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Thread: The best format

  1. #1

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    The best format

    I am getting ready to purchase Dbpoweramp and start ripping my cd collection to my computer.
    The two things I would like to be able to do from there is play it through my home Pioneer receiver which is network capable and play them on the stock radio in my Nissan that has USB. Unfortunately the car stereo does not support .m4a so I have to convert it to mp3 but that is another story.

    What does everyone recommend? Rip my CDs to .m4a format? If I want to play them in my car convert those to mp3?

    Could someone tell me what the progression of file formats is high quality to low?
    .cda highest?
    .m4a
    mp3
    wav? Lowest?

    Thanks for any info.

  2. #2

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    Re: The best format

    When you rip you should rip to a lossless format.

    All lossless formats are technically equivalent in terms of audio quality, tho they have other features that distinguish them. I personally use FLAC since it handles metadata well, has internal checksums of the audio and is widely supported. (Since you asked your question in the context of ripping CDs we can ignore all of the issues of different sample rates, etc. Just use 16/44.1 for CDs and if you don't know why, continue to use it as you educate yourself.)

    Lossy compression is a whole nuth'r thing. Since lossy formats offer tradeoffs in output size/speed/fidelity there isn't a simple hierarchy there either, you can look around for recommendations of appropriate settings for what ever format/converter you use. I'd just convert from a lossless format to what ever lossy format need at the time (and never convert a lossy format to anything at all.)

    There's plenty to read here and at other sites tho I'd specifically also recommend http://www.hydrogenaudio.org/forums/ for quality information on this subject.
    Last edited by TedSmith; 03-26-2013 at 08:51 PM.

  3. #3
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    Re: The best format

    CD = FLAC = WAVE = AIFF = Apple Lossless

    they are all lossless.

  4. #4

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    Re: The best format

    TedSmith - Thanks for the info and link, I am looking on there too.

    Is this what your saying; Rip using FLAC and then convert to m4a or mp3 as needed?

    Thanks.

  5. #5
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    Re: The best format

    Quote Originally Posted by Flrun View Post
    Is this what your saying; Rip using FLAC and then convert to m4a or mp3 as needed?
    Yes. This is the best approach. I use FLAC for ripping, playing at home, and mp3 for my portables.

  6. #6

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    Re: The best format

    Quote Originally Posted by garym View Post
    Yes. This is the best approach. I use FLAC for ripping, playing at home, and mp3 for my portables.
    I am getting there.
    I installed dbpoweramp and configured all the settings they give you on their website. I ripped my first CD using FLAC.
    So like you are saying I can leave it as FLAC to play on my computer and convert to MP3 for the car.

    First question... Windows media player of course did not play it. I happen to have Foobar2000 installed that does play it. What do you recommend to play FLAC?

    Second question. Why does it sound flat or subdued? And I had to turn the volume up much higher than the MP3 I played. Right afterwards I played a MP3 that was much louder and better quality sounding.

    Third question. I don't find anything on converting it to another format but I just opened; Music Converter.
    From here just select MP3, Apple Lossless?
    Is one format better quality than the other?
    Do you add any DSP effects?
    I converted it to Apple .m4a as a test and played it in iTunes, it still sounds flat and subdued, low volume like the FLAC does.

    Thanks for any help.

  7. #7

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    Re: The best format

    Quote Originally Posted by Flrun View Post
    First question... Windows media player of course did not play it. I happen to have Foobar2000 installed that does play it. What do you recommend to play FLAC?
    I'm a foobar2000 user, I've also used WMP, Winamp, J River Media Center and eLyric Music Manager, there are lots of others: MediaMonkey comes to mind. There are plugins for Windows Media Player that support flac, but I don't have specific recommendations. (Personally I want a media player that offers more transparent control than WMP.)

    Quote Originally Posted by Flrun View Post
    Second question. Why does it sound flat or subdued? And I had to turn the volume up much higher than the MP3 I played. Right afterwards I played a MP3 that was much louder and better quality sounding.
    As you noticed volume level makes a huge difference in the apparent liveliness of music. You can't do a fair comparison unless you make sure there's no DSP involved and that the volume levels are the same.

    Quote Originally Posted by Flrun View Post
    Third question. I don't find anything on converting it to another format but I just opened; Music Converter.
    From here just select MP3, Apple Lossless?
    Is one format better quality than the other?
    Do you add any DSP effects?
    I converted it to Apple .m4a as a test and played it in iTunes, it still sounds flat and subdued, low volume like the FLAC does.
    Thanks for any help.
    Once again all lossless formats are technically equivalent quality. If you use the same DSP and volume you'll hear essentially the same thing, format and player independent. (There are small details/bugs in various pieces of software or hardware that may make a difference but it will be very subtle.)

