An audiophile’s guide to OS X

“Vinyl is still the closest to an original recording in terms of audio quality,” Jacob Penderworth writes for Tuts+.

“While digital audio has lost quality in some areas, it makes up for it in others. The digital version of a vinyl is lossless audio, which is typically stored in an large, uncompressed format,” Penderworth writes. “These are by no means optimized for playback on all machines, nor are they easy to carry on a mobile device—a single four-minute song can be ten times as large in file size as the same track in MP3 or AAC.”

Penderworth writes, “If, however, you must have high-fidelity audio on your Mac, there are some things you should know…”

Much more in the full article here.

49 Comments

  1. The author of this article, Jacob Penderworth, is totally full of baloney. While it’s true that some people may prefer the sound of vinyl (for reasons that completely elude me), that’s not because it’s a more accurate reproduction. That simply isn’t true.

    The list of things on the mastering side is enormous–reduction of width at low frequencies (to keep the cutter head in place), dynamic range compression, unavoidable inner groove loss of high-frequencies. I’m sure there’s even more I don’t know about.

    And on the reproduction side, let’s talk about wow, tone arm resonance, crackle from dust (no matter how reverently you apply the zerostat). Let’s talk about the gradual degradation of the disk over multiple plays. There’s more there, too.

    For those people who can actually hear, the distortion of vinyl through a tube amp may be pleasant. For most others, it’s simply a way to feel superior. But it’s not what hit the microphones–not by a long shot.

    1. Vinyl is certainly not perfect, but it is very close and I still love the sound and have the working equipment to support my habit. The reality for me, though, is that pulling out a disk and sitting down to listen to it in the one place in the house that affords me the pleasure is simply less convenient than using modern digital options, where I can have almost all of my music in my pocket, streamed to various speakers over my own airwaves. This truly is The Golden Age of Wireless.

      1. Vinyl is far from perfect my friend, it is extremely limited both in dynamic range and in frequency response and suffers in comparison to any (including 16/44.1k AIFF) modern digital standard. That a group of “golden ears” claim it is some how “better” notwithstanding.

      2. I agree that the experience is a good one and has lots of advantages, but sonic quality is never been one of them. The physics of this process just aren’t as good as the digital audio.

    2. I’m so glad to read your post. You saved me from having to make the same exact statement. Anyone who has ever cut a record before knows that it is build on so many sonic flaws that there’s no way it would some how be ‘more sonically complete or pure’ than a digital reproduction. There’s definitely something nostalgic and sweet about playing a record, but its not the best sounding medium.

      Give me a high quality ALAC or FLAC file any day over 180 gram “audiophile” records. I just received the new Universal Audio Apollo Twin Thunderbolt I/O and it makes these lossless files sound insanely great.

    1. There are many better uncompressed (and lossless) formats than WAV (it is an old, old format). WAV is less efficient because it is redundant (parts of it structure are repeated and no that can’t be used for error correction) and it is somewhat inconsistent in that a wav file may or may not be a compressed (lossy) file.

      One of the best (uncompressed) is AIFF (what is on CD’s) is a much better bet (as a universal audio file format) as virtually everything can read AIFF’s (Garage band actually stores internally as AIFF (as do many programs) so there is less transcoding) Also don’t forget as QT lossless compression, the (exact) same waveform with a significantly smaller file (though there may be windows programs that can’t read QT files (but they will almost certainly read AIFF’s))

      1. WAV is actually slightly newer than AIFF. WAV was developed by Microsoft and IBM 1991 while AIFF was developed by Apple 1988.

        Both WAV and AIFF are based of RIFF and both can support multiple resolutions (different bit integers and sample rates).

        “One of the best (uncompressed) is AIFF (what is on CD’s)”
        AIFF isn’t a format that is “on CDs”. CDs use Pulse-Code Modulation (PCM). You may be confused on this because on a Mac, the OS is capable of showing the tracks as files, but it losslessly trancodes them into AIFF. However, that’s just OS X doing its thing. It could’ve just as easily done that with WAV files.

        ” is a much better bet (as a universal audio file format) as virtually everything can read AIFF’s”

        Virtually everything can read WAV files too, including Garage Band. There’s really no difference in using one versus the other in terms of quality or capability of the file format. I can understand having a preference, but you’d be hard pressed if you have a career in media actually finding that it matters one way or the other. I’ve been working with both since they were introduced. I usually use AIFF but only because decades ago that’s what I started using and it was Apple developed, but other than that, there’s no difference.

