Roadmap ahead - ALAC or FLAC w/ Roon. Please help me decide!


#1

Hi all,

I have posted this on a couple of other forums (except for the Roon Community site) but I was wondering if anyone has had experience with choosing FLAC when on macOS and then regretting it.

I have been on a Mac for the last 15 years and built my music collection around the Apple eco system using iTunes. In the past I have ripped all my CDs to ALAC using dBpoweramp and I also subscribe to Apple Music and iTunes Match (the latter in case I decide to leave Apple Music at some point.)

I have always found iTunes as a music cataloguer and experience to be seriously lacking and by coincidence I stumbled across Roon about a month ago; signed up for a year to begin with.

This has opened my eyes to what a music experience should be like (even if Roon has its own foibles…) I will continue to subscribe (for the time being) to Apple Music but am looking to get a DAP (the new Fiio M11 coming out in May/June looks appealing) which will store my music collection with Roon as the equivalent of iTunes for my iPhone.

From what I have read FLAC is not only a better format for in-file tagging and to make these tags display properly in Roon but also has checksums etc which will verify their integrity. FLAC can have multiple tags within the file to properly display in Roon (such as several individual PRODUCER tags) - ALAC (being ID3 based) can also have this but requires more work around the tag mappings (in Roon using the PERSONNEL tag.) ALAC also being a lossless format integrates both with iTunes AND Roon. FLAC of course will not with iTunes.

So, my question as per the topic heading - what roadmap should I follow going forward?

  • FLAC or ALAC or perhaps both (i.e. it doesn’t matter)?
  • ALAC plays well with Airplay but will FLAC do that as well?

Keen to hear about other people’s views and experiences and if they have been faced with a similar dilemma - and yes, to me, this is a HUGE dilemma.

Many thanks in advance.

Henkemannen


(Mike) #2

I asked myself the same question several years ago, and after some trials, I ended up with FLAC for lossless. Main reasons are I like to stay away from iTunes where ever possible, and I can easily identify lossless files by file extension. I converted all my ALAC to FLAC with dbpoweramp, so that wasn’t too hard, and I keep an AAC 256 version in iTunes for syncing to my phone. A Fiio M11will take the FLACs. Roon will play iTunes Match files,


(Mikael Ollars) #3

You are aware that we’re not quite there yet? I mean, Roon is not portable as of now, even if it is on the roadmap in some form.

Anyways, like you I started my digital music experience based on iTunes, and was quite fond of it actually. (I did dabble around with WinAMP and lots of MP3s before that, but that was computer audio. Since iTunes I was able to integrate file based playback as a part of my music listening habits along with vinyl and CD.)

While I adopted AIFF for a while I decided to go all FLAC a few years back, and I haven’t regretted my decision. My habitat hosts mainly Apple products but there are occasional Windows and Linux machines appearing as well as an odd Android.

The only annoying thing is that Apple does not support FLAC in iTunes, or perhaps that’s an advantage. My iTunes library now contain an excerpt of my total library, regularly updated by batch converting additions to .m4a AAC-files in 320Kbps. Perfect for use in the car and on my old iPod Classic also!
(I use EZ CD Converter for conversions and tagging, excellent tool!)


(Rodney J. Sorensen) #4

I have been up and down this tree, more than once, so understand your question. I use ALAC as my present standard. I started spooling music from Sound Jam, the precursor to iTunes, a long time ago now. With conversion software available, and seemingly working fine, you can switch formats as the ‘need’ arises. One can not see the future, and a best guess is just that.

If you are into Apple, just stay there. Nothing will happen and you are most compatible with what you have and what you are doing now, like with Roon. I still use iTunes as my ripper, and tagger, where artwork is embedded. The Roon program is a wonder to explore and use, iTunes on steroids or something such. There is no ‘magic’ in any of the lossless formats, they all produce the same sound at the endpoint.

I have about 8.3 of 10K albums placed in my watched folder, using ALAC changing from AIFF’s. A multi year process that has changed as both Roon and I adapt to each other, hopefully into better ways. If you can stay away from non-value added work, your experience will be better. Get ahold of and experience the power of Roon before committing to any one ‘way’ or method. Roon plays it all… so there is no penalty for you at present regardless of your choice.


(Harry ten Berge) #5

In general I would say: always choose an open standard in favor of a closed one. And ALAC is basically an Apple-only thing (and highly unnecessary as well).

But in this case: we’re talking about a lossless format, which can be converted back and forth as much as you want without any information loss. So I would choose whatever suits you best at this point in time.


(Reader of the Internets) #6

A. It doesn’t matter.

B. Use FLAC. It’s an open standard; ALAC is an Apple-proprietary one. When Apple collapses from the weight of being Jobs-less, you’re music won’t be interned.


#7

Without going into any technical detail: within an Apple dominated eco system ALAC packaged into m4a (mp4) with iTunes compatible tags is the most convenient choice – thanks to Apple. :sunglasses:

Tagging files is not a big problem using the right tools - I’ve achieved good results with yate.

Since the audio doesn’t suffer any losses when transcoding it to something else it’s easy to postpone the decision. And yate would even support you in carrying over tags to another container. :wink:


A note regarding the capability of a FLAC file to tell you it is broken - for library backups that’s only useful when you monitor the checksum as part of your backup strategy. I heavily doubt that this feature is actively used by many who point out that it exists; simply because the right backup software and strategy would take care of the problem anyway.


@spockfish & @Bill_JanssenALAC is Apache 2.0 licensed since 2011. The iTunes tagging scheme is very much :green_apple: style :roll_eyes: - but it’s documented and supported by quite some tools.


(Music and Shawarma Lover) #8

I vote FLAC. It’s more prevalent and IMHO likely to be supported more widely for whatever use.


