering how "far more advanced" AAC is supposed to be. To me, the artifacts in the AAC were less noticable or non-existent. That's one advantage I think AAC has - it's better at masking its artifacts. Artifacts in MP3s are rather blatant and out there - tinny, washy, etc sounds. But AACs tend to do better at lower bit rates because it doesn't have as annoying artifacts. Now I think over time people will become accustomed to the artifacts that AAC does add to the audio but for me, I didn't really notice them and if I did they weren't annoying.

Personally, I went back to MP3 because it works with everything, it's easy to setup LAME and use with Exact Audio Copy, and its once less thing for me to worry about. I know that in the future, any player or device I want to play my music on will play my MP3s. But if AAC floats your boat then by all means I say go for it. Great quality at 128 kbps.
 

MrZebra77

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I ripped "Dive In" by Alisha's Attic to LAME MP3, FAAC 100 and 125 and iTunes AAC.

For average bitrates:

LAME VBR 5 gave 133kbps
FAAC Q 100 gave 125kbps
FAAC Q 125 gace 139kbps
iTunes AAC gave 128kbps

All the AACs sounded better (not by much but I did hear a difference) than the MP3.

The iTunes AAC sounded just slightly better than the FAAC Q 100 and I couldn't tell it apart from the FAAC 125.

The issue is still about converting from FLAC which iTunes cannot do, so I'd still have to use FAAC (Either with dBPowerAmp or QCD)
 

Teqnilogik

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You could download iTunesEncode and use it with Foobar2000 to convert your FLAC files to iTunes AAC files. iTunesEncode using the COM functionality built into iTunes 4.5 and higher for Windows. It allows other programs to pass parameters to iTunes and receive info back from iTunes. So iTunesEncode passes info to iTunes on what needs done, iTunes does it and gives info back to iTunesEncode. This allows you to use other apps to interface with iTunes and use its AAC encoder. Download it and Foobar2000 and configure Foobar2000's Diskwriter plug-in to convert your files to FLAC. I'll also mention that iTunesEncode can be used with Exact Audio Copy as well - EAC rips, iTunes encodes. Check out the README.TXT file in the zip archive of iTunesEncode for info on how to use it.
 
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MrZebra77

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Humm, interesting program... Especially the part where you could tell it not to output it and it only gets created in iTunes's library which for me would make sense sice that's the only place I'd use M4A files...

So I could setup QCD's CLI Encoder plugin to use it to batch converts FLACs, since as far as I know, QCD decodes to WAV first, then passes the WAV data to the encoder (Usually through stdin so that it rips and encode at the same time but that can be changed so that it converts whatever source into WAV first, then encodes and then goes to the next file.

I'll give that a try, thanks for the link.
 
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