itunes and hi-res music

default -- Fri, 01/30/2009 - 07:12

I use itunes as the library manager for a wifi’ed Squeezebox and am interested in exploring hi-res music played though this system.  (I realize that the SB will not digitally out the hi-res files and a DAC capable of managing 24/96+ res is necessary; but these are secondary issues for now). Rather, I would like to know how itunes best handles hi-res files. 
VIA DOWNLOAD: Where I can best download hi-res files for iTunes? It seems that HD Tracks only downloads to FLAC, which is not itunes supported. 
VIA DVD-R: Do you have experience ripping a Reference Recording HRx DVD-R or other hi-res disc to itunes? Would the format be Apple lossless, WAV or something else? Will the material be maintained perfectly?  Is SACD compatible with itunes?
Finally, how does wifi handle hi-res files. I have had absolutely no trouble with my normal files but am not sure if increasing the data flow will have any impact. Wifi is an excellent and inexpensive way to avoid the serious issue of noise common with PC based music servers raised by Robert Harley in the most recent TAS.

Steven Stone -- Fri, 01/30/2009 - 10:29

 I would recommend downloading in FLAC and then using a third party program to make iTune-compatible files for playing on iTunes. That way you will have  the high-rez files for another program or for that time when iTunes does support higher rez AND you will have a set of files to play on iTunes now.
I haven't tried ripping a HRx dsk, so perhaps Robert will respond on this question.
If you have a MAC you must go into the Audio MIDI Sound program to adjust your output to support these higher rez files. The Toslink output of most MACs (called digital out) will support higher bit rates than most outboard USB DACs. The beauty of this MIDI sound utility program is that it queries the external DAC and only shows the bit rates and bit depths that the external device supports.
With Squeezebox, and most other wireless server systems, you may need to acquire a plug-in or third-party software for your iTunes that allows you to imbed your JPEG cover graphics otherwise they will not show up in your servers since iTunes puts graphics into a separate file that the servers don't support.

Steven Stone
Contributor to The Absolute Sound,, Vintage Guitar Magazine, and other fine publications

Hans Shrader (not verified) -- Fri, 01/30/2009 - 21:52

Steven, thanks.
I have been streaming a large collection (600 gig Apple Lossless) of music through my SB, TACT, McIntosh and Quads for a couple of years now.  I have learned a lot and am tempered toward not being an absolute first mover (just slightly behind).  I will wait until iTunes moves to hi-res or will need to discover a separate/different transport that i am still able to easily manage.  
It seems that there is a way to go before hi-res is ready for the set up that i have (as common and easy as i think it is) and i loath adjusting something that is working so well. 
A fundamental issue is with FLAC.  Do you believe that this is/will be the download format of choice for hi-res.?   I started with and played with FLAC but moved to I-tunes (reluctantly!) because it was a simple, sound and comprehensive system.  I have no idea why Apply won't support FLAC - that would solve a wide range of compatibility and convergence issues and open a new market for them.  Frustrating.
Kind regards,

Al (not verified) -- Thu, 11/12/2009 - 12:42

 Great discussion guys!
I would like to listen high-res files using my macbook+built-in analog audio output-headphones (Audio Technnica)
Can my Apple MacBook (2.4 ghz intel core 2 duo) 13 inch aluminum reliably play 96khz/24 bit files?
Is the internal audio device good enough?

Steven Stone -- Sat, 01/31/2009 - 11:22

 I agree that iTunes lack of support for FLAC files makes it hard to go easily from an iTunes-based system to one that embraces FLAC.
Squeezebox's Squeezecenter converts Apple Lossless files to FLAC "on the fly" which works most of the time.
I also feel that when Apple decides to support higher rez files we will se a giant boost to high rez as a new standard.
I wish I could also sit back and wait - it makes life much less stressful :)

Steven Stone
Contributor to The Absolute Sound,, Vintage Guitar Magazine, and other fine publications

John Colombo (not verified) -- Tue, 02/03/2009 - 22:59

Steven, iTunes DOES support hi-rez files, just not in the FLAC format.  You can download a FLAC file and convert it to Apple Lossless (ALAC), WAV or AIFF and store and play that file in iTunes just fine.  There is a freeware program called MAX that will do this, and the process for doing it is described in detail on the Linn Records web site.  MAX is available here:
The problem is not that iTunes doesn't support hi-rez files; the problem is that it does not directly support FLAC, which appears to have become the default codec used by most sites for hi-rez audio files.  But using MAX to convert FLAC files to an iTunes-supported format is relatively trivial.  I have downloaded several 24/96 files from the Linn site and converted them to Apple Lossless, then played them via the optical output from a Macbook in to a Musical Fidelity X-DACv3, which supports 24/96 files.  I have not tried this with 24/192 files, but it should work the same way - FLAC and Apple Lossless are simply lossless compression algorithms; neither changes the original digital data and both formats are capable of encoding 24/192 files.  WAV and AIFF, of course, use no compression at all.
John Colombo 

Edwin F. Marcano (not verified) -- Thu, 02/12/2009 - 19:48

 I agree with John.  I 've been able to download hi-rez music in FLAC and then convert it to Apple Lossless with Max and listen to it on my Mac using iTunes.  Now, can someone confirm if the Squeezebox support hi-rez music or not?  Another thing, how can I burn a disc with hi-rez music?
Great discussion guys.

