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Apple to Linn Records: you can’t use Apple lossless

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.

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8 thoughts on “Apple to Linn Records: you can’t use Apple lossless”

  1. It may be because Apple is introducing FLAC in OS X “Leopard” this spring (fact) and intends to deprecate Apple Lossless in favor of it (speculation).

    There is some speculation that Apple created Apple Lossless because FLAC couldn’t do what they needed at the time. Several years later, FLAC does satisfy their wishes, hence the upcoming introduction.

  2. Re “higher than cd quality” – cd stores audio data in an uncompressed (non-lossy) 16-bit format. Linn’s best downloads are in an uncompressed 24-bit format, which means theoretically higher quality.

    There is plenty of debate over whether the differences are likely to be audible, and even over whether either format is audibly superior to lossy-compressed MP3 or AAC at a high bitrate.

    Even if you don’t think there are audible differences, there are still benefits to the higher resolution formats. In particular, you can apply digital processing with less risk of audible degradation.

    Tim

  3. Well, higher resolutions are certainly useful during mixing and editing, there’s no discussion about that.

    But, they have a function during just listening as well. Resolutions higher than 14bit are invaluable when you want to listen to the sound of insects on the launch pad during take off of the Space Shuttle or people whispering in the mosh-pit during a metal concert.

  4. The great thing about Linn’s approach is that you have the choice. You can save money and buy the lower-res or lossy-compressed formats, whatever you prefer.

    Tim

  5. There is no such thing like AAC lossless… there is an “MPEG-4 Audio Lossless Coding (ALS)” codec that has nothing to do with AAC…

  6. Thanks GEo. I’m just quoting what Martin Dalgleish told me; I’m not surprised by what you say though since the Linn website was already confused about the difference between AAC and ALAC.

    Tim

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