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The ABCs of Lossless Music Files

Lots of people like to use lossless digital music files. These are files that reproduce exactly what is on a CD, with no loss in quality; they can even go further, offering high-resolution capabilities, with bit depths and sample rates well above that of CD.

One of the advantages of lossless files is that they are bit-perfect replicas of your CDs (or digital downloads). When you rip a CD to a lossless format, then play it back, iTunes, or other software, converts the file to the exact same digital stream as was on the original CD.

This can be confusing. In a recent Ask the iTunes Guy column on Macworld, I addressed a question about that. A reader had written in:

“I read your column regularly, and really appreciated your recent explanation of AIFF, WAV, and Apple Lossless formats. But I don’t get it; how can the file size of Apple Lossless be half that of AIFF without some voodoo going on?”

My reply was:

“I received this email with the subject: Apple Lossless, Magic?. And I can understand that it can seem like there’s some voodoo in this process, but it’s actually pretty simple. (At least the concept is simple; the math behind it is a bit above my pay grade.)

“Imagine that you have a text file with, say, the complete works of William Shakespeare. This text file contains 908,774 words, and takes up 5.6 MB on disk. If I compress the file using OS X’s built-in Zip compression, the same file takes up just over 2 MB, or about 36 percent of the original file size.

“Lossless compression for audio works in a similar way. Unlike, say, AAC or MP3 files—where psychoacoustic models are used to determine which parts of the audio can be removed without affecting what you hear—lossless compression formats simply compress all of the data in a file. When played back, these files are decompressed on the fly, so the compressed data becomes audio data again, in a bit-perfect equivalent to the original. Nothing is lost, just as none of Shakespeare’s words are lost when I decompress the zipped file.”

But there’s another thing you should know about lossless files. You can convert from one lossless format to another, back and forth, without losing any data. (This, of course, assumes that you have no hard disk glitches or the like.) So, when a reader wrote me today asking some questions about AIFF files, I asked why he didn’t use Apple Lossless? He can save half the space with the same quality.

Here’s an overview of lossless audio file formats:

  • AIFF: These are files that take raw PCM (pulse-code modulation) data from a CD and wrap it in a header so it can be used on a computer. AIFF files are commonly used on Macs.
  • WAV: These are similar to AIFF files, but more commonly used on PCs.
  • Apple Lossless: This is a format that Apple created, then later released as open source, which compresses losslessly, so the resulting files take up roughly half the space of the original AIFF or WAV files.
  • FLAC: These are files in the Free Lossless Audio Codec format. iTunes does not support FLAC and probably never will.

You can rip CDs in iTunes in AIFF, WAV or Apple Lossless. You can buy music by download in FLAC and Apple Lossless, with some sites also selling AIFF and WAV files.

It’s important to note that, if you use iTunes, WAV files are problematic, since they don’t support tags or album art very well. AIFF files do, as long as you keep them in your iTunes library. When you move them, some of the metadata is lost. If you want to use lossless files with iTunes, Apple Lossless is the way to go.

But, since you can convert these files easily, and for the best metadata support, I recommend that you use Apple Lossless files. Use the free XLD, or X Lossless Decoder, to convert from one lossless format to another.

If you want to keep a library of lossless music, save the space; don’t use AIFF or WAV, because there is no difference in the audio quality (despite what some audiophiles claim).

Neil Young’s Pono Player Delayed


Neil Young’s Toberlone-shaped Pono high-resolution music player, which was supposed to be released in the fall, has been delayed until the first quarter of 2015. This product earned $6.25 million on Kickstarter, then $7 million on Crowdfunder, which is a crowd-funding investment site, so the company has around $13 million (though they don’t have all of the Crowdfunder money yet). That will earn a lot of interest between now and delivery date.

This is another setback for Pono, which has seen its CEO leave (or be fired), and those fans who ponied up money may start getting antsy. Oh, and Neil Young’s getting divorced; it’s not clear if that has anything to do with the delay…

TextExpander 4, an Essential OS X Utility, on Sale Half Price, only $17

TextExpander is another one of those utilities that I couldn’t live without on my Mac. The principle is simple: you set up snippets of text that TextExpander replaces when you type certain abbreviations. For example – let me go turn TextExpander off, so it doesn’t expand what I’m going to type… – I type hrf to create HTML link, with TextExpander inserting the contents of the clipboard in between tho quotes, then moving the cursor between the two parts of the tag, so I can type the text that will be seen. Or, I type lb for LaunchBar, which has saved me a lot of time when I was recently working on the soon-to-be-released update to my Take Control of LaunchBar. (And, as you can imagine, writing this article, I just used the first snippet again.)

Here’s what the TextExpander interface looks like:


It’s sober and utilitarian, but you don’t see it often, only when you create or edit snippets. There are also other, quicker ways to create snippets; for example, copy something to the clipboard, then choose the TextExpander menu extra > Create New Snippet from Clipboard.

Seriously, you’d be crazy to not take advantage of this half-price sale. Get TextExpander now for only $17!

Beware Huge Caches with BitTorrent Sync

I’ve been using the excellent BitTorrent Sync app to keep some folders synchronized across my two Macs. I work mostly on my Mac Pro, but also do some work on my MacBook Pro. Also, when I write books and articles, I generally do the screenshots on the MacBook Pro, because it has a retina display. I dump them in a folder, which BitTorrent Sync then syncs to my Mac Pro.

