Alongside Apple’s well-known reluctance to allow others to use its FairPlay DRM, the company now appears to be refusing permission for others to use its Apple Lossless file format.
Although some people are content with the 128kbps lossy compression of standard iTunes store downloads, they do not satisfy audiophiles. Linn is a hi-fi company with its own record label, and is now offering digital downloads at a quality even higher than that of CD.
Linn wants to support Mac customers, but it isn’t easy. iTunes does not support commonly used codecs like FLAC or WMA lossless. Apple lossless is the obvious choice, but Linn’s Martin Dalgleish tell me that Apple will not allow it. There is also an AAC lossless*, but according to Dalgleish iTunes will only play the lossy portion of the file. Linn is now investigating WAV, which is uncompressed.
These little battles may seem unimportant, but let’s bear in mind that Apple, like Microsoft, wants to be at the center of the digital home. Undoubtedly Apple would prefer users of its hardware to buy their music from the iTunes music store rather than from independents like Linn. Controlling the formats that its hardware and software supports is a way of keeping that loop tightly controlled.
I’ll add that while I welcome Linn’s initiative in making available lossless, DRM-free music downloads at better than CD quality, there are plenty of problems when it comes to playback. If you are not careful, you may find that Windows or your soundcard’s drivers are resampling your audio anyway.
*Note: Although Dalgleish used the term “AAC lossless” such a thing does not exist (see comments to this post). However there is a project called MPEG-4 Audio Scalable Lossless Coding – see here and here, which is perhaps what he meant.