Apple Lossless. A journey to?

Agaton Sax

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As Always: This is not a Tut, it's a story. So, you know what to do.

Computer People

It was Pretoria, it was the early 70s. It was Friday. I was in my Dad's office for the first and last time. It was on the 5th floor which means I've only been higher in oom Jan's Penthouse in Arcadia. There were windows going right to the floor and only a grey painted railing stopped me from falling right through the purple Jacaranda blooms onto the seemingly tiny SAA Mercedes bus trundling by far below. The office had a big desk and, despite the magnificent view of the city and the Union buildings, was dreary, smelling of smoke and that characteristic smell of old files that screamed Civil Service.

Suddenly my Dad looked at the clock on the wall and irritably got up. Was it something I did? It was 5 to 4, a full half-hour before Chaila. ' "Come", he growled and stormed down one flight of stairs. We came to a funny floor. The entire floor was open with seemingly hundreds of big, funny, filing cabinets, interspersed with equally funny typewriters. Along one wall was a row of weird people, girls with big thighs and thick glasses in the shortest mini skirts I have ever seen and youngish men, all with poorly knotted ties and the loudest jackets I have ever seen . All had their handbags and Tupperware "kosblikke" grasped firmly in the left hand  My Dad sighed "ok, go home". Without a word, like Oupa's wild Afrikanerbeest, they stormed past, flattening me to the wall. Dad sighed and said " Computer people!"

Since that day, I have been puzzled and alienated from that strange species and their even stranger machines.

Apple Cancer

I was sick, I was going to die. G*d help us with doctors who think they are sick. It's pathetic, never have you seen a more miserable person confronted with his own death. I had a cold but like really, really bad, you know? My nose was producing more snot than Network 24 and my head was the size of, of, well... big. I grew up in a civil service house but never have I seen more politics, paperwork and incomprehension than in 2 big private corporations supposedly working together for my benefit. So 10 years ago this fantastic machine was installed. We could have access from our offices to its information, provided we had Apple computers. So we bought...and it never worked, Now, they have installed a new machine, allowing remote access, so. there is a new Windows thing on the coffee table in the corner of my office. This thing displaced my three nice model cars and the nice lead glass lamp. I glowered at it and turned to my, now 8-year-old MacBook.

In the meantime, I got used to this Apple contraption. I started hating Windows, so I got an iMac at home, then my wife got an Apple Macbook, then the kids, then the gardener-True, he is a budding musician when he is not destroying my Camelias. That Boom-Boom in Taxis? Probably him. Anyway, we now have metastatic Apple cancer. It spreads fast, is incurable, costs a lot of money and always thinks up new ways to kill your sanity. So when streaming came, I got an old Mac Mini to do Roon/Tidal. Marvellous but a total pain. So the little dedicated Intel Nuc appeared and it is plain sailing. Apple Music was for the wife and kids. Then Apple Music became Lossless and I wondered? Well, forget it. My Phone can do it but I can't get a signal out of it. None of the computers can. Forget this whole f**kin thing, just forget it.

Admin, oh admin. I started. A little block appeared on the screen. "Upgrade?". Through my runny eyes, I hit a button. OMG, the thing switched off. I stormed home. It was 4 pm it was Friday. Suddenly I felt sympathy for those "Computer people" from long ago.

Saturday. Back at the office, the screen stares at me " Big Sur" downloaded. Could it be? I go to Apple Music. Yip the lossless logo is there, it wasn't before. I take the Macbook home and continue dying. My late Sat night I have stopped dying and plug the Macbook into Croak's Switch. Nada,f*kollie. Nothing is seeing nothing on Ethernet. USB cable to Dac on USB input. OK, Mac says Nyquist. Nyquist says 44.1. Oh, yes. Laboriously get to MIDI settings on Mac. Put in on 384KHz, 24Bit. That'll show that sucker! Stream something. There is sound but Nyquist keep saying 384kHz. Surely Apple Lossless is only to 196? Penny drops: Nyquist is like a civil servant. Only says what the boss (Macbook) is telling him to say, not what it is actually doing.

So, I listen to Brubeck and "Concord on a summer night". Not close to the vinyl but pretty good.  Compared to TIDAL/ROON it is close but actually a little smoother. Roon tells me TIDAL is feeding 44.1 FLAC (not MQA). Apple tells me nothing. I get suspicious. Somewhere in Apple Music, I find the setting. I am listening to AAC! That is MP3 for non-Apple people. How embarrassing -but I do have a cold, remember? Still, I set Apple Music to Lossless and the MIDI to 192. I don't listen, I storm to bed to die further-of embarrassment this time. I do have a cold, you know?