I noticed recently that the space on my MacBook Pro’s SSD was shrinking. I looked through my files, and couldn’t find anything huge to delete. Then I looked at folder sizes, and saw that one of the folders I sync with BitTorrent Sync was more than 6 GB on my MacBook Pro; it was only 500 MB on the Mac Pro.

I looked inside the folder, checking invisible files. On OS X, invisible files and folders’ names start with a . or dot character; that’s what tells the Finder to hide them. There are several ways to view these invisible files: you can do so in Terminal, or you can use an FTP program to look at your local files. Or, to view them in the Finder, you can use this command in Terminal:

defaults write AppleShowAllFiles YES

Paste that command in Terminal, then Option-click on the Finder icon in the Dock and choose Relaunch. Look inside any folders you’re syncing with Bittorent Sync for a folder called .SyncArchive. You could probably delete the folder, but I just opened the folder, selected all the files, and sent them to the Trash, then emptied the Trash.

Run this command in Terminal to hide hidden files:

defaults write AppleShowAllFiles NO

Then re-launch the Finder as above.

As I said, this saved me over 6 GB on my MacBook Pro. I don’t know why so many files were being cached, and only on one of my two Macs. But I’m happy to have found the culprit.

Update: Thanks to the commenter who pointed out that there’s a setting for this. For each folder, click the Info button, then the Properties tab. Uncheck Store deleted files in SyncArchive. It doesn’t look like this deletes the folder, so you may still want to delete it manually.

BitTorrent Sync001.png

Here’s Everything We Know about the iWatch

I’ve seen several articles with similar titles recently, as we approach Apple’s 9/9 media event presenting (almost definitely) the iPhone 6, and (perhaps) the iWatch, or whatever it will be called.

But here’s everything we know about the iWatch right now:

Yes, that’s all we know. 

Stonehenge WAS completely round

“Every summer stewards at the ancient monument in Wiltshire water the site to keep the grass healthy and green and the earth well nourished.

But this year the hosepipe was not log enough and failed to reach the outer part of the circle – where no stones stand.

The dried out land, which couldn’t be reached, revealed marks of parched grass which were spotted by a volunteer who alerted experts.”

WTF? Decades, even centuries of archeologists didn’t find this, and all it took was a too-short watering hose? What else are scientists too dim to find…?

Stonehenge WAS completely round | Mail Online.

App Review: Shakespeare Pro

shakespeare-pro.pngIf you’re a Shakespeare buff like I am, you probably like having all of the Bard of Stratford’s works on your iPad or iPhone. It’s great to be able to dip into a play or poem when you have some down time, or when you’re waiting for an appointment.

You can download free or paid ebooks of Shakespeare’s works, but most of them are poorly designed (even those ebooks made by the big publishers). Or, you can spend $10 on Shakespeare Pro, and get all of Shakespeare’s plays and poems in one versatile app.

To start with, this app includes all of the plays, including those which Shakespeare may have collaborated on (Sir Thomas More, The Two Noble Kinsmen, Edward III, etc.). View a play, and you see something like this:

2014-08-30 16.16.39.png

As you can see above, a number of words are underlined; tap these, as I’ve done for “hap,” and you’ll see a note. The glossary comes from David and Ben Crystal’s excellent Shakespeare’s Words, so there’s nothing that you won’t be able to define with a tap. (You can turn off the underlining if wish.)

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iCloud Documents Locked when Using Yosemite Beta

Ah, iCloud. If you had a buck for every time I had a problem with you, I’d be sitting on a nest egg.

Like a lot of people in my profession – and 1 million testers of the public beta – I installed pre-release versions of OS X 10.10 Yosemite to get a head start on it before it ships. I did this in a virtual machine, using VWware Fusion. About ten days ago, I noticed that I wasn’t able to access iCloud documents on some of my devices. I contacted Apple’s support, who escalated this to third-tier support person, who looked into it and found that my documents were “locked” on iCloud. He had never seen this.

He asked if I was running Yosemite, and I said that I was, but that I made sure to not turn on iCloud Drive, because Apple’s release notes for Yosemite say this:

Migrating to iCloud Drive will disable Documents & Data syncing for your iCloud account on OS X Mavericks and earlier Macs, as well as iOS 7 and earlier devices.

When that person called me back a second time to try some troubleshooting, we found that the documents had unlocked themselves (or someone in the support chain had done it, but he couldn’t find out if anyone had acted on my iCloud account). I went back to Yosemite a few weeks ago, and signed in with Apple ID to get email and see how Mail looked in 10.10. I expressly did not turn on iCloud Drive, nor any of the other settings in the iCloud preference pane.

Alas, my documents are again locked on iCloud. Data – contacts and calendars – syncs fine, but I cannot access documents, and if I open a document with, say, Numbers on my Mac Pro, I see this alert:


I spoke with the same Apple support person today, and he said there’s nothing he can do about it. He got an email saying that there will soon be changes to iCloud, and that, for now, they can’t touch iCloud accounts. (This suggests that we’ll see changes to iCloud’s back-end when OS X 10.9.5 is released, before Yosemite.)

So, a warning. If you’re testing Yosemite, don’t sign into iCloud. If you have to sign into iCloud, then create a new Apple ID. The same goes for iOS 8; be very careful what you do, because you may find that you can no longer access your documents on iCloud.

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