iTunes Bad, WMA Good | iLounge News

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iTunes Bad, WMA Good

“After immersing myself in audio codecs (as research for a future article) and re-ripping most of my own collection, I’ve come to the conclusion that I really like WMA—and I really don’t like the whole iTunes/iPod thing.

AAC is a perfectly fine audio format. It sounds good. I don’t really want the music I pay money for to be encoded at 128k, but none of iTunes’ competitors are offering a higher bitrate, so I don’t have much choice there. The problem with AAC is that it doesn’t really have digital rights management, so songs you buy through the iTunes Music Store have an Apple-specific proprietary digital rights management scheme called FairPlay attached to them. AAC may be a format that many desktop applications (like Winamp) can understand, and it’s certainly possible for non-iPod portable players to build in support for it, but iTunes and iPods understand FairPlay. If I buy music through the iTunes store, it will only play on iTunes or an iPod. That’s it, until the end of time.”

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Comments

21

I’m not a big fan of AAC, not because of the quality but because moving my legally purchased music around is really a pain…having to move my computer to another room to hook up to the web just to connect to iTunes so that I can “enable” my songs and play them on my media player is too much work. I don’t want to re-arrange my set-up every time I get some tracks, there’s got to be a way around this…

Posted by boogie_doggie on February 13, 2004 at 11:46 AM (PDT)

22

People who claim AAC sounds the same as non-lossy formats obviously have suffered hearing damage to some degree. Seriously, go get your ears checked by a professional.

Posted by cotton wool ears on February 13, 2004 at 12:01 PM (PDT)

23

Common sense seems to say that everyone should rip their own music as MP3s.  Why be at the mercy of corporate giants who on a regular basis will change formats simply to make their libraries valuable again.

What about this format cycle: Records… tapes… CDs… MP3s… AACs?

Yes, each technology was better and luckily the time between some format changes was significant enough that no one felt ripped off (no pun intended).

But, with formats coming out on a yearly (if not, bi-yearly basis) I would recommend that people try to use the format which is most open… MP3.

Some people will say that the sound quality ofother formats is better.  I don’t hear the difference between a 192MP3 and 128AAC/WMA.  Sure the AAC/WMA files are a bit smaller, but who should worry about that… hard drive capacity is steadily increasing and file size is almost irrelevant for most users.

Don’t get burned by proprietary formats.

Posted by BigSid in Los Angeles on February 13, 2004 at 12:13 PM (PDT)

24

I don’t have $5K headphones, but I do have $500 earphones (Shure E5) and I can tell the difference between 128K AAC and uncompressed audio.  There is a noticeable loss in the highs as well as dimension and fullness.  This loss was evident even with 320K AAC (to a lesser extent).  That still didn’t stop me from buying over a 100 songs (and counting) from iTMS.  Because the songs sound good enough especially while on the go with my iPod.  BTW, the guy who wrote the diatribe at Extremetech is an idiot.  eom

Posted by duffy in Dallas on February 13, 2004 at 12:16 PM (PDT)

25

Another example of a Wintel geek who obviously is looking for a way to bash the AAC format! You obviously don’t have a problem with the sound quality of AAC files so you find another way to make it seem bad by discussing legal copyright issues! I say all is fair in love & war, and when it comes to the war on MP3 devices Apple is winning! Why does it bother you if Apple has the rights to a particular audio codec, as long as the quality is good and usable! You don’t like the whole iTunes/iPod thing? Tough! Either adapt or get over it! Right now, Apple and iPod are dominating this market!

Posted by Stylescraper on February 13, 2004 at 12:17 PM (PDT)

26

Since you can burn the files and then rerip them into iTunes into any format you want, I don’t see how apple ‘traps’ you by using their format. Also, if AAC offers the same quality as a 192 bitrate MP3, file size also makes a difference. Apple has to run the store, and they have to pay for space and content management, so if they can make things smaller, and cheaper but just as good, they will.

The files themselves have to have some degree of protection on them because thats what the record lables want. Your downloading music off the internet, its YOURS. They just want to prevent file sharing, or at least not encourage it. You can still have your cake and eat it too though.

Posted by archadias on February 13, 2004 at 12:30 PM (PDT)

27

I am not just bashing AAC, I am also bashing MP3 and WMA - they all sound dead at high end and mushy for bass.

A few years ago when hard disk space was at a preium there was a reason for them, but now they should be put out of their misery.

Use FLAC or SHN on your desktop machine, then run auto-transcoding to fit them onto your portable devices - output either in AAC, MP3, WMA, or even Real for all I care.

Posted by cotton wool brains on February 13, 2004 at 12:33 PM (PDT)

28

Grow up, for Chrissakes.  I have an iPod. I love my iPod (except for the fact that my hard drive crashed and I’ll be without it for the next week).