    If you turn the volume up in iTunes it will sound lively again.

    I'm not a fan of DSP, but that's purely a personal preference. DSP is appropriate for many things and feel free to experiment: just don't DSP during ripping

  8. #8
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    Re: The best format

    It is possible you have replaygain tags, it volume normalise. Either of these alter the volume.

  9. #9
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    Re: The best format

    I use foobar2000 for computer playback of all sorts of files. Odd issue with the "flat sounding" FLAC files. All I can think of is that you added the ReplayGain tags and/or RG (volume normalize), and because the volume is lower, the file doesn't sound as good. I assume your foobar2000 was a default install. in fb2000, check FILE > PREFERENCES > PLAYBACK. I assume the preamp sliders are set to 0db (in the middle). This is where they should be. Also, turn the volume on your computer to 100% and then control the volume of the playback with the volume control in fb2000. And when comparing the sound of two files, do make sure that the volume is the same. Higher volume files are always considered to sound "better" independent of type of file.

    Bottom line, something is not right with something in your step. A FLAC or Apple Lossless file should NOT sound worse. (Do keep in mind that a high bitrate lossy file may sound AS GOOD as the FLAC (lossless) file. But it is still a good idea to rip to lossless as discussed earlier.

  10. #10

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    Re: The best format

    TedSmith - Ok I will probably give Foobar a try. Does it also support DLNA?

    You guys are right I have the replaygain added but dbpoweramps instruction page says to turn that on. I will have to rip the CD again without it.
    So you do not need it?

    The Foobar version on there is a old one, I need to download the latest and I will look at those settings.

  11. #11
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    Re: The best format

    Quote Originally Posted by Flrun View Post
    TedSmith - Ok I will probably give Foobar a try. Does it also support DLNA?

    You guys are right I have the replaygain added but dbpoweramps instruction page says to turn that on. I will have to rip the CD again without it.
    So you do not need it?

    The Foobar version on there is a old one, I need to download the latest and I will look at those settings.
    Be a bit careful here. Nothing at all wrong with ReplayGain tags. In fact, having these tags is part of my preference (the only DSP I add in ripping FLAC files is RG, both track and album values). But this is just tag info (no different than the Album name or Artist name). Various players can use these tags to automatically adjust volume based on these tags. But simply adding these tags does NOT change the audio (still bit perfect).

    But there is a different DSP called Replay Gain (Apply). This DSP *does* modify the volume (and typically it would be *lowering* the volume, which would make it sound worse). You would NOT want to use this DSP.

    Bottom line, nothing at all wrong with adding the regular ReplayGain tag.
    Last edited by garym; 03-28-2013 at 03:11 PM.

  12. #12

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    Re: The best format

    Garym -
    I just removed the replaygain and ripped it again and it came out perfect. I made sure I did not select the (apply) one the first time.
    I converted one to Apple .m4a now it is the other way around. I played the FLAC in Foobar and the m4a in iTunes and switched back and forth, the FLAC sounds amazing and the .m4a lower quality. Although it does sound better than when I had replaygain on.

    So I don't get it, if there is nothing wrong with using replaygain and dbpoweramp's instructions tell you too but it makes it sounds like crap then what should you do?

  13. #13

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    Re: The best format

    My next question is...
    I went to convert a FLAC to MP3 (Lame) using dbpoweramp music converter and it gives you all the options.
    Target
    Variable bit rate quality
    Encoding
    And Advanced options
    Do you guys leave them on default or change them?

    The same thing if you choose Windows Media Audio 10
    Codec - 9.2? 10? 10 Professional?
    Target
    Settings

  14. #14

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    Re: The best format

    Quote Originally Posted by Flrun View Post
    Garym -
    I just removed the replaygain and ripped it again and it came out perfect. I made sure I did not select the (apply) one the first time.
    I converted one to Apple .m4a now it is the other way around. I played the FLAC in Foobar and the m4a in iTunes and switched back and forth, the FLAC sounds amazing and the .m4a lower quality. Although it does sound better than when I had replaygain on.

    So I don't get it, if there is nothing wrong with using replaygain and dbpoweramp's instructions tell you too but it makes it sounds like crap then what should you do?
    The point we were trying to make is that replay gain tags MAY change the volume depending on the player's capabilities. Right now you can avoid using it. When you are ready you can read up on it: http://wiki.hydrogenaudio.org/index....tle=Replaygain (You can always add replay gain in batch with dBpoweramp, foobar2000, etc. later.)