        “QT lossless compression, the (exact) same waveform with a significantly smaller file (though there may be windows programs that can’t read QT files (but they will almost certainly read AIFF’s))”

        I think you’re trying to describe ALAC… Apple Lossless Audio Compression. It’s a great format, and if you’re looking for lossless audio compression in the Apple ecosystem ALAC is the go-to format. There’s also FLAC which is more popular out there although it’s not directly compatible with Apple’s ecosystem. Fortunately, the two can be losslessly transcoded either way.

        1. DUde, WAV is an old windows file format, that is redundant (i.e. larger than it needs to be) and it offers mac user no advantages over AIFF (and a few disadvantages: the redundancy and the fact that you cat tell if WAV file is lossy or lossless (because the format can be either)
          It is not the same in Garage Band (because garage band uses AIFF internally and must convert AIFF back and forth if you choose to use it)
          You can spin and twist all you want but MS WAV offer no advantages to mac users and has a number of disadvantages.
          (and yes quicktime lossless is what Apple lossless was originally called, sorry I confused you, so yes they are indeed the same thing)

          1. Dude you have NO idea of what you are talking bout. AIFF is a 2 channel only format developed by Apple. WAV was developed by MS. Both files are EXACTLY the same size, but WAV has the added capability to handily multiple of channels at once(think 7.1 uncompressed audio files). So yes… it is an older format, but no, it’s not going anywhere.

            I work in a professional recording studio and when i record audio to transfer to other places, 90% of the time they want WAV files, not AIFF.

          2. WAV is an old windows file format

            AIFF is older. Not that age has anything to do with anything. WAV isn’t a “Windows” format, it was developed by Microsoft and IBM. As an audio container format, it’s platform agnostic. While Microsoft first implemented it with Windows support, it was also immediately picked up across every other platform, including Mac OS. Even NeXT defaulted to WAV as the audio file format.

            hat is redundant (i.e. larger than it needs to be)

            That’s false too. The file size between WAV and AIFF is going to be the same size if the settings are the same. Different transcoders will result in slight variations based on meta data being added to the file, but try this experiment yourself… Use the QuickTime 7 Pro player to export a WAV and AIFF transcode of the same file. You’ll see that WAV files end up being slightly, insignificantly, smaller. For example, one file I just transcoded to both ended up being 36,855,902 bytes for the AIFF and 36,855,852 bytes for the WAV a difference of only 50 bytes so it’s insignificant, but technically, the WAV is smaller. Again, depending on the transcoder being used the meta data might be different to the two files favoring one over the other insignificantly if the same settings are being used.

            This is because AIFF and WAV files work exactly the same off of the RIFF standard for uncompressed audio. The actual data is the same. It’s using the same 16 bits to represent each sample that is taken once every 1/44.1k of a second, or other resolution that both can do.

            “it offers mac user no advantages over AIFF”

            I didn’t say it did, but it’s silly to suggest AIFF is a superior format, and pretty much everything you’ve stated is wrong.

            “the fact that you cat tell if WAV file is lossy or lossless (because the format can be either)”

            Sure you can. You use the same method as you do by telling if AIFF is lossy or lossless, that is by looking at info as provided by any number of apps (usually a Command-i). You do realize that AIFF can be lossy as well, right? In addition to changing the resolution of the files, you can use IMA, A-Law, u-Law and many others with AIFF and without using software that can show the format of a file (be it WAV or AIFF) you’d have no way of knowing if it was using lossy compression or an inferior resolution other than by being able to hear the quality difference. That said, it’s foolish now days to use lossy compression with either WAV or AIFF.

            “It is not the same in Garage Band (because garage band uses AIFF internally and must convert AIFF back and forth if you choose to use it)”

            Again, silly. Whatever GarageBand uses internally isn’t relevant. It imports AIFF and WAV and the import time, while insignificant to begin with, isn’t any different. Obviously Apple, or any other developer has to choose one format to work with, but it doesn’t mean that they think one is superior to the other. As a developer I’ve had to make the same choice time and time again.

            Again, I’m not saying WAV is superior, it’s just that it’s silly to suggest AIFF is, and every thing you’ve stated is wrong.

            As I said before, personally when making the choice, I go with AIFF, but only because that’s what I started with and it was Apple developed. But it doesn’t mean that I think it’s better in any way and when working with clients, I always ask for audio files to be sent in “wav or aiff”. It’s also something that I would never consider transcoding when it makes more sense just to work with the files as is.