But the author was dead-on.  The three biggest pains in my butt about ITMS are:

1. Proprietary DRM.  What happens when I want to buy a digital bridge, like a Roku Soundbridge.  I can’t play my music on my freakin’ stereo now?  I know, I can burn it, rip it, la la la.  The point is, I shouldn’t have to.  The whole point of digital music is getting rid of the kluge.

2. The inability to re-download purchased songs.  If Apple can keep track of my authorized computers, why can’t they let me download my purchased songs again?  It’s not like I’m going to be able to play them if the computer is not authorized.

. Limited to 128. As the author said, though, Apple is no worse than anyone else on that regard.  That’s no excuse, though.  Apple is supposed to be a step above.  At least that’s what Apple zealots would have you believe.

The author of the article is taking a somewhat conservative approach to the digital music future.  He, like the rest of us, doesn’t REALLY know where things will stand in 3 years.  Will Apple address what are some real issues with their licensing/DRM/business model?  I hope so. But the author is taking, in my opinion a less risky, and more prudent approach than any of us, including myself.

If you can’t see that then you’re blinded by your zealotry.

Posted by rdlink on February 13, 2004 at 12:43 PM (PDT)

29

Screw this ACC, Mp3, WMA mumbojumbo.  I prefer the 8-track.  Ain’t nothing better then listening to music in a player that can’t rewind!

 

Posted by salmonjunkie on February 13, 2004 at 12:55 PM (PDT)

30

I own a Roku Soundbridge and have no problems playing music through my stereo from iTunes. You obviously haven’t done your homework!

Re-downloading purchased songs? I doubt it! It encourages file sharing and theft! Would a music store give you two or three copies of an album if you only purchased one? I don’t think so!

Don’t confuse Apple zealots with Music zealots!

Posted by Stylescraper on February 13, 2004 at 1:02 PM (PDT)

31

Any type of audio codec is not going to sound as good as if it were analog.  Even if you’re playing a CD.  CDs are written at 192Kbps and 44.1 Khz.  That isn’t even close to what analog sound runs at.  Because analog is infinite.  If you want to compare codecs it doesn’t really matter what you choose it is going to be lossy.  The closest thing that we have to an analog sound on a digital format is SACD.  The natural harmonics on the high and low end are cut out of everything that we buy or burn or whatever.  But when you use an SACD it is almost twice the highest Kbps and Khz of any codec out there.  It’s just to bad that there aren’t many people that are recording in this format yet.  New technology usually takes a while to get picked up by the average consumer.  But there are a ton of differences between each codec.  And the only reason for that is because of the algoritims that the companies use.  Apple has purchesed the codec from the original developer, Fraunhofer.  So their codecs are built directly off the original MPEG Layer-3 Audio algoritims.  Therefore the algoritims they have written for iTunes and the iPod are going to be superior to most of the other MP3 players out there.

But when it really comes down to it, unless you are an audio engineer, what does it really matter what codec you are using, whether it be WMA, MP3, RAF.  The only way you will be able to tell a huge difference is if you are listening on high quality speakers and are being really picky.  In my opinion, all these formats are terrible except for SACD, but since the world is moving technology in that direction I am forced to use it.  Plus the iPod is just cool.

Posted by Cynful on February 13, 2004 at 1:06 PM (PDT)

32

Thanks Cynful, your post sounds like there was some knowledge behind it!

I’ve been thinking about what format to use when i transfer my vinyl collection! SACD sounds like the format for me! Any idea on the compression values, if any?

Posted by Stylescraper on February 13, 2004 at 1:18 PM (PDT)

33

Does this guy even know what he is talking about?

What makes Apple’s proprietariness any better/worse than Microsoft’s…Microsoft just has more people on board….just like the do with the rest of the market.  WMA is still proprietary.

I like when people waste time on nonsense like this.  Get the facts straight buddy….

Posted by Come Again? on February 13, 2004 at 1:45 PM (PDT)

34

What I’m taking away from this article is a sense of just what’s at stake for Apple with iTunes/iPod.

At the moment, things are great. iTunes/iPod is dominating the digital music scene. Assuming they stay and come out on top, they can push the rest of the industry to make AAC/Fairplay a popular format and we don’t have a problem. Apple will keep making iPods.

But, you can’t argue that the competition is lining up and it’s going to be fierce. There are several companies with a lot of money invested and they all have their own formats.

If WMA wins the format war, Apple could find itself having a hard time selling its product outside its loyal user base. What if it becomes unprofitable for Apple to run the iTunes store? to make iPods? They’re a corporation, and they would have a responsibility to cut their losses. Meanwhile, how many millions of dollars have we spent on music in their proprietary format?

Anybody want to buy my Beta collection?