Hans Shrader (not verified) -- Wed, 02/04/2009 - 03:21

I've approached it a little differently - in addition to the  Apple Lossless files (my main library of music) i have on an external HD, i have a folder under My Music called FLAC Hi Res. SqueezeCenter picks up this file so those FLAC files can be outputted to the Squeezebox without going through i-Tunes.  I think the advantage of this is that Squeezecenter downconverts to FLAC 24/48, which is the highest output the SB can handle rather than having Apple convert to FLAC to Apple Lossless (which is more of a compromise, right?).  In the future, I expect to listen to these files at 24/96 or whatever. Interestingly, I am unable to get SCenter to read the Album art of the HD Tracks FLAC file I downloaded. Does anyone know to get SCenter to read the jpg.?
I have a question for readers: What is the subjective improvement in sound quality between 16/44 and 24/48 as compared to the relative decline in sound quality when one goes from 96/24 to 24/48. That is, for those who have very high resolution systems, in which case does the greatest perceived change occur? 
And yes Steve, when Apple goes Hi Res, it will be a boon for the industry. I hope that you and the other visible industry professionals out there will keep chipping away at this.  

dave richardson (not verified) -- Wed, 02/18/2009 - 21:00

To get Squeezecenter to use the downloaded HD Tracks .jpg, rename it cover.jpg. If the cover art doesn't show up do a complete rescan of your library, not just have it scan for new or changed files. There are a couple of other names you can use for the file but cover.jpg is the only one that comes to mind right now. You don't need to imbed the image if you're not using iTunes.

Steven Stone -- Fri, 02/13/2009 - 13:26

 For album art to read in SB you must "embed" the art. I do this via a script in i-Tunes. This is different than merely linking or tagging a jpeg file.
As for the improvements from one bit rate to another I'd say that depends on more factors than merely the bit rate and bit depth. Obviously the performance of the DAC at various bit rates will have a major impact on the perceived level of sound and incremental improvements and decreases in sound quality. I seriously doubt many DACs are linear in their performance between their supported sample rates.

Steven Stone
Contributor to The Absolute Sound,, Vintage Guitar Magazine, and other fine publications

Steven Stone -- Fri, 02/13/2009 - 18:46

 The Squeezebox Transporter supports 96/24. All other Squeezebox products support up to 48/16.
As for burning discs with hi-rez music - why not? The problem comes when you try to play them :)
WAV and AIFF files have the best chance of being playable on computers and other devices that support high-rez. I heard some high rez 88.2/24 files played through the Boulder player at CES.

Steven Stone
Contributor to The Absolute Sound,, Vintage Guitar Magazine, and other fine publications

rs350z -- Thu, 03/12/2009 - 20:51

 steven - have you used alternatives than just using itunes to rip a cd? have you used MAX or xld? when i rip cd's (i don't download songs), you can vary how you want to compress/write the data. i bumped up the bit rate from 600k - 1000k bit rate to a constant 1400k and can easily hear the difference. Uses twice as much disk but thats an easy price to pay.

Steven Stone -- Fri, 03/13/2009 - 09:21

 I very rarely (I can't remember the last time) rip from my iTunes library BACK to CD.
I do use iTunes for importing CDs to iTunes in Apple lossless format.
Are these programs you mention for Mac or PC?

Steven Stone
Contributor to The Absolute Sound,, Vintage Guitar Magazine, and other fine publications

ScottB (not verified) -- Fri, 03/13/2009 - 09:52

 I have to say, if you're using Windows, there are much better options than iTunes for music server software. My personal favorite is J River Media Center, which has support for all major lossless (and lossy) formats, automatic recognition of sampling rates/bit depth, support for all major sound drivers, very powerful tag creation and editing functionality, and lots of ways to define custom browsing views. It's $40 (free trial), and well worth it - far more capable than iTunes.
I also use dbPowerAmp for all my ripping. There are three major attractions to dbPowerAmp: "AccurateRip" technology which can guarantee bit-perfect rips on most discs with a (much faster) single pass, much more comprehensive Metadata support from 4 metadata providers (particularly helpful for Classical music), and flexible encoding and transcoding to all major lossless and lossy formats.
I think we have to keep iTunes in perspective. iTunes doesn't generate a dime of direct revenue for Apple - it exists only to provide the glue between the iPod, iPhone, airTunes, AppleTV, and iTunes Store franchises. There is little incentive for iTunes to start supporting formats which encourage people to download from other music stores! MP3 has to be supported, because it was already a de facto standard when iTunes came into existence, but for the others ... not likely to happen.
BTW, for Mac users, the new open source player, Songbird, supports FLAC playback on the Mac:
It has quite a few other cool features, too, though its metadata handling is not good enough for me.