Lying in bed, I think: This is all good and well but now I have to get up and walk to the laptop to access the Music. I am not buying 15 m of Nordost Heimdall USB cable! Google: There is a Remote app for Apple Music! It's there: My Screen is on My other screen and I can control it from My iPhone, just like ROON, well close anyway, I get to of bed. Sure as hell, it works. ROON is drifting a little away. But, But, BUT: There is still a blinking filthy computer in close proximity to my Hi-Fi, something I have spent a lot of money to get away from.

So How does Apple Lossless sound? How the hell should I know, I have a Cold you know!

 

Kletsou

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Love the write-up
I to have had the privilege to see a state department floor filled with data typists (pons dames) and the young ?IT boffs? who actually just changed the data reels for a living. I wonder if much has changed other than the technology?

For a long time, I had the MacBook with the glaring screen doing service as a streamer and as a TV source. Even that has change but I?m still caught in the Apple monster. I use the iPad to manage the streaming and Apple TV box as a source for TV ? you can mos now load most apps on it and even check out audio reviews?

Took a while to get all the setting sorted on the iPad for the iTunes side. I am happy to say that I can confirm there is Lossless, HiRes and Apply Digital Master. They do in fact provide to me perceived different sound quality; who knows?

Fortunately, I do not have a cold and must say since COVID came around have not had one. I might be a bit more paranoid when symptoms occur as I build AI models in the medical industry. So, when a cold comes around I ask if it might not be pneumonia and apply a CURB-65 model to try and determine my mortality prediction 😊
 

Agaton Sax

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So: I pay for Roon and I pay for Tidal. And I have a remote NUC that just runs as a Roon Core. The NUC has a very expensive Teddy Pardo linear supply. It runs to a Croak Switch, running on a linear supply. Then it runs in a special CAT 7 cable that only runs music to a Pierre Watts Switch that runs on a linear supply and finally it runs to a Brinkmann streamer/DAC. It sounds very good.

Last night I brought home my Apple Macbook Air. It runs Apple Music High Res Family at a low price. It also runs a million other apps and programs. It runs on a noisy SMPS and has an even more noisy screen. I plugged Pierre Watts's Switch into the Macbook's Ethernet via an adapter and ran some Nordost USB cable, I had, to the Brinkmann DAC. It is as non-tweaked as you can get and it sounds much better than the other setup.

It is not as sexy as Roon. In fact, the Phone Remote is outright clunky. Involuntarily I am reminded of a 70s B&O and a Nad 3020. One has motorised doors and is as sleek as a sportscar and costs a sportscar's price. The other is clunky, cheap, and looks it but soundwise runs rings around the B&O

Signed Confused and Stoopid.
 

Tonteldoos

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Last night I brought home my Apple Macbook Air. It runs Apple Music High Res Family at a low price. It also runs a million other apps and programs. It runs on a noisy SMPS and has an even more noisy screen. I plugged Pierre Watts's Switch into the Macbook's Ethernet via an adapter and ran some Nordost USB cable, I had, to the Brinkmann DAC. It is as non-tweaked as you can get and it sounds much better than the other setup.

I have an Apple Music family subscription, and Tidal Hifi, and I have compared Apple's various lossless formats to Tidal. I have compared:
  1. On my phone, using Apple Music vs. Tidal phone apps, to various bluetooth headphones (Sennheiser and Airpods Pro).
  2. And on PC (iTunes vs. Tidal desktop apps) - feeding into an iFi ZEN DAC.
  3. And I have compared the Apple Music vs. Tidal phone apps, streaming from my phone via Airplay 2 to various receivers (Marantz) and B&W Formation Wedge

In each of those use cases, I enjoyed Tidal's sound quality significantly more than Apple Music.

There is only one other time where Tidal did NOT impress me, and that was at a friend, who used Roon with a Tidal subscription. In that particular use case, music via Tidal just sounded lifeless.

I have no explanation for it, but your experience seems similar...
 

Agaton Sax

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Interesting. Do you think it is ROON? Air(I think) said he didn't like the sound of ROON. Reeman says he is not going to renew ROON but I think he is keeping Tidal. Chrisc uses that other thing (I forget the name) but only a computer lover could like that (I tried it a long time ago -what is the name up to version 21 or 22 now)
 

kolakidd

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Don’t they all just run through core audio anyway. I know Audirvāna claims to have the shortest signal path, but it’s still through core audio. I mean it’s all bits until hits the dac. I used to use Audirvana, and then switched to Roon for convenience, and I really couldn’t hear a difference with a stock install.

