In my Ears or Between my Ears - iTunes

Discussion in 'Digital Sources' started by ScooterMcTav, Sep 30, 2016.

  1. ScooterMcTav

    ScooterMcTav Active Member

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    Morning all,

    I struggle with the quality of iTunes music when I hook it up to my quality stereo at home. Car? Fine. Computer speakers at work? Fine. Docking station? Fine. Good quality home stereo? Dull and lifeless, and lacking dynamics.

    Reviewing my files, I started buying iTunes music after the DRM/128bit era ended, and all my tunes are on my phone at 256/44.1 which (I thought) should be pretty good. Nope.

    Current hookup is via the headphone out jack using a quality cable to dual RCAs into the receiver. I've looked into an outboard DAC, but reviews online state the DAC on the iPhone 6+ (what I use) is as good if not better than a number of reasonably priced outboard DACs.

    So where are my issues?
    - Is the music poor quality?
    - Does "Mastered for iTunes" mean we have dull enhances bass around 100Hz, and roll off above 5khz as not to torment the headphone-wearing public?
    - Am I losing my mental faculties?

    When I briefly owned an Onkyo TX-8050, I swore the iTunes music sounded better via USB than they do via mini jack. Was this also in my head, or do manufacturers of audio equipment implement some sort of EQ to turn headphone music into hi-fi music.

    Welcome everyone's thoughts before I go back to buying CDs again.....
     
  2. 4-2-7

    4-2-7 Smart Ass Sponsor Subscriber

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    Listening to people online instead of trying something and listening for yourself.
     
  3. ScooterMcTav

    ScooterMcTav Active Member

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    Soooooo......is this a way of stating that an outboard DAC would sound better than the iPhone DAC?

    I am a big fan of listening for myself, but also not a big fan of buying improvements that aren't really improvements. Also live rurally so often have to buy things on spec.

    Looking for experiences, not judgment, but thanks for your feedback.
     
  4. KrisM

    KrisM Addicted Member

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    Member uofmtiger is the guy around here when it comes to this topic. All help, no judgment.

    I can't help with the 6+ DAC vs outboard DAC thing, but I'm curious myself. Discussing this kind of topic gets people heated here, though.
     
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  5. E-Stat

    E-Stat Super Member

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    Would you care to describe your system?

    You're confusing terms. There are no 256 bit recordings anywhere. What you have is lossy compressed 16/44 reduced from 1444 kbps to 256 kbps. Key term being "lossy".

    Everything is relative. If your car system sounds better than your home system, something is definitely amiss. I too, have an iPhone 6 and an iPad air which I've also used as a source. Indeed they're pretty decent and shouldn't sound "dull and lifeless". But then, I listen primarily to lossless content.

    Suggestions? Do you have a CD player you can compare content vs your iPhone playback? What kind of cable are you using between phone and receiver? Many are poor quality with very high capacitance cabling.
     
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  6. ScooterMcTav

    ScooterMcTav Active Member

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    Hey Kris,

    Love the Avatar. Old WHA fan here too. Main reason for asking is curiosity and not to generate argument. if general consensus is the iPhone 6+ DAC is good, then I need to look at other possible causes of poor sound, including issues with the iPhone, cables, etc. Or possibly my system is now more revealing of lossy audio than past ones, so I notice it more now. And hey, not every DAC sounds the same, and possibly those who like the iPhone's DAC are headphone use only.

    Hey E-Stat,

    Main system is a McIntosh MA-6100 hooked to Wharfedale Diamond 10.6 with a Yamaha CDC-565 CD Player. Second system is a Rotel RX-600A attached to a pair of Soliloquy 6.2 with a H/K CD player. Both sound lovely and rich listening to CDs, especially laid back music like Dire Straits and Chris Isaak.

    Appreciate the clarification on the numbers.

    In the car, the sound is actually handled by the Ford's DAC, as I have the phone hooked up via USB. However, the car is a pretty unnatural listening environment - certainly it sounds fine, but I do take it with a grain of salt. Also have cycled through a few cables including my current monoprice premium ones, so am pretty sure it's not cables. I run 3' lengths on all of them, simply to avoid capacitance (thank you Roger Russell).

    I will have to peruse my collection to see if I have a matching CD for any iTunes purchased items, and see if I can do an A/B. I can also rip a CD from one of my iTunes downloads to see how sound via the CD compares to the phone. At least it will give me a starting point.

    Really, I'm wanting to make a few decisions based on the outcome of this:
    - Go back to purchasing CDs if the issue is audibility of the lossy content, or
    - Use a separate DAC, or DAC enabled stereo receiver if the issue is the DAC/headphone output on the iPhone 6+, or
    - Move into lossless content if I am unable to improve the quality of music via the two above options
     
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  7. E-Stat

    E-Stat Super Member

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    While the Mac is of high quality, it could also be in need of repair. According to R-R's site, it could be almost fifty years old and in need of refreshing. The Rotel is also a vintage design going back to '73 when I was in high school and still had hair. :)

    That's really what you need to do. (Almost) one control variable at a time. In a perfect world, you would use the same transport (computer based), same DAC, same cabling, etc. In that way, you are truly only comparing the content and not the players and cabling involved.

