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Music Media Businesses Apple

Speculation On a Lossless iTunes Store 321

Posted by kdawson
from the filling-up-the-160-gb-ipod dept.
DrJenny writes "C|net UK has up an interesting blog post predicting that within 12 months Apple's iTunes Store will include a download center for lossless audio. This would be a massively positive move for people who spend thousands of dollars on hi-fi gear, but refuse to give money to stores that only offer compressed music — they could finally take advantage of legal digital downloads. The article goes into details on how Apple's home-grown ALAC lossless encoding relates to FLAC, DRM, and the iPod ecosystem."
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Speculation On a Lossless iTunes Store

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  • by User 956 (568564) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @05:15PM (#21744078) Homepage
    Speculation On a Lossless iTunes Store

    Lossless? I thought the iTunes store was a loss leader?
  • by timster (32400) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @05:19PM (#21744138)
    Forget "lossless" when you've already lost so much of the original wave by mixing it down to 16-bit 44khz stereo in the first place. I'd rather have something that started out with a higher sampling rate/etc, but with good lossy compression to pull it down to something that doesn't require DVD-type storage for a single album.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by croddy (659025)
      My kingdom for a mod point.
    • by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @05:39PM (#21744398) Journal
      Sorry, Nyquist's theorem states that you can accurately represent frequencies up to 1/2 the sampling rate. Assuming you are a human and not a dog [lib.unb.ca], you can not hear frequencies above 22khz. As for 16 bit, nobody uses all that dynamic range anyway. So 16bit/44.1khz is entirely good enough for listening.

      Now 24/96 has its uses if you're mastering something, so that any errors introduced in the mixing process are below the quantization error in the final 16/44.1 product.
      • by Applekid (993327)
        Said much better than I could have hoped to. I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.
      • Sorry, Nyquist's theorem states that you can accurately represent frequencies up to 1/2 the sampling rate.

        Really? I have a square wave, a sine wave, and a sawtooth wave, all at 22KHz. Now, you tell me how they'll be quantized such that all are accurately represented.

        Either Nyquist is wrong, or you're misrepresenting his "theorem".

        • by evanbd (210358)

          Your 22kHz square and sawtooth waves have higher frequency harmonic content. If you don't believe me, go work the fourier transform -- it's not actually that hard if you replace the sawtooth wave with a triangle wave. Regardless, what that means is if you took your 22kHz waves, and ideally low-pass filtered them at frequency f, 22kHz

          If you don't believe me, you can (sortof) do the experiment yourself. Generate the waves at 1kHz and at 10kHz and play them back. With the 10kHz waves, they'll sound diff

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Hatta (162192)
          Easy, a square wave(or any wave) can be represented (through fourier transforms) as a sum of sine waves of increasing frequency. If you have a 22khz square wave, what you really have is a 22khz sine wave, and a bunch of sine waves with frequencies greater than 22khz. Those higher harmonics cannot be accurately represented with a 44.1 khz sampling rate, but since you can't hear anything above 22khz anyway it doesn't matter.
          • Those higher harmonics cannot be accurately represented

            Now, go read the grandparent and find out that you're actually supporting my argument...

          • by Grishnakh (216268)
            You might as well give it up. You're arguing with trailer trash, after all... You can't actually expect someone like that to have an education.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by marcello_dl (667940)
            > Those higher harmonics cannot be accurately represented with a 44.1 khz sampling rate, but since you can't hear anything above 22khz anyway it doesn't matter.

            "The ear can't pick fundamental sounds at more than around 20 khz" != "the ear does a fourier transform and discard all harmonics above 22khz." The signal processing that a ear does to localize and identify sounds is a little more sophisticated.

            I didn't do a double blind test, but even a seemingly small difference between a DAT recording at 44.1 a
      • by ChrisA90278 (905188) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @06:59PM (#21745602)
        Nyquist's theorem states that you can accurately represent frequencies up to 1/2 the sampling rate. That is 100% true. But in the real world, if you are sampling a digital recorder at 44Khz how do you ensure that NOTHING above 22Khz gets to the analog to digital converter? You need a strong analog filter but there are no filters that have an exactly square cut off Maybe let's say you have a 24db per octave filter. This mens you will have only attenuated the higher frequencies, not eliminated them. Same on playback. You need a theoretically perfect analog filter to playback. Such analog filers do not exist. The way they get around all this is to sample at 96 or 128Khz. If you do this then real-world analog filters can be used.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by rtechie (244489)