The Tidal app definitely beat Apple Music, but my last test was a couple of months back, the software updates are pretty frequent. I will try Tidal VS Tidal Roon. Again though, when I check the signal path in Roon, it’s pretty much MQA unfold and then sample rate conversion to dac.

FYI the Apple charger SMPS is no slouch, take a look at a proper tear down. I also definitrlely wouldn’t substitute it for another psu, unless it is Apple certified. It has active circuitry that works in conjunction with MacOS
 

jvr

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I dunno, imo Apple Lossless "should" sound better than Tidal every time. So, no surprise here.
 

Agaton Sax

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I also definitrlely wouldn’t substitute it for another psu

Thank you for the information. It would definitely help in navigating the obfuscating mess this century leaves me in. My thinking was a new headless Macmini with a linear supply. It seems the linear supply is a bad idea and from my attempts at navigating iTunes with the phone-based iTunes remote, it seems I would need a screen, keyboard, and mouse. This vastly different from ROON

I remain convinced that I find iTunes lossless High Res better sounding than Roon/Tidal. The sound seems more upfront with more detail coming through. I find the Tidal/Roon more polished, more homogenous, and more ambient. This is not MQA/Tidal as it also sounds that way on non-MQA Hard Disc-based stuff. Less so than Tidal but still there. Listening to music I often listen to on iTunes, sometimes made my jaw drop. On the new Moby on Tidal the rendition of Bowie's "Heroes" is spectacularly beautiful. On iTunes it makes more musical sense, interplay between musicians is more there. Less pretty but more human and more moving for that. On older Cream stuff (Disraeli Gears. Wheels of Fire) iTunes are closer to vinyl. More distortion yes, but more real, more interaction between the 3. Roon in usage and appearance is more polished. Maybe the music is also more polished, further from the original? Do I also sense the pitter-patter of the Tidal Mastering Engineer and his/her inability to keep the hands of the controls there?

Having said that, I am not sure how long I can stand this iTunes remote nonsense: I only seem to be able to access stuff in my library, and adding albums to the library seems to be a Russian Roulette game with some making it and some not. To top it all off, when Disraeli Gears spontaneously ended and launched into Dire Strait's "Making Movies" (not in my library) I ran from the room and behaved suspiciously like a beheaded chicken on the lawn. Dire Straits was Ok, once a long time ago-really it was.
 

Air

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My own journey getting to where I am now, quite satisfied, was also with many ups and downs and frustrations along the way. I started to use Amarra many years ago before streaming, just playing flac and Aiff files through a Mac and thought the Amarra improved the SQ decernably so. Then I signed up with Deezer and for a few years, I thought that it sounded OK, no complaint. Then I bought Audirvana and the sound improved a bit(maybe) over Amarra but struggling often with Amarra's set-up with upgrades I was sold on Audirvana. All this with dacs of various sorts and variety that came and went in my system.

I then made a shift to NOS dacs, for the better or the worse(I think better but others probably disagree). At the same time having Audirvana I was curious about Tidal as Deezer is not supported. This is when my frustrations started. The sound became stringent at times and I tried many tweaks, playing with the setup, cables etc but it was as if I was running in circles or in a maze. I took a serious interest in Tidal and started to read a lot and got behind the MQA aspect which up to that point I was blissfully unaware of. I became more sceptical about Tidal and compared in with Deezer, hifi and wonder above wonder I prefer Deezers sound. Keep in mind I was now fully vested in NOS dacs.

Then I thought, maybe Roon is the answer, trying to unfold Tidal MQA with Roon, and things didn't improve. The sound became sterile, like typical modern dacs with a lifeless character. Clean but just not great. I tried a NUC, and some other contraptions hard-wired the system etc but not really finding peace. So in desperation, I set out one day to compare a few tracks that I could find across Tidal, Deezer and had the CDs and in the ripped format as well. My impression was that the CD versions were 10/10, A3.5+ 8/10 and Roon 6/10 with Deezer somewhere streaming close to A3.5. So for me, both Tidal and Roon just didn't cut it.