Posted by Krevlornswath of the Deathwa Clan on February 13, 2004 at 1:49 PM (PDT)

35

Right now, because the technology is so new, it isn’t readily possible for the general consumer to purchase a SACD burner.  To get that kind of equipment and to make it worthwhile you would not only have to buy the burner you would need to buy high quality mics and so on.  Record labels, as far as I know, are the only ones who own and use them right now.  But you can buy SACDs at places like Best Buy.  But you would have to make sure that you have a player that can decode the recording information. 

The only thing that I can tell you about SACD is that they use Direct Stream Digital Audio Encoding.  And I believe that they also don’t use the minimal audition threshold, masking effects and Huffman encoding that MP3s and other encoding formats use.  Minimal audition threshold encoding removes the frequencies below 20hz and 20Khz, which is the the human hearing range.  Masking effect encoding removes the softer sounds that the louder sounds cover up.  And Huffman encoding removes redundant frequencies.  So when you take all of that away, which happens with any digitally encoded file right now, that’s where you lose the warmth that your vinyl has.  They also have a bit rate of 2.8Mhz which is roughly 64 times the size of a normal CD.  But I’m not completely sure on that.  It’s a relatively new format but it sounds amazing.

Another great feature of SACD is that they can record CDs in 5.1.  So you can listen to a CD as though you were on stage with the band.

Check out this link if you want a good place to start your search on information, but keep in mind that it still hasn’t caught on in the general soncumer market. 

http://www.semiconductors.philips.com/news/content/file_815.html

It might not ever catch on.  I would personally consider ripping your vinyl onto your computer using a bit rate of 256 - 320 Kbps to start.  This bit rate is considered to be the standard for the most demanding audio lovers.

Hope that helps.

Posted by Cynful on February 13, 2004 at 1:53 PM (PDT)

36

Oh, I also forgot DVD audio burners… i think you can buy those now.  That would be a good way to go.

Also, i forgot to answer your question in my post.  SACD doesn’t compress the audio.

Posted by Cynful on February 13, 2004 at 2:00 PM (PDT)

37

History repeats itself.  Unless Apple uses a mainstream format (WMA in this case) it will not maintain market share.

Yes, AAC files may be selling more than WMA files right now, but the whole digital music scene is an extension of the computer, and Microsoft will dominate the format war with its 95% market share.

Posted by BigSid in Los Angeles on February 13, 2004 at 2:29 PM (PDT)

38

What an idiot.

Codecs and digital rights management systems are two different things.

AAC = good (it’s a widely accepted standard)

WMA codec = bad (it’s proprietary), plus it doesn’t sound as good.

and all DRM = bad

so, iTMS is 1/2 good, 1/2 bad.

WMA is all bad.

Posted by anony on February 13, 2004 at 3:00 PM (PDT)

39

Okay, first of all, the AAC codec and Apple’s FairPlay DRM are *not* the same.

AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) *is* an open-standard, audio component of the MPEG-4 compression format. AAC was developed by the MPEG group that includes Dolby, Fraunhofer (FhG), AT&T, Sony, and NokiaŚcompanies that have also been involved in the development of audio codecs such as MP3 and AC3 (also known as Dolby Digital).  Music ripped into the AAC format (not purchased via the iTMS) can be played on almost every single modern OS, including Windows 9x, 2000, XP, Linux and Solaris.

AAC and MPEG-4 are both very DRM-friendly, and as such, Apple developed it’s own audio DRM, which it calls “FairPlay.” Apple has no problem licensing the FairPlay technology to software and hardware developers, but few major players are yet ready to aggravate the Bea$t of Redmond by adopting Apple’s technology.

The author fails to address two major concerns about teh WMA arguments:

1) The WMA licensing page is (I believe) out of date, in regards to the MPEG-4 licensing fees, which are no longer based on downloads of media (at the least for AAC), solely on sales of encoders, and

2) That DRM’d WMA files purchased today cannot be played on a large number of WMA-compatible portable music players purchased 8 or more months ago.

Posted by mustang_dvs on February 13, 2004 at 3:20 PM (PDT)

40

AAC is not an “open standard” - it’s surrounded by a swathe of patents and licensing agreements. It’s anything but open. It’s a pay-for-play codec.

This is a common failing with MPEG-4. It’s also why software and hardware to support MPEG-4 formats costs more, because the makers have to fork over cash.

That’s why we have the genuinely open-source, patent and license-free Ogg Vorbis codec development.

Oggs sound pretty good for a lossy codec - better than mp3 and probably better than AAC.

http://www.vorbis.com/

The Matroska project is a similar license-free approach to developing a video container format to supersede DVD’s VOB format:

http://matroska.sourceforge.net/

Posted by free as in free beer on February 13, 2004 at 3:51 PM (PDT)

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