            I could picture having this same argument with a Windows fanboy and having him say that WAV is superior because it’s a TLA instead of a FFLA… well, ok, there’s that.

  2. Sorry but I’ve got to vent about something here. What’s this hard on for vinyl all about? People record into DIGITAL AUDIO WORKSTATIONS these days. The best formats are lossless formats. Lossless formats are digital formats. Records wear out over time. They require a tiny diamond to reproduce sound. The quality of vinyl playback is highly dependent upon how good your turntable is, the amplifier used, the speakers involved, and the room that you’re in. This vinyl is better crap is just pure ignorance.

  3. Sorry but this guy has it all upside down. Or the article is a joke. Probably a joke.

    First he talks about how loseless compression is important and then after you spent days ripping your CDs agsin, recommends $50 earphones and gaming loudspeakers. This is a bit like saying that you absolutely need to have the original 70mm film copy of Star Wars (not 4k digital copy because digital is evil) and then say the right gear to watch it is a 13″ CRT TV.

    I’ve been selling and installing pro audio – as in $500 000 mixing consoles – for 25 years so I do know what I’m talking about. We actually double blind test the stuff that we sell. A middle-of-the-road AD/DA converter costs couple of thousand bucks at the level we work.

    The best investment for good audio is good earphones. You can get them from $300 and up. Even better are decent speakers but then you’d need to spend $5000-10 000 to have any chance to hear the difference between AAC256 and loseless 16-bit audio. If you have decent, acoustically treated room. I do have access to many 24bit/192kHz original masters and after many listening tests I can say that 90% of the people do not hear the difference between them and CD quality (16bit/44.1kHz). Or AAC256 for that matter.

    1. swissski, I agree with most of what you are saying, however (you knew there was a however coming, yes?) however I beg to differ with the “but then you’d need to spend $5000-10,000 to have any chance to hear the difference between AAC256 and loseless 16-bit audio”

      We have two (small) soundstage bays (we do film/video post production) one Has Mackie HRM824/2’s (about 1500/pair) and the other has the new JBL LSR308’s (about $500/pair) and while these are less than the control monitors most recording studios use I would say that almost any critical listener could pick out AAC256 vs uncompressed given the correct source material (say a well recorded piano/ female voice combo)
      I don’t think you need to spend thousands to get good reproduction out of loudspeakers (particularly near-field control monitors)
      I am not beating up on AAC256 it is one of the best and most advanced high compression format available but 5X compression does not come free.

  4. It’s from an audiophile. You can’t trust these people to tell you the time of day without claiming that time can only be told from a $50000 watch with quantum isolation GELL applied to its mechanisms.

  5. I can safely say I’m a noob when it comes to appreciating music, but I have heard a vinyl record over at a friend’s apartment and it sounded very warm to me in that the music had a hyper realism that sounded like it came from a soundstage. I loved the warmness that I think digital audio lacks.

    To me music from vinyl sounds real, like the musicians were playing in front of you. It has dimension and depth.

    1. You’re listening wrong.

      You heard a vinyl record and it sounded “yummy”. The real test is using an A/B/X test where you take the original source and try to compare whether A (vinyl) sounds more like the original than B (digital).

      This is why the Pono video was so flawed. Everyone got out of the car saying they had a great listening experience without a single person saying the could here a difference between the two audio formats played in the car let along which one sounded more like the original.

      If the vinyl you listened to was produced in the last couple of decades, it most likely came from digital masters. Lossless copies of those digital files would not only sound more like the originals, but would be literally bit perfect copies.

      Ironically, the vinyl you listened to may have even been made from CDs as the source.

      1. Exactly correctly. Many people like the “warm” sound of vinyl-because vinyl does subtly change the sound–but that doesn’t mean it’s more accurate. It’s like a warm EQ on everything.
        But me, even before CDs came out, I was sick of the snap, crackle, pop on any and every LP which was only accentuated by high quality recording gear. Not to mention a completely compressed dynamic range.

  6. That didn’t take long. In the opening sentence, this “audiophile” made it clear he is a total moron. Vinyl (along with every physical analog format) is a lossy format. If you touch it, play it, or even just let a vinyl get exposed it air or dust, it looses audio fidelity. You can clearly hear the loss of quality in every crackle and hiss when you play a vinyl record. Some people might like the scratchy, dusty, and physicality of vinyl records because it adds character or something – but it’s in no way comparable to lossless audio in terms of sound quality. Not in the same league. That’s why everyone who really values sound quality switched to digital years ago.

