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How to Configure iTunes for Optimal Sound Quality
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June 03, 2011 | by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
With the proper set-up, a home computer system can offer quality audio for even the most picky listeners.
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Posted by Mark Waldrep  on  06/07  at  04:01 PM

Robert, very nice piece on how to get the most out of your computer -based music system. I have one question/correction however, the Audio MIDI Setup application on the MAC allows you to playback up to 96 kHz/24-bit PCM stereo audio files, but I’m unaware of how you would set it up to playback 384 kHz/32-bit audio of any type.

It would be nice to include mention of getting audio files better than standard definition CD rips from HD digital download sites. Playing HD audio out of a MAC via USB to a great quality DAC can elevate the fidelity to new heights of listening pleasure.

Posted by Matthew Peterworth  on  06/07  at  05:51 PM

Comments on the hardware upgrade suggestions:

Adding RAM will simply decrease the likelihood of iTunes or your computer crashing. It doesn’t actually increase the quality of sound as Rankin describes. It’s the quality of the DAC that is the deciding factor, not computer RAM.

Swapping out your standard hard drive for a Solid State (SSD) won’t increase the quality of sound either. It will decrease the amount of time it takes your computer to import your music from CD, as well as decrease the amount of time iTunes takes to “wake up” when you start playing music after a long downtime.

For reference, if you keep all of your media on an external standard hard drive, expect iTunes to take 8 to 10 seconds to “wake up”.
For a standard internal hard drive, expect half that.
I haven’t tested a SSD drive yet, but I believe it will shrink that to 1 to 2 seconds.

Posted by Kip Litsey  on  06/07  at  06:29 PM

Just to clear things up here a bit…

ALAC stands for Apple Lossless Audio Coding and is a lossless compression format, not lossy like MP3, AAC or any other “compressed MP3” type format. If you use ALAC to import (rip) your music files from your Compact Disc then playback of an ALAC file is bit-for-bit identical to what you pulled off of the Compact Disc.

AIFF is Apple’s uncompressed PCM format and is comparable to the Microsoft/IBM WAV format and it too is bit-for-bit identical to playback off the Compact Disc. You will not hear any difference between comparing an AIFF file to either a WAV or ALAC as they are all bit-for-bit identical to the information off of the Compact Disc.

The advantage to using ALAC for import of your CD music collection is that it can compress (without loss) the data stream about 30-40%. On file playback the ALAC CODEC/Algorithm expands this back to the original Pulse Code Modulation data file so it is identical to what you imported off the CD. When you spread this 30-40% lossless compression over tens of thousands of songs, it is a real space saver and does so without losing any file (music)quality.

There is so much more to it but this covers the high ground.

The bottom line is that you will get bit-for-bit identical playback using Uncompressed AIFF, Uncompressed WAV or Lossless Compressed ALAC.

I use iTunes to manage my music collection but until Apple offers at least 16 Bit/44.1KHz ALAC files (that is CD quality for all you non-geek types) then they will never see a penny of mine to buy their cra…err I mean music (data really, but let’s not split hairs, it creates music) :-).

Now, as Mark states, HD Audio sounds amazing and I would LOVE to see a transition to 24 Bit/96KHz or better downloads…but unfortunately it seems the mass buyers are only concerned about Quantity and not even focused on Quality. And don’t get me started about all the compression/overdrive that is happening in production of music today…

Posted by FarmerBob  on  06/07  at  09:18 PM

This is basically a moot point due to so much that has been left our of the article and the fact that digital music is flat. It does not have the richness and depth that vinyl does. And Thank God the kids today are realizing that. Vinyl is coming back in a big way. I have never left it. I have been a real DJ for over 30 years and while some of my colleagues have switched to digital, they can go to the gym but carrying all those Peaches (Record Store) bins is just too much for them, I have stayed with vinyl. When a club has a kick ### sound system (I have installed many over the years) why insult it with digital files. Granted they may be easier to handle. But the sweat effort pays off big time. Unfortunately, there are too many out there these days that either don’t care or don’t notice the difference. Or are just plain stupid.

Oh and it would have been nice if hardware and whatnot versions were included in the article to make it easier to find settings and compare being able to or not set them as discussed. And proper setting labeling. I am showing for 9.2.1: SBT (Stereo Bit Rate) a max of 320 kbps and the Sample Rate 48 kHz. And nothing more than 16/44100 on the Midi side. But I must say all my production materials come out great. As far as the untrained public ear is concerned.

Once again another Electronic House “entry level” article.

Posted by Paul Jean  on  06/08  at  11:11 AM

You guys also fail to mention that a good sound card also improve sound.  I just upgraded from integrated sound card to a Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium HD PCIe Sound Card.  The difference was huge.

Posted by Kip Litsey  on  06/09  at  09:19 AM

Yes, a good sound card can make a huge improvement if you are capturing your audio signal from your computer via analog to send on to your amplification and speakers.

If you get serious about storing/managing your music on a computer I can’t recommend and Apple TV enough. You can browe your entire library from your TV and the music/data signal stays digital all the way to your receiver where you can take advantage of all those expensive DACs and circuitry you paid for.

I have compared CDs played back from the CD player to the same tracks from the computer and I swear the one from the computer sounds better. Not like night and day better but just better.

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