Do you love music? Have a giant hard drive? Maybe two? I'm guessing that might be the case, and here's what you should do: give up lossy audio compression for good for pristine lossless files.
Thankfully, there is an easy answer to this that covers most of your bases when dealing with CDs: Use the Apple Lossless Codec. It's a fine way of compressing files into smaller packages than WAV rips without losing quality, and iTunes has supported Apple Lossless since 2004 which means it's widely supported now beyond the Apple world.
But even though lossless files are smaller than uncompressed WAV rips, they're still considerably larger than a good 320kbps or high-bitrate VBR MP3 file—usually between 2 to 3 times larger, depending on the song. And if you're going to be listening to it all on your $15 Magnavox computer speakers, you're not going to be able to tell the difference, so stick with MP3. But if you've got good headphones or speakers, you'll appreciate the added audio resolution and the pleasing absence of the compressed sound that even a well-encoded, high-bitrate MP3 can possess.
So if you're ripping your new CDs and have plenty of storage (which is, after all, ridiculously cheap these days), make sure you encode in a pristine Apple Lossless file to save space over WAV but at zero loss of audio resolution.
But when's the last time you bought a CD?
If you want to extend the lossless kick to your online music acquisitions, you're going to invite a few more file formats into your life that don't play so nicely with iTunes and iPods. Most common among these is FLAC, the Free Lossless Audio Codec that is used to encode much of the high-quality lossless music you'll find available to download on discerning Torrent sites and most serious live music archives (including the fabulous Archive.org treasure trove). So let's deal with that little obstacle and get FLAC files to play nice with our iProducts, shall we? And even if you get tired of having 2-3 times less music on your iPod or iPhone, you can always keep a lossless copy on your home machine and re-encode to smaller MP3s for mobile use without losing the original.
Dealing With FLAC Files
While Apple Lossless is great for files you encode yourself from source, like we said, you don't see it too often around the web, where FLAC is favored. So to use FLAC files efficiently at home and on the go, we'll need to do a bit of converting. But it's all relatively painless.
1. Download Fluke, an excellent software package created by Dmitry Kichenko that provides nearly seamless support for FLAC files in iTunes. What it actually does is install a free QuickTime plugin to allow QT to play FLAC files in the OGG container, then fools everyone into thinking your FLAC is actually an OGG container. Confused? It doesn't matter. It works.
2. Once Fluke is installed, you'll have a Fluke app in your Applications folder. To add FLAC files to iTunes, just drag them onto the Fluke icon (you can keep it in your dock) and they'll be converted and added automatically. If you have iTunes set to copy files to your library folder, it will do that.
3. Now you can play your FLAC file through iTunes like normal, with full tagging support just like an MP3 (the only thing you can't do is add album art). If you're going to be moving the file to your iPod, you can use iTunes' built-in encoder to make a still-lossless switch to Apple Lossless, which should be almost the exact same size as your FLAC. Enjoy your audiophile vinyl rips the way they were intended!
If you're a windows user and dealing primarily with FLAC files, it may make mores sense to use Winamp or another non-iTunes media manager along with the standard FLAC codecs. But if you want to play FLAC on an iPod, you'll have to convert it to something else eventually, so you may as well use Apple Lossless for better file size than a straight WAV.
1. Download and install dBpoweramp. You'll get a trial version of the for-pay Reference version, but after 30 days it will rever to the free version, which will still convert FLAC to Apple Lossless, which is what we're going to do.
2. Once it's downloaded, right-click on any FLAC file on your computer and select "Convert to" and choose Apple Lossless in the drop-down. The first time you do this, you'll be prompted to download an additional codec pack. Do that.
3. Once your codec is installed, you can select as many FLAC files at a time as you want and quickly convert them to Apple Lossless. For huge conversion jobs, you can use dBpoweramp's batch encoder.
4. Add your new Apple Lossless files to iTunes, and you're done!
Now go grab some well-recorded (and free) FLAC music from Archive.org. Ahh, doesn't that sound better?
If you have more tips and tools to share, please drop some links in the comments-your feedback is hugely important to our Saturday How To guides. And if you have any topics you'd like to see covered here, please let me know. Have a good weekend listening everyone! And if you're into audio, you're going to love Gizmodo next week. Stay tuned.