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When you use iTunes to import a CD you have several options -- "AAC Encoder," "AIFF Encoder," etc.

I'd like to have the best possible sound quality and avoid any sort of lossy compression.

Which setting, if any, allows me to do that?

I noticed the "Apple Lossless" option, but it sounds a little proprietary. I'm suspicious. So I guess my goal is the above, but using a cross-platform standard file format if possible.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I would recommend using the AAC MPEG4 set at 320KBS. We have done blind tests between this & uncompressed in a hi-fi shop, and no one has been able to tell the difference. AAC is a great codec & 10 years newer than MP3. The other option (if you have the room) is to leave them uncompressed.

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Do your own blind tests - I could tell the difference on some classical pieces –  Mark Apr 10 '13 at 10:24

In an Apple only enviroment moving away form 'standard' file formats it's a BAD strategy in my opinion.

Flac, Ogg and such are nice, but when/if you'll have to move to different personal computers, operating systems, devices (your iPhone, or Android or plain cellphone) you'll regret going with those.

So personally I do VBR mp3 at the highest quality possible...

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Apple lossless is the way to go in iTunes.

I like to be able to update iTunes whenever a new version arrives and depend on easy syncing across computers (home sharing and streaming) as well as across devices so I try not to add plug ins or non-supported formats unless the need is great.

If you are worried about the proprietary nature of Apple Lossless instead of FLAC (the best free lossless alternative), it is very simple to batch re-encode the entire library to AAC / MP3 or AIFF/WAV or burn to a CD at full resolution.

The benefit of stock Apple Lossless format is about 50% compression rate with no loss of data or sound quality.

I would guess most people that don't use an external DAC and premium headphones ($400 to $1500) with audiophile amplifiers will rarely need AAC bitrates more than 240kbps for most recordings. Going higher is generally a waste of space for little to no discernible impact on listening enjoyment.

Basically, it's only worth encoding higher if the recording is precious and archival in nature or you really do hear a difference for that one piece that makes it worth re-encoding at a lossless level.

You can always start with Apple Lossless and convert later to FLAC/AIFF or downsample if you feel constrained by Apple's software.

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FLAC is a free lossless audio codec. It's pretty much the cross-platform standard. AIFF and WAV are both uncompressed, but they take up more disk space. A three minute AIFF is about 30MB. A three minute FLAC file will be about 18MB.

The only downside to encoding and listening to your music with FLAC is that it requires jumping through a few hoops on the Mac. As you noticed, iTunes supports its own lossless codec. You'll have to do your encoding outside of iTunes. Here is a list of Mac-compatible FLAC encoders. Here is an article on how to play FLAC files in iTunes.

Also, this is an interesting and relevant discussion on another stackexchange site about the perceived differences (or lack thereof) between different audio codecs and compression rates.

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Thanks, good to know. Thanks for the link. –  Agvorth May 18 '11 at 3:36
    
+1 on the FLAC information. It's not worth the hassle for me, but for many the idea of a free format is very appealing. I'll write up an Apple Lossless answer in case someone finds the FLAC less optimal - I don't see any discussion on syncing to iOS or airplay of flac but assume it's included? –  bmike May 18 '11 at 3:40
    
@bmike - IOS doesn't understand FLAC nor does iTunes OSX although I think you can get some extension to get some use of iTunes with it –  Mark Apr 10 '13 at 10:25

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