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CD ripping, digital music, music streaming, iPod / iTunes / Sonos - various thoughts, suggestions, ideas, odd ramblings ….

Mac - Flac? Flac - Mac? Max? Muck? F.....

I follow other people in and around the digital music arena and most of them are pretty good. Know what they're talking about, good peeps.

So when I read something patently daft it really stuck out, and it came from someone I (previously) respected. It relates to Mac computers and the FLAC music format.

What is it with FLAC? Over the last few years it seems to have gained some kind of cult status. I've had clients contact me asking for their music to be ripped to FLAC "because the guy in the desk next to me says it's the best". OK, we're a service business and the customer is always right .. We can rip to FLAC just as easily as we can rip to Apple Lossless or AAC or MP3. If you want it - FLAC - you can have it. But you have to be warned, and this is where I part ways with the blog post I read.

The gist of the argument was this. Lossless music is the best quality and given how cheap hard drives are, how powerful home networks are, there's no reason why every music lover shouldn't opt for the best. In his view the best being FLAC. So play your FLAC files on your computer in all their glory and if someday you want to move to another music file format simply use music management software to make the conversion.

I have two problems with this. First, FLAC isn't unquestionably the best file format. Recently a BBC radio program talked about "CD quality music" and made it clear that Apple Lossless (ALAC) and MP3 320kbps along with FLAC can be regarded as top sound files. If you look at the various online listening tests you'll find very few people can hear the difference between ALAC, MP3 / 320 and FLAC.

Second, enjoying digital music isn't simply a matter of accessing and playing a file. To get the best from your music you'll want to do many other things - create playlists, edit the metadata, change the album art, load tracks onto a portable player. This is where the blog's position collapses if you're a Mac owner.

The suggested strategy was to use a program called Max, and the implication is that you can play FLAC files, edit FLAC and if need be convert them to another format using Max. here's the problem.

Max doesn't work.

We've been using Macs for over 25 years, and the Mac platform has been at the heart of CD ripping for 14 years. We need to be able to do a raft of music handling tasks, including editing and converting FLAC. We've been running Max since the earliest days. I bet we've tried to handle more music with Max that anyone else in digital music. So when we say this we mean it - Max doesn't work. It crashes, it fails, it just drops away. Why? Well take a look at this, which is taken from the Max download site.

Max Download Page

The last version was released on 29th August, 2009 - seven years ago. In Mac terms that's light years ago, practically everything that underlies the Mac OS has changed in that time. Notice too "not all output formats are tagged with metadata". Just fills you with confidence.

If you're a Mac user and you want high quality lossless music the answer is simple - Apple Lossless. You can play your music, create playlists, edit metadata / album art, sync with iPhones, iPods, iPads to your hearts content. All with iTunes which is free, robust, reliable and supported by Apple. Of course it's current software not something created in computing dark ages.

Should Mac users avoid FLAC at all costs? No, I'm not saying that. There are a few high end audio systems that come with their own music management software that will handle FLAC on Macs and other Apple devices. Your hi-fi supplier can advise you on that and you'll have a great solution. If you own a Sonos system that will happily stream FLAC files from Macs and NAS drives just as happily as with Windows boxes. But you can't use the Sonos Controller to manage more detailed, lower level aspects of your music files.

OK, done. Rant over.

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