      You do know that most studios record on 16bit 48khz equipment, right? That 4khz doesn't make much of a difference. In fact, most studio masters are slap-dash affairs. Bad mikes, bad recording equipment, inadequate space, etc. All that crap puts all but the very best masters far below what CD Audio is capable of. In this real-world context, there is no point at all to formats like SACD and DVD-Audio. What people actually WANT is pretty clear. People want CDs with a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix, or an equivalent sur
  • by TimSee (765338) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @05:20PM (#21744152)
    Hope this happens. After transcoding my CD collection to FLAC to arhive it, I now regularly batch re-encode to smaller and smaller bit rates using new releases of lossy encoders. AAC has gotten much better (esp AAC-HE) over the years to the point for a portable player, 48kbs is perfectly acceptable to my ears. With a 16GB iPod Touch, I could see buying music from the iTMS in some lossless format and transcoding to get my entire collection all on a small, flash memory player.
    • by cayenne8 (626475)
      "Hope this happens. After transcoding my CD collection to FLAC to arhive it..."

      Same here. I've been bitching for quite some time that there was no way to purchase songs online that weren't less than CD quality...if they will offer lossless formats, with no DRM, I'll pay a fair fee. I want to use what I purchase in lossless format on my home system, and be able to rip it to mp3 or whatever for poorer listening environments like the car or the portable for the gym.

      Bravo!

    • by Mr.Ned (79679) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @06:03PM (#21744760)
      If you're converting to mp3, and have an operating system that supports FUSE (GNU/Linux and FreeBSD are the ones I know about), take a look at mp3fs - it's a virtual filesystem that will encode from lossless to lossy on the fly. It's great for putting stuff on a small flash memory player.
    • by qortra (591818)
      A sibling post already mentioned it briefly, but it really should be mentioned more specifically; iTunes-ALAC isn't going be archive-ideal until the DRM is gone. Since at least one record label has talked about removing DRM, this might actually happen. However, I wouldn't count on it.

      First off, I haven't heard anything about the other major labels switching any time soon. Maybe they will and maybe they won't.

      Moreover, I think that businessmen who are otherwise satisfied with removing DRM on AACs will b
  • Linn Records [linnrecords.com] offers downloads of 24-bit 96kHz songs. It would also be great to see DSD [wikipedia.org] files available sometime. Those formats would really bring interest.

    It's good to see the possibility of lossless music nevertheless. :)
  • by Anita Coney (648748) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @05:23PM (#21744194) Homepage
    From the blog:

    "And now I have an inkling Apple will add lossless music downloads to the iTunes Store within the next 12 months."

    Translation:

    I have no fricken clue that this will ever happen, but because I think it'd be cool if it did, I'll go ahead and blog about it.
  • Other than selection, which is arguably a non-issue these days, why would I bother downloading something as large as lossless audio when there's no real benefit to doing so? I could just as easily go to the store and pickup the original CD for only a small bit more than or, more than likely, the same price as the download. I get the physical media and it doesn't cost much more, this is a no brainer for me.

    The ease of access argument is null, in my mind, because it has DRM and any ease is negated right the
    • by Grishnakh (216268) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @07:49PM (#21746160)
      Personally, I'm beginning to wonder if the real reason for dynamic range compression is so that customers aren't surprised by how crappy some manufactured idol bands and singers sound in person without heavy studio voice processing.

      Watch out, you're about to start an argument with all the people who think that it's normal for good bands to make albums with only one good song.
  • So... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Seakip18 (1106315) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @05:25PM (#21744230) Journal

    This would be a massively positive move for people who spend thousands of dollars on hi-fi gear, but refuse to give money to stores that only offer compressed music
    So....this is for all 17 of them? I figured since they have that much money for equipment, most would just get the CD's and rip them via those means. If you can afford a $20k speaker, you can afford a a few TB Hard drives to keep your music.
    • Maybe because CDs suck? Hate storing them, hate ripping them. And I don't like music stores.
      • by Grishnakh (216268)
        And I don't like music stores.

        May I suggest this thing called the "Internet"? There's websites such as amazon.com which will sell you CDs for less than your local store, without you having to leave your couch.