I decided that I must by hook or crook get Qubuz and signed up through my daughter's detail that was studying in the UK to Qubuz. Things started to get better both through Roon and Audirvana(on a headless Mini-Mac by the way). I kept Tidal and Qubuz for a while and did a few comparisons but my mind was probably made up that I will drop Tidal because of the lack of transparency and the MQA debacle. Once again keep in mind I now only started to use NOS dacs(Aqua and the Holo).

Now I was fully vested in Qubuz and ripped files and had Roon and A 3.5+ and in a number of comparisons back and forth, on my own and with customers the results were consistent. A+ sounded more like music, Roon despite clean etc like sterilised digital sound. I was disappointed because there is no sense in denying that ROON's interface and experience are superb, but each time I went back to Audirvana 3.5 my enjoyment just went up a notch or 2. Once again I made up my mind, that I will go the Audirvana route. I signed up for the Audirvana Studio subscription. I still use Deezer when I am travelling as well.

As an Apple user of note, I am going to experiment with Apple lossless in the near future but I don't foresee opting out of Qubuz soon. I hope that Qubuz will formally be made available in SA.

(Lastly, I stumbled on a review in the UK WhatHifi in London late in April that compared various streaming services. I realise WhatHifi may not be the most credible mag out there but what is interesting is the final conclusion that most streaming services SQ are converging with the exception of Tidal which sounds significantly different. This might be confirmation bias on my side, but it is really telling to me. I often remind customers that if you set up your sound system based on Tidal it could be out of kilter for other streaming and source material, and vice versa. Maybe my interest in NOS dacs has been the fork in the road which I took for the better or the worse when it comes to Tidal )
 

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jandre

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Tidal through Roon did not work for me - I cancelled Roon before the trial period was over - Tidal straight into my Lindemann Bridge sounds much better. I have not tried Apple yet.
 

chrisc

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I found exactly the same. Tried Apple music, no better or worse, The Lindemann app is not the world's best but is sufficient for the task
 

kolakidd

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This not an argument to like a particular app, it’s just random postulating.

I’m beginning to wonder if there isn’t some eq on Apple iTunes. I’m also well deep in the Apple eco-system, and I know there is eq stuff going on with my airpod pro’s. The HomePod has quite frankly the most impressive real-time adaptive dsp I’ve ever read about. So they’re not afraid to use it. The things we’re describing here as attributes of an app could just as well be described to eq.

We’re also all using completely different signal paths post Mac. I mean my soekris on my main system has an aikido valve buffer. So my Roon feeling lively and warm could well be attributed to this. I recently implemented Dirac as well. So I’m the definition of a bad clean test case. My office system is a different story, but there I just use Tidal for convenience, and I did choose it over Apple at some point, but I think that was because Tidal could use my iFi in exclusive mode, which sounded better to me. Again though I have a near field FAST setup with MarkAudio/Seas drivers and active crossover there, so… quirky!

Again from a dev pov it would just be weird for the core audio implementation to be so different in the app for it to impact the sound. Core Audio is an API, after all, it’s services don’t seem to all you to change that much if you Google it. When Audirvana first came out it did sound different because he seemed to be one of the first to exclusively use core audio, but he doesn’t seem to hype it as a selling point anymore, because it’s not unique to Audirvana.

I never enjoyed Amarra.
 

chrisc

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During a visit to a Cape Town recording studio a few years back, the chief engineer told us what kind of processing is done to the recording after it is captured by the 48-channel digital recorder

They have 4 speakers which are 12" bass units. This is to detect whether there is too much bass content. If so, this is filtered out so it has minimal impact on the recording. Then the tracks are played via the small monitors you see on the desk. The sound is "tailored" to sound best on small headphones and small speakers

He said that is what the musicians want

So, plenty of unrecoverable processing. Mind you, they do not record symphony orchestras in here. Max 6 musicians and a singer


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Agaton Sax

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Chrisc: I wonder how many truly great songs that studio produced? My guess is none. I see the true passion the big-time engineers and producers display in their choice of monitor, board, and outboards eg. and I am reminded of the old saying: It is not the tools, it is the workman but a good workman loves good tools. That desk is very serious indeed; is it one of those sloped 70s Neves? The monitors in the wall are very serious ( padding around the horns means someone read the textbooks re horn/air interface) and the outboards seem to carry suffixes some would kill for (LA-4A?). Or is it just a "professional" being blase cos that's the way pros should be?