(Rodney J. Sorensen) #9

Apple ALAC has been moved to open source for some time now…


#10

Exactly. No reason to make things more of a hassle than needed. If you use Apple products, use ALAC. If you leave iOS, your music will still be playable.


#11

Hi all, I would like to thank you for taking your time answering my query. I will give this some further thought and come back to you with some follow-up questions if that’s alright.

Thanks again all.

Henkemannen


(David Hamby) #12

I’d suggest keeping some ALAC around for walking around music for your iThings. Within Roon, there’s no need to change between ALAC and FLAC as either gives you the original bits back. Thats what lossless audio encoding means. See the Wikipedia articles on the subject.

Both ALAC and FLAC differ from standard data compression in that they use a linear transformation of the original stereo time series to reduce signal redundancy. This is similar to the stereo FM trick of encoding L+R and L-R for transmission. The linearly transformed signals are then compressed using data compression algorithms. The receiver uncompresses the time series and applies the linear inverse transformation to recover the original bits.

The iTunes compression libraries have been written for OpenCL to take advantage of the vector instruction set and GPU vector instructions available on various Apple devices. Third party implementations of ALAC and FLAC may not be as highly tuned across as many platforms.

Apple has published and the ISO has standardized the ALAC and AAC codec algorithms and container protocol data units so the concern about “proprietary” is no longer relevant. But independent Apple ALAC implementations are uncommon.


(Jeff) #13

You can batch convert from one lossless format to another. No need to stress the decision, use what’s convenient right now.


(GaryM) #14

I occasionally create a new backup drive (with a newer USB 4TB drive, for example, to replace an older USB drive). After copying files to the new drive, I always run [TEST CONVERSION] in dbpoweramp on the new drive files to confirm that there were no errors in copying, etc.

I know that there are more sophisticated ways of monitoring file corruption, and that even my simple windows machine should report to me any error when copying files. But this embedded checksum makes for a very simple additional check in my own case.


(ipeverywhere) #15

I originally ripped my CD collection into ALAC a number of years ago. There were two giant benefits… 1) iTunes made this quick and easy. 2) iTunes can, in real time, transcode (transrate?) ALAC to any quality AAC when loading onto an iDevice. This meant I could keep more songs on my iDevices without duplicating files.

Fast-forward a decade or so. I no longer keep files on my devices so benefit 2 is no longer relevant (I stream to my portable devices). And, the big one, I no longer use iTunes.

So, when it was time to re-rip everything and this time use something that provided secure ripping I went with FLAC. FLAC, in my mind, is the generic and will be a live forever format. It works, and should always work, across all platforms and software. It supports multichannel, can embed album art, and a whole host of other nice things that allow for each individual FLAC file, regardless of directory structure, to hold it’s own in my collection. I like that for in a decade I won’t (hopefully) feel I need to re-rip everything.

As to your Airplay question… Airplay is its own encoding format. The local file is first decoded and then re-encoded and sent over Airplay. So, if you’re playback software supports FLAC and can send the audio to an Airplay device it will work. The Airplay device does not know the source was FLAC.


(Tudup Ka) #16

Have 95% of my files in ALAC and never found any compelling reason to use FLAC. Now I use Roon to point to my Music folder and everything stays the same. If I need to remap a Genre or any other tag on ALAC files it takes me 10 sec in iTunes and Roon picks it up right away. Try to change any tag in Roon on multiple files in 10 sec, if you can, use any format you like. I’m staying with ALAC.


(Mike B) #17

You can change multiple FLAC tags using DBPOWERAMP in a matter of seconds


(Martynas Nikolajevas) #18

I had a similar dilemma around 1.5 years back and decided to go with ALAC as my format of choice and iTunes as a catalog and file management tool. There is my approach/workflow:

  • I’m ripping CDs to ALAC and converting most of downloaded FLACs to ALAC.
  • For music catalog and file management I use iTunes – it has a decent automatic folder and file management built-in.
  • The music files are stored on a network attached drive.
  • Roon has a read-only access to the folder where all the files are located.

The above setup allows me to have music in the both (iTunes and Roon) worlds without any extra work. Music can be easily synced to iDevices through iTunes and played by Roon to any endpoint on home LAN.

Hope this helps. Happy listening!


(albert dattolo) #19

There are a few views to consider in choosing what to rip to.
If it’s purely sound there is a few. AIFF , WAV
for a sound only perspective the above sound best.
Both need to have no compression method engaged
What ever format we choose of it’s sound we need to not only not use compression but we need to look for any box to check or uncheck that there is no compression enabled period.
Now given we all need metadata to show what we are playing or looking for yes the ones above are troublesome.

Now of its sound as the Secondary then flac is best for most payers. Now again of one uses iTunes use its file format.

A word about sound of you don’t hear any virtues of my top pics it’s fine. The entire chain we use matters in the end game of music reproduction of sound it’s fine in the end.


#20

You can say that AIFF and WAV sound better than FLAC because of compression, but that is a dubious claim at best and could be completely illogical depending on playback system topology.

First, all three formats contain and playback the exact same data. The only difference is the container and compression. All three are PCM data. You would have to be convinced that simple decompression of FLAC files which takes very few CPU cycles would negatively impact sound quality.

You could make the argument that CPU would affect sound quality if, and only if, the Roon Core doing the decompression was also directly feeding the DAC. If you use a Roon Core to a Roon Endpoint setup, this argument is totally invalidated. Why? Because the Roon Core sends raw PCM data to the Roon Endpoint. It doesn’t matter what source file format is. It could be ALAC, AIFF, FLAC, or WAV. The Roon Endpoint gets the same exact PCM data no matter what so what the DAC gets is identical no matter so there can be no sound difference.

If you really think that uncompressed files sound best but you sill want the advantages of FLAC., use uncompressed FLAC.