Steven Stone -- Sat, 03/14/2009 - 09:34

Thanks for your suggestions. If I ever migrate to a PC I'd certainly consider them.
I looked at Songbird's release notes. IMHO it's not quite ready for prime-time yet. Some of the known bugs scared me off.
I've bookmarked the site and I'll wait for a later release as I'm not fond of playing beta-tester. I do that enough reviewing audio gear :)

Steven Stone
Contributor to The Absolute Sound,, Vintage Guitar Magazine, and other fine publications

ScottB (not verified) -- Sat, 03/14/2009 - 11:31

 Slightly OT, but that's one of the differences with open source development: the known bugs are published for all the world to see.
I've spent almost 20 years in software development, and I guarantee you, if Apple published the list of known bugs with iTunes, that'd scare you too. If you tried to eliminate every known bug in a product with that much code before releasing the product, you'd never release. What happens is, the product team makes an educated judgment about the likelihood of real users encountering a particular bug, versus the time needed to fix the bug and the possibility of introducing new bugs related to the fix. And depending on the balance of those considerations, the decision may well be to release the product with the bug - actually, a whole list of bugs. That's the sordid but unavoidable reality of the software business.
I used an earlier version of Songbird for a little while, with no issues at all, but I didn't use it long enough to constitute a definitive test. I'd probably wait if I were you, too.

bobboyer -- Thu, 02/24/2011 - 20:43

It's been a while since I've been around - building a small project recording studio with reel to reel tape recorders and vintage electronics and recording local acoustic music has taken my interest in this hobby in different directions and to new heights. But, I need to resurrect this old horse another time...

Due to the archival nature of the project I'm involved in, I've been converting the final recordings to digital via a new Focusrite Sapphire firewire interface, which is half the price of the last model Alan Taffel tested and is just flat-out amazing sounding. (I went with the Focusrite over the Apogee Duet for this task as I'm sometimes running four tracks from tape off onto the computer and the Apogee only does two.)

Anyway, I finally found time to download my first test track from HDTracks and play it through the Focusrite. I'm hugely impressed. But, Amadeus Pro, which is a nice piece of recording shareware, is by no means a music file manager. So, before I get very deep into loading 24/96 files onto my MacBook, are there any new thoughts out there concerning music management software for FLAC files?
Thanks in advance.

hshrader -- Mon, 08/01/2011 - 07:15

 So funny to see this post again!  I orginated it in 2009 and reviewing, i see many of the issues that i rasied have been addressed over time.  

Today ITunes does Hi Res.  One can download a high res flac. file, use DbAmp (on Windows) to convert to at the same sample rate to Apple Lossless and then import into Itunes.  Squeezebox Touch allows 24/96 digital output to a DAC/Preamp allowing for very a very high quality and low cost source. Those that claim little difference between 16/44 and 24/96 are mostly right, when the quality of the recordings are very high.  The differences are resolved by the quality of your speakers, i.e. if you are using a computer and desktop speakers no need to bother with hi res. ...same goes for systems that are not properly set up.  Better to spend the energy on an ideal setup for the room before seeking the advantages of hi res.

I remain a SQ user despited consideration of other options.  The source is relatively easy to manage, has strong customer support and evolves., i.e. ipad management at your armchair. My hope is that 24/176 is up next  -  that would be the last mile.  
Disadvantages that remain - while there is still no .flac in itunes and too few 24/96 recordings available,  the biggest issues if simplification.  I want to listen to excellent music, but as i have explored server based audio, i found myself spending WAY too much time on the guts of the system, i.e. set up and basic operation of the system. Lesson's learned - don't download software upgrades immediately and keep they set up as simple as possible.  

I am interested in what readers think server set ups will look like in 5 years and if others have found computer based wifi systems that works best for them. While i like SB, i am certainly open to other options.


quadlover -- Mon, 08/01/2011 - 10:39

I use Media Monkey to play my hdtracks downloads and files that I downloaded using DVD audio extractor to convert dvd-a files.  I then converted to wav files with Media Monkey.  I transferred the files to itunes and then converted them to apple lossless files.  They play fine but 170 files will not load to my ipod classic as an error message says incompatible file.  According to itunes sample rate of apple lossless files sample rate is 88.200 or 96.000 khz.  How do I change sample rate to play on ipod for use when traveling?

hshrader -- Mon, 08/01/2011 - 23:26

I used Media Monkey to manage my library of hi res music until i was able to convert from flac to apple lossless.   Now it they all fit together on one platform.  I wouldn't doubt that Media Monkey is functionally superiour to itunes, but since i have a few ipods and my family uses the itunes store, i guess i am stuck.
I have not downsampled files so cannot help out here. I do recall posts related to this question so a search might be fruitful if no one replies here.

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