    The differences you are hearing are simply how loud you are playing things: i.e. your volume control. It has nothing to do with the player, the ripping software or conversions except you may be confusing yourself with different replay gain tags and/or different replay gain settings (and perhaps DSP settings) in the various players you are using. Till you are comfortable don't use any DSP or replay gain.

  15. #15
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    Re: The best format

    Quote Originally Posted by Flrun View Post
    Garym -
    I just removed the replaygain and ripped it again and it came out perfect. I made sure I did not select the (apply) one the first time.
    I converted one to Apple .m4a now it is the other way around. I played the FLAC in Foobar and the m4a in iTunes and switched back and forth, the FLAC sounds amazing and the .m4a lower quality. Although it does sound better than when I had replaygain on.

    So I don't get it, if there is nothing wrong with using replaygain and dbpoweramp's instructions tell you too but it makes it sounds like crap then what should you do?
    See TedSmith's answer on RG. Nothing wrong with it, but you should probably avoid until you figure out what you're doing. Itunes doesn't even use RG values. (it has its own version called "SoundCheck" values and even this you can turn on/off in itunes (i.e., don't use SoundCheck). However, there is now an option in the RG DSP to create the iTunNorm value for itunes (this is the tag for SOUNDCHECK). What is the bitrate of the m4a file you've created? If it is too low, then it is likely that this lossy files will sound worse of course. That's the nature of lossy codecs. But at a high enough bit rate they should be transparent (most of the time) compared back to the lossless version (FLAC).

    Bottom line is that playing a FLAC file should sound identical to playing the CD itself. That's why it is a LOSSLESS format. It is bit identical to the CD. So if it doesn't sound "as good" then something in your playback chain is not good or you are not comparing apples to apples. This is likely all driven by your VOLUME. A tiny volume difference can make something sound worse when doing comparisons (although this doesn't typically lead to sounding like "crap" but that has different meanings to different people I suppose). Foobar2000 is a good player and should play FLACS (or mp3 or m4a) with no problem. Check that you haven't turned on any DSPs in the foobar settings (preferences > playback). And take a FLAC file and convert it to m4a and mp3 and then play all 3 in Foobar2000 to see how they sound to you. In fact, you can install the ABX Comparison component in foobar, then load up the FLAC and mp3 in your playlist, highlight both, right click, choose Utilities, and choose ABX. This will allow you do perform a double blind test on whether you can tell the difference between the mp3 and FLAC file.

    Quote Originally Posted by Flrun View Post
    My next question is...
    I went to convert a FLAC to MP3 (Lame) using dbpoweramp music converter and it gives you all the options.
    Target
    Variable bit rate quality
    Encoding
    And Advanced options
    Do you guys leave them on default or change them?

    The same thing if you choose Windows Media Audio 10
    Codec - 9.2? 10? 10 Professional?
    Target
    Settings
    I use LAME mp3 as the codec for lossy. I personally use -V2 which produces an average bitrate of about 192kbps. If you are paranoid you might use -V0. You can use the ABX function in foobar to test for yourself where lossy files are no longer transparent. Many widespread tests indicate that anything above about 160kbs is probably transparent on most music. But you can decide for yourself or simply use -V0. You have the FLAC files, so for home use you have lossless anyhow. Lossy for me is just for portable use. And the beauty of having the FLAC files is that if you decide later on you wish you had -V0 rather than -V2, a few mouse clicks and you can recreate your entire lossy music files. (Or more likely, you'll decide to go from -V2 to something like -V4, to get a lot more files on your portables while retaining reasonably good quality.)

    I don't use m4a or WMA. In fact, I'm curious as to why you want all these different types of lossy files. Seems like you should (1) rip to lossless (I recommend FLAC for this), then choose a single lossy format that works for you. This should likely be mp3 or m4a. Virtually no one that is serious about their digital music uses WMA format for lossy files. Windows Media can play mp3 or m4a so why bother with WMA. And be careful if you open you files in WMP, as if the settings aren't right, WMA will change your tags, change your artwork. Bottom line, I don't let WMP anywhere near my audio files. Foobar2000 does everything WMP does and more. And for video, I use VLC media player. I do use itunes to load up all the mp3 files on my ipods, iphones, and ipads.
    Last edited by garym; 03-29-2013 at 05:11 AM.

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