        Complain about storing and ripping all you want, but not liking music stores is a silly reason to avoid CDs in this day and age. Heck, most of the stand-alone music stores are going out of business because of iTunes and Amazon, as well as Wal-Mart and Target.
  • by the_humeister (922869) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @05:32PM (#21744316)
    Most CDs have about 10-19 songs and range in price from $10-$15 (at least the mainstream ones). That works out to usually $0.99 a song. The last album I bought was Timbaland: Shock Value. 17 good songs for $12.
    • by Vegeta99 (219501) <rjlynn@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @05:43PM (#21744442)
      You might like all the songs. Since I listen mostly to rock/alternative genres, I probably only want his singles. Can I buy them cheaply, like my dad could in the 70's? He's got a stack of 45's that probably reaches the ceiling of my apartment.

      I do realize they still sell them, but are they $0.99 per song cheap?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by michaelmalak (91262)

        I do realize they still sell them, but are they $0.99 per song cheap?

        I assume you're referring to 45's. Adjusting for inflation, $0.99 in 1979 (the year I bought the 45 of the song "Funkytown" at Woolco) would be, according the the BLS calculator [bls.gov], $2.87 today.

        Around 1990, there were CD singles. Granted, they were intended to be replacements for 12" maxi-singles and not 45s, but they were $5. And the record companies killed them because they thought CD singles were "too cheap" -- that they were canibalizi

  • by Lord Byron II (671689) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @05:32PM (#21744320)
    Isn't it amazing that 25 years after the release of the CD, we're excited to finally have a way to buy DRM free, lossless, digital music? If this happens, we'll be back inline with 1982 technology.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Traa (158207)
      Who says that the lossless offer will be DRM free? (Didn't RTFA)

      Also, it will be digital, so any self respecting audiophile should instantly dismiss this format because the quantum fluctuations that are part of the original audio are not represented to a high enough precision turning the recorded audio into near white noise useless garbage (aka pop). ;-)
  • I thought the whole point of having a music store online was so that they could make a tidy profit with minimal expenditure. Wouldn't that mean they've been lossless already?
  • by BUL2294 (1081735) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @05:41PM (#21744420)
    Forget Apple... I updated my iPod's firmware to Rockbox (which natively offers several lossless formats, and a slew of other features) and haven't looked back.

    I did this for 3 reasons... 1) iTunes stopped supporting Windows 2000. (Yes, I know it's old, but I don't have to deal with the stupid BS Microsoft has built into XP, like WGA). 2) The 1.2.1 Apple firmware for iPod Videos gave me trouble with a bunch of my MP3s--cutting off the song at the 75% marker and refusing to seek within the track. (Of course, the catch-22 is that I can't get a newer iPod firmware from Apple since they refuse to support W2K). 3) I never liked the way iTunes worked in the first place...

    I don't hold out much hope that a lossless format sold thru iTunes will truly be lossless. After all, converting an LP to 16-bit 44.1KHz WAV is, by definition, lossy (but outside of the perceptions of 95+% of the people out there)... To add, part of the reason that iTunes even sells DRM-free music is because the record companies can say "if you want higher quality, buy the CD or, better yet, vinyl!" So, I doubt many record companies will be selling uber-high-quality lossless tracks through iTunes...
    • I did, too. But then I switched back. Unfortunately, they didn't have support for realizing that the charger stopped sending juice to my ipod mini. So when I turned my car off, my ipod didn't automatically pause. This is a major feature for me with audiobooks.
    • I don't hold out much hope that a lossless format sold thru iTunes will truly be lossless. After all, converting an LP to 16-bit 44.1KHz WAV is, by definition, lossy (but outside of the perceptions of 95+% of the people out there)... To add, part of the reason that iTunes even sells DRM-free music is because the record companies can say "if you want higher quality, buy the CD or, better yet, vinyl!"

      So, just to get this straight: You think of Vinyl records as a lossless format and believe they have a hi

  • DRM silliness (Score:4, Insightful)

    by spiritraveller (641174) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @05:44PM (#21744454)
    So they lock down these files with DRM. Then DVD-Jon (or someone else) comes up with a DRM-stripping program for the files.

    Then people can re-encode the files to their format of choice. But by then, most consumers have said "fuck it" and decided to just download their format of choice directly from p2p or usenet because it's easier and simpler than paying Apple and still violating the DMCA just so the music they paid for will work on the audio player they own.