    Understand that the CD media will still be playing a lossy MP3 signal. Not the same.
     
  8. woofmytweets

    woofmytweets AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    not an itunes subscriber, but from what i hear (from people, not with my ears) is that itunes has shit quality.
     
  9. E-Stat

    E-Stat Super Member

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    That's a bit extreme. I have a handful of 256 kbps MP3s that are decent, just noticeably inferior to higher resolutions. I purchased those for $.99 to see if I wanted to buy the CD or some stuff for which that was the only format available.

    If you're playing run of the mill rock n' roll, country or pop, you'll likely not notice the difference. It lies mostly with either complex wide dynamic range orchestral works or simple acoustic content where they sound artificial and flat.
     
  10. uofmtiger

    uofmtiger Super Member

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    I appreciate the plug.:thumbsup:

    I would try out the dock and see if you still have issues. There could be some unusual impedance issue (above my head, but a lot of people have been using Line out when possible, rather than going through the headphone amp with good results. Lots of threads on this issue on Head Fi).

    I would also try a different input on the amp, there could be some issue with that input. My preference is for an outboard DAC, but I think trying the dock you already own is a good first step.
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2016
  11. Quadrunner

    Quadrunner AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    I have always preferred any other source to itunes music as I experience similar issues to my own ears. I've heard my own MP3's and I've heard Itunes. MP3's from quality sources while having about the same amount of detail don't have that empty soulless feeling I get when I hear Itunes music through good speakers. I could never explain it myself and always just figured its some weird thing I listen for that no one else does. However, I'm in the same boat as you being that I only use Itunes music off my phone and my computer, both of which are not the greatest DAC in the world. My MP3's sourced from who knows where play through an overpriced MP3 player sold around the time the original shuffle came out, and they sound pretty darn good.

    My question to you....Have you compared your Itunes music with something like spotify? If there is a real difference to you, regardless of your decision to buy a DAC, you would know better then to source music through apple in the future.

    I know this isn't what you want to hear but its so sensible I'd feel bad if I didn't try. If you know any good albums you should be buying CD's anyway. They are typically cheaper, transfer right to your library, and sound better even if you buy brand new. I have no idea why people are shifting away from them at these prices.
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2016
  12. ScooterMcTav

    ScooterMcTav Active Member

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    Thanks E-Stat,

    Mc was refurbished earlier this year and is in fine working condition. Of note, also noticed poor sound quality through my Musical Fidelity a3.2 that was eventually traded for the Mc, and poor quality into my Marantz SR 5007 via cable. Oddly, the best sound I've had from my phone is via AirPlay on the Marantz, but it is not one of my main stereo rigs (HT in family room). Rotel is in need of a recap, but still sounds very good on other line inputs like CD and phono. Reason I suggested ripping the CD is it is the same lossy material, but delivered via CD player DAC and not iPhone DAC to see if it is the material, or the delivery.

    Hey UofMTiger, sorry, no dock, but good to hear others are looking for improvements from the headphone amp built in. Possibly I'm not going crazy.

    Thanks Quad,

    I've had the same experience, as it seems some files which should sound bad don't, and some which are supposed to be better aren't. However, I love having thousands of songs at my fingertips - just need to figure out how to make them sound their best on a better system.
     
  13. E-Stat

    E-Stat Super Member

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    Got it and understand. You should still compare an original uncompressed version with the MP3.

    I certainly understand that notion. All of my digital content has been ripped or downloaded in its original (higher than Redbook standard) resolution and instantly accessible across multiple systems and controlled by my iPhone.
     
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  14. woofmytweets

    woofmytweets AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    it's true, especially considering how much apple is like a cult - and again, it's only hearsay....from my own experience, as my main system evolves, i find myself hearing details in recordings that i either never heard or noticed before. sometimes, it's like a new layer has been added to my enjoyment of an old classic...sometimes, and more often, it's some detail that causes me to leap out of my seat, or immediately switch tracks to make sure the new "problem" is not a fault with my sound system. just today, i discovered a strange twang on the right side of "the grind" by david wilcox....flipped out until i realized, it's just on the one track, i never noticed it before.....

    i seem to be rambling, anyway, the point is that the quality of the source is very important and only becomes more so as the quality of the equipment increases. certainly if you're doing any kind of dedicated listening, you'll want to make sure you've got a quality source.
     
  15. hjames

    hjames Nabbed ... Subscriber

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    You keep saying "iTunes" but I think what you mean is you are playing lossy MP3 files from your iPhone 6+ through various audio systems you own,
    is that right? Not from an Apple or Windows computer, but you are simply hooking up your phone via the headphone jack to other systems? How do you get the music onto your phone - do you buy it directly from Apple on you phone or is there a computer somewhere?