On streaming, I remain as perplexed as only the old, ill-informed could be (gosh I remember the 70s and JBL 4310- the first time around!). On arrival long ago I tried the Brinkmann streamer/DAC through USB, using a Microrendu endpoint, and as a streamer using Ethernet directly. There was very little between the 2. Now I run Apple Music from my Notebook Air through USB and used to do Tidal/Roon through Ethernet. The difference is vast, making me think (agree with Kolakidd) that the difference is not in the streamer but the mastering employed by the streamers? On Saturday night late I hit a wobble: Lou Reed's "Transformer" sounded mediocre through Apple Lossless. It is really great with Tidal, vinyl, and if I recall CD. However, on Apple, it was confusing, and muddy with no detail retrieval. A first-all else sounded better on Apple than Tidal. With all my fiddling I disconnected the Earth wire to Pierre Watts's Switch. I reconnected the ridiculous hosepipe and mid-album the same album soared, achieving greatness again! Heh? I fashioned the forearm thick cable out of Yamamura speaker cable and what else, covered it in Megamite connected to the neutral of an unused plug on the Shunyata dpc and to the chassis of Pierre's Switch. It was intended as a bloody joke-now it backfired on me!
 

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Just curious, if simplicity is the ultimate goal here, with a minimal signal chain, why not consider a Pi4 with Volumio and Tidal Connect? Just add a linear PS for those who want noise peace of mind. The Pi4's usb implementation is rock solid, and with Volumio 3 you get multi-zone capabilities like Roon. Tidal Connect then allows full control of Volumio straight from the Tidal native mobile app. The USB out stream is bit perfect, you can add your music libraries on physical storage or connect to a remote NAS device. Oh, and Volumio 3 has MQA pass through, so the DAC can do the full hardware unfolding.

Maybe I'm missing the point here, but either way the above is a rather elegant inexpensive solution.
 

Agaton Sax

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I think that is what Reeman is doing. On my side, I want to give Apple Lossless a go and stay away from the whole Tidal- married-to-MQA debacle. I tried it and liked it but ultimately I like Apple Lossless High Res more. ROON is smooth, baby smooth but maybe also as smooth of sound as of operation and that is a no-no. I do wish I can get Apple Lossless without a Macbook with its screen and SMPS and what else in close proximity of the music.

I have no knowledge outside of suspicion of contamination with such a setup. Maybe I should just do what we always did: Listen; if you like keep, if not chuck and leave the pedantics and theories for those of stronger mind. I'll rethink when/if Qobuz launch in this country.
 

jvr

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I do wish I can get Apple Lossless without a Macbook with its screen and SMPS and what else in close proximity of the music.
The buy-in required from the Appleless man to get that bite is a sin that does not gravitate, tempted as I am.
 

chrisc

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Recordings made in this local studio are played on pop radio stations like 5-FM, Radio Good Hope, KFM, Heart FM and similar. 99% of these are listened to on earphones plugged into phones, which is the intention of the studio

We asked him about full-frequency, unadulterated recordings and was told it was uneconomic. End of story
 

Family_Dog

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That is probably why so much local music sucks, very low-fi when played on a 'normal' system.


-F_D
 

Agaton Sax

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Not aimed at you chrisc and shooting the piano player or killing the messenger! Has anyone watched a video of an interview with Bob Clearmountain or Daniel Lanois or those? In the case of Clearmountain,you have a slight guy with a friendly smile, cheerfully telling you he has a this that is broken and a that this not working well,but he loves it. He has 8 or 16 or something Pultecs but doesn't know where they are. He is overflowing with enthusiasm as he tells you on Tears for Fears he did this,on all the Roxy Music he did that. On Sticky Fingers? No ,No it was Tattoo You he did that. He tell the competition what he did! He overflows with enthusiasm for his craft and the Who's Who flock to him. He makes the best album he can and that is it. If it sounds good on a million Rand Augsburger,it sounds good on a Supersonic portable. Tim de Paravicini said that as he refurbished McCartney's valve Studer. Respect what you are working with and artists will respect you and the public will respect you. Rubbish it for the lowest common denominator and you have South Africa and South African artists today.

Artists,the true ones, respect and cherise a good end product as much as you or I . Difference is they don't distinguish an Augsburger from a Westlake,Neve from Trident or Pultec from Urei. They just care what the end product of that does to their music if used properly. Taking that away from them is disrespecting that artist's product and that public.

I once met Coenie de Villiers,a true artist. He stood staring with stars in his eyes at a Goldmund,Audio Research and conrad johnson. Not for what they were but the music they can reproduce. I once saw him waxing lyrical about a Steinway he just played.
 
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