      1. No, almost all recording done today is digital. Almost all masters are digital. When vinyl is made, that digital file is converted to analog in a lossy method.

        A lossless copy of the digital master is literally no different from the original. Not only by human hearing standards, but when compared, there would no bit difference either.

        Also you’re fooling yourself if you think vinyl doesn’t have a resolution. You know those notches in the groove of a record… how many are there? Spoiler: it’s not infinite.

        1. You are off on a bad tangent there, while I agree on the superiority of digital formats, the groove wall(s) are a continuous analog representation of the audio waveform (though not a completely accurate one) there are no “notches”. There are limits to amplitude and frequency but that doesn’t make them any less “a continuous waveform”

          (That said once the digital information has been converted back to analog it is a continuous waveform as well (and is a more accurate representation of the original than the vinyl record is)

          1. Oh that’s right kevicosuave vote me down (and yourself up) but don’t respond…
            You acted like a pretentious ass (You know those notches in the groove of a record… how many are there? Spoiler: it’s not infinite.) and were dead wrong. I was civil in my reply (calling you out on your error without being an A-hole)
            Dude, you are a punk.

            1. Get over yourself. I didn’t even realize you replied to me until now, and apparently 13 people voted me an average of 4 while 4 people voted you an average of 3, so I don’t know why you’re blaming me for that.

              Look right here:

              View post on imgur.com

              Do you see the notches now? The fact is, there’s a finite number of them. Although the mechanism for how the sound is reproduced is different, there’s still a finite resolution and limitations on what can be cut on vinyl.

              Now read what I wrote again. Did I ever say that when the sound is reproduced from a record, or from a CD that it is not a continuous sine wave?

              Believe me, I’m well aware of Nyquist-Shannon.

              My point, which apparently other people got, and you did not, was that records are not “closer to the original because they are a continuous wave and CDs are not”. Both CDs and records have a finite resolution. Today, almost all recording is done digitally because of the limitations of analog recording. In fact many vinyl records are being made from digital masters that are no better than CD quality, thus impossible to sound any closer to the original than the CD they were made from.

              If you’re looking for errors to correct why don’t you start by correcting all of the errors in your previous comment about how AIFF is so much better than WAV, because you were wrong in almost every sentence you made. My favorite was where you claimed AIFF is what’s on CD, which is funny because Red Book Audio was developed almost a decade before AIFF.

      2. No jovike,
        It’s only continuous in theory, not in fact. The medium of vinyl is compliant, meaning that it distorts when a stylus exerts pressure. In addition, the geometry of the playback stylus is unlikely to match the geometry of the cutting stylus. And then there’s the physical impedance of the system–the mass of the playback system working in action with the flexibility and various sizes of the components in the playback arm. So it might be “continuous” but it’s not accurate. And read my earlier comment about what happens to the music just to squeeze it onto the vinyl. Vinyl simply can’t handle the full dynamic or frequency range of well-recorded music. I regularly hear music directly through high-end microphones, through high-end headphones or calibrated speakers. Vinyl doesn’t come close to matching that.

        If you like vinyl, that’s fine. If it makes you somehow feel more knowledgeable than the average bear, that’s fine. But it ain’t so.

      3. That’s a common misconception, not how sampling actually works. Samples are occasional, but they are a precise mathematic representation of the sound wave it records. When digital audio is played, the end product is analog sound – it’s not jagged or “pixelated”, it’s a smooth and continuous sound wave. The played back sound is not just an approximation of the recorded sound, either – it’s the only curved waveform mathematically possible which connects all the digital sample points – an exact duplicate of the analog sound wave recorded.

      4. Nyquist proved in 1928 that sampled signals can 100% reproduced when the sampling frequency is 2 as high as the highest frequency in the signal. At 44 kHz sampling no human ear can tell the difference between the analog and the digital.

  7. The very first sentence of this article is wrong:
    “Vinyl is still the closest to an original recording in terms of audio quality.”

    No, if the original recording was digital (which almost all is today) the closest thing to an original recording is a lossless file copy of the recording.

    I find it funny how vinyl enthusiasts for new releases are almost exclusively listening to analog conversions of digital masters sometimes even from masters that are CD quality of 44.1kHz 16-bit.

    There’s nothing wrong with preferring the sound of vinyl, but it’s never going to be closer to the original than a lossless copy of the original digital master.

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