Is Windows Media Lossless Lossless???

Like many of you out there I've been building my own music server on PC, with the goal of remote controlling it over wireless home network by Pocket PC. IMHO the servers available commrcially right now are either way too expensive, don't support uncompressed, or require you to use a TV to view your entire library in any useful, sortable fashion unless you add an even more expensive control system like Crestron. I don't know about you but I don't want the TV or computer monitor on when it's music time, and I don't want a hardwired touch screen on my coffee table, so for now it's Pocket PC for me.

OK, starting with a spanking new 300 Gig drive, my CD Favorites library was first copied in as WAV's. Then I discovered WAV's don't support tagging, at least not in a uniform standard (the jukeboxes I'm trying to remote control with pocket PC, either J. River, Windows Media or WInAmp, don't recognize MusicMatch WAV tags). This means, to the jukeboxes I can control with PocketPC, my WAV libray is 2000 INDIVIDUAL SONGS, not groupable by artist or album, which means the list is HUGE.

So, I put everything in again as Window Media Lossless, which has built-in tags and sorts by album, artist, even has album cover info embedded. J. River Media Center reads the tags, so does WMP 9 or 10, so does MusicMatch. Everything shows up and works on a Pocket PC running NetRemote running J. River. Very elegant GUI. 80 Gigs becmae 40 Gigs. Great, right? EXCEPT I can hear the difference between WMA Lossless and WAV or the original CD!!! Think I'm nuts? Here's what I hear, tell me if you agree:

-Compressed dynamics.
-Softened transients.
-Big nasty screeches from either physical disc read errors or when I had my PC doing something else intesive while ripping. The same song ripped to WAV has no screech!
-Pops at beginnning of albums or individual songs
-And it's not a volume difference!!!

This is playing the same song as WAV and WMA Lossless back to back out of the PC, which eliminates the possiblity of extra jitter coming from the Creative Labs PC soundcard digital out (although does not eliminate the possiblity that WMA lossless generates more jitter than WAV on playback). I also hear the same differences when WMA Lossless is compared to the original CD using digital outs of various Sony gear. My system:

Musical Fidelity CD Pre 24 (multiple digital ins)
Musical Fidelity A308 CR Amp
Harbeth Compact 7 ES-2's or
SoundLab Dynastats
Creative Soundlabs Digital PC Output set at 44.1 KHz, but can run up to 96 kHz/ 24 bit.

I'm very interested to hear if anyone else hears what I hear. Or can suggest a better lossless (although you'd best be sure as this will mean ripping it all again!).

Thanks for listening.
Haven't done what you have done so haven't heard anything.

However, you might try using Apple Lossless conversion rather than WMA.

I recall that someone reported in Stereophile, I believe in conjunction with their review of the iPod, that they had compared WAV files ripped from CDs to the same files converted to Apple Lossless then converted back to WAV and determined that there were no differences (on a bit by bit basis) between the two files. Absent something else influencing the results, should get the same sound.

Good luck.
Excerpt from November, 2004 Stereophile review of Indigo I/O soundcard

"I used iTunes as my primary playback engine, with Apple Lossless Compression applied to the test tracks to keep file sizes manageable. As I wrote in September, ALC compresses AIF files to about 40% of their original size without losing any information. Some readers have asked if ALC changes the sound. But think about it: If the reconstructed file data with ALC are the same as the original AIF, the data presented to the DAC for decoding are the same and the sound must be the same, other than the effects of word-clock jitter. However, though jitter will depend on the stability of the computer's master clock, it will affect ALC and AIF files equally. If the data are the same and the jitter is the same, then the sound should be the same. I certainly heard no differences between an ALC file and the AIF file from which it was made."

Presumably the actual commentary on measurement was in the September, 2004 issue. Unfortunately it does not seem to be online.

This might be interesting reading specifically on WMA:
you might want to consider ripping with EAC (exact audio copy)then using J River to search your hard drive and add to J River playlist; at this point you can add tags and album covers to the wav files. This will give you the most accurate error free wav files (with EAC) and easy filing/retrieval with unlimited options with J River. I then play these wav files through a wave terminal u24 digital output to a trivista dac and the sound is very close to my cdp.
good luck, it will take time but well worth it.
Hi everyone:

Just wanted to thank you for all the responses. I've been doing a lot of testing, and will get back when I have something definitive. I'm trying Apple Lossless right now (since NetRemote will run iTunes) and EAC sounds very interesting as I do like J. River the best. A really great and damning review of Lossless Compression was just published in the May 2005 (British) Hi Fi News, Page 92. Both Windows and Apple Lossless created measurable distortions and artifacts compared to the original, which I totally believe and can hear at least in Windows so far. This article also taught me how during playback, Windows KMixer can also muck things up. Perfect bit fo bit playback requires a soundcard that bypasses it. Since I can even hear differences between PC-played WAV's and CD's, I have an M-audio card on order from NewEgg to see if anything coming out of the PC can match a CD player. Everything's now going out through and being compared with a Benchmark DAC-1 D to A so jitter should be less of an issue.

Anyway, I'll let you know.

- Jack
This is specifically to Riverside13:

Luckily I kept my WAV file names organized, Artist-Album-Track#-Title, so just now J. River parsed them nicely into Artist, Album, Title columns, and NetRemote sees it. One problem solved, WAV's playing on J. River controlled by Pocket PC all nicely organized. Thanks for the idea! Even looks up and finds on CD database most of the time. No album covers yet, still working on it. One question:

Do you think EAC makes a better file copy than ripping to WAV with MusicMatch or J. River? I used a mix of Creative and MusicMatch's rippers to build my original WAV library, a process I just assumed was a bit for bit