    Oh wait, that's already the status quo... Never mind.
  • by Josh Coalson (538042) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @05:48PM (#21744512) Homepage
    ...make some noise; here's one place to start: http://flac.sourceforge.net/itunes.html [sourceforge.net]

    almost everyone else distributing lossless (except musicgiants) is using FLAC [sourceforge.net] and/or WAV. it's supported by almost all s/w except itunes, hell you can even get wmp to play FLAC with some work.

    re:TFA, lossless is not directly about quality, mp3 and aac both can be perceptually transparent for the most part, it's about (depending on your personality) perceived quality or format independence -- i.e. being able to transcode to the format you need without quality loss.
    • by Llywelyn (531070)
      Why would they adopt FLAC?

      They support WAV, they support ALAC. Transcoding between these doesn't result in a loss of quality. So why would they support FLAC unless it was just to decode from FLAC into something else?
      • for almost the exact same reasons they support mp3. FLAC is used much more than ALAC. FLAC is used for lossless distribution more than ALAC (zero for ALAC afaik). transcoding is not user friendly for their target audience.
  • by Strange Ranger (454494) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @05:48PM (#21744526)
    Sure I might buy something in Apple's lossless format from iTunes, but

    A - If I'm going to pay extra for DRM'd lossless, I better get the cheap lossy version for free (for my phone, wife's iPod, whatever) because paying them to compress a song for me is ridiculous,and
    B - It will be a moot point if the player won't play all the FLAC I already have, because I won't own the player. It's why I don't own one now.
  • Lossless piracy? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MMC Monster (602931) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @05:51PM (#21744556)
    Am I out of the loop? I was under the impression that most piracy was of the low quality mp3s that suck on any high end audio gear.

    Lossless is a great idea and may open up a new market to the iTMS, but I can't image it's going to offset piracy. I'd think it will offset physical CD sales.
    • by Hatta (162192)
      Lossless torrents are very common these days. Especially on private trackers where quality is of the highest importance. They're a great way to get your ratio up too.
  • by Josh Coalson (538042) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @05:54PM (#21744614) Homepage
    the article claims that apple won't go with FLAC because we're against DRM. I don't think so; if we're to believe Steve then he's against it too. and there's nothing stopping apple from sticking FLAC in an mp4 container with fairplay, we can't prevent that anyway. aside from the principle of it, another reasone we're against it in FLAC is that DRM is doesn't belong in the codec layer, it's a layer on top.

    apple's got nothing to fear from FLAC, it can actually be used to their advantage to get a leg up on the competition, since for lossless electronic distribution FLAC is becoming the de facto standard.
    • by burris (122191)
      Maybe Apple thought FLAC was infringing on patents and didn't want to risk being the only user of it with deep pockets.
  • I dunno... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Cleon (471197) <cleon42@y a h o o.com> on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @06:08PM (#21744816) Homepage
    Lossless audio is going to involve some large file sizes, and with that, comes increased costs--bandwidth ain't free, and storage/delivery of these files is not going to be cheap or easy. This all translates into fairly expensive downloads.

    So for Apple to seriously consider this, they're going to have to figure out if there are enough audiophiles out there willing to pay that kind of money for downloads.

    Personally, I kinda doubt it.
  • Again, if Microsoft is about "Developers Developers Developers" then Apple's meat and drink is "Rumors Rumors Rumors".
  • This would be a massively positive move for people who spend thousands of dollars on hi-fi gear, but refuse to give money to stores that only offer compressed music -- they could finally take advantage of legal digital downloads.

    For serious?

    If you've got thousands of dollars to toss around on audio equipment, you're seriously going to be stingy enough to illegally download music on the principle that you don't want to pay the $2-$3 more it costs to buy the physical CD?

    I'm sorry, but that's got to be one of

  • Why would people with high-end audio gear want to download digital music? I thought they all insisted on listening to wax drum recordings to achieve the best possible "natural sound".
  • by not_hylas( ) (703994) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @10:45PM (#21747618) Homepage Journal
    The RAW equivalent for audio would nice, but lossless would be what it would take for me (and everyone I know) to buy online.

    If any of you remember cassettes, low end MP3s are about equal (IMHO).
    I haven't bought / downloaded any music because of this factor - it's just not good enough when I can purchase the CD and deal with it from there.

    AAC is pretty damn good, but no, I can tell the difference for the most part and well, really, come on, get real - they already SELL it lossless, it's not like you're twisting knobs to transfer it to the hard drive.
    If anyone can get the majority of the Corporate Music above the line brain dead to listen, it'll be Jobs, and Team Apple, both of them.

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