    No judgement, just trying to sort out your technology.

    In my system I have a computer and sometimes I buy music from Amazon, or from iTunes, or I rip songs from CDs I own. I generally rip my CDs into lossless files. Not 126 or 256 or even 320 kbps (kilobits per sec bitrate) - but lossless, which is something like 800kbps or higher depending on the music. Generally, the higher the bitrate, the more accurate the digital file, and the better the music sounds.
    I copy my music to my iPhone so I can listen in the car or when I am at my desk at work, but if I am home, I play from my computer and send THAT to the stereo in the living room or the other systems in the bedroom, the TV room or on the back porch. My music is on my computer and I send it around the house via wifi into an Airport Express that is hooked up to my stereo with an optical output cable through a DAC. I use the iPhone as a remote control, not as a source of music in the home audio systems.

    There are other ways to do it - some folks use various software and hardware to play music from their computer to their home audio systems,but we can talk more about specifics once we know what you have.

    Think of this as kind of like the old days. When I would get a new album, I'd copy it to cassette - and if I was out of the house I could play the cassette in the car or on a walkman, but when I was home I'd play the album directly. It just sounded better than a lower resolution 2nd generation copy. The lossy 128 or 256kbps files are like cheaper cassette copies. The lossless files are an exact copy. The files are larger, but the fidelity is much better.




     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2016
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  16. 4-2-7

    4-2-7 Smart Ass Sponsor Subscriber

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    Valid points Heather

    Also when sync the phone on the computer with the files in iTunes as there is way more than most phones can hold, I would thing theres a computer in use.

    I would get the computer close to the stereo and swap between the phone and computers head phone output. This way he can listen to the two DAC in both and gauge if one sounds better than the other.
     
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  17. ScooterMcTav

    ScooterMcTav Active Member

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    .
    Thanks for the reply. The music under discussion is bought at the iTunes Store, and is my source of consternation. If I'm paying for legitimate music, I shouldn't hate listening to it.

    Actually in what I've read so far from you good folks, it seems that many of you still go CD, and go lossless digital for convenience.
     
  18. uofmtiger

    uofmtiger Super Member

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    I forgot to mention that iTunes has a feature that will compress your music to 128K automatically when you move it to the iPhone or iPod. This is to allow you to have more songs on your device. If you accidentally checked this box at some point, you would most likely notice a difference at that bit rate.

    If you are using the 256k AAC files, I highly doubt you would have a noticeable difference (for the worse) since people can't typically hear a difference at that bit rate in concentrated ABX tests. The Mastered For iTunes program (which some albums have not been converted to that format) has the ability to actually make albums sound better because it is converted from the original 24/96 files (when available) and often has more dynamic range than the loudness wars masters on CD. Personally, I think there is something else at play here, but without access to your setup, I can't say what that is. More info from one of the most respected engineers in the business:

    "With a name as well known as many of his clients, audiophiles have learned Ludwig’s name through his vast amount of album credits and his love of high-performance audio equipment. Ludwig recently took time away from his schedule to explain to CE Pro why the Mastered for iTunes initiative is a good thing for digital music fans, and why Metallica’s “Death Magnetic” album marked the peak of the loudness wars.....

    What do you think of Apple’s “Mastered for iTunes” initiative? Is it a marketing ploy or is there some legitimacy to it?
    There is more than ‘legitimacy’ to it … it is pure science and it makes every album sound better, sometimes remarkably better than the old ingest process. Apple is righting a wrong that has existed for years by delivering tools that can measure clipping caused by the AAC encoding process, quantifying that and making it possible to eliminate encoding clips and the distortion they can yield."

    http://www.cepro.com/article/qa_bob_ludwig_gateway_mastering_dvd_president
     
  19. ScooterMcTav

    ScooterMcTav Active Member

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    Good info Tiger, thanks. FYI have confirmed I have the 256kbps versions on my phone.

    Should hopefully have time to do some a/b tomorrow night
     
  20. ScooterMcTav

    ScooterMcTav Active Member

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    Well, I can answer my original question - it's between my ears.

    So first I ripped an iTunes album to CD, and A/B switched between the phone and the CD player. They sound was virtually identical, and could fully be attributed to different DAC implementations. The iPhone was slightly more mid forward than my Yamaha CD player, but there wasn't much to choose between the two. Then I switched to an iPhone tune and factory CD, and again, little to choose between the two.

    Apparently the iTunes music is of adequate quality, and it looks like the iPhone 6 plus DAC is certainly useable. If I had to pick one over the other, I'd likely pick the CDs both times, but that would not be a surprise as the Yammy was selected after trying our roughly six different CD players with different DACs.

    Also noticed that my other rig (Lux/Sol) seemed a little more pleasant with the iPhone than the Mc/Wharf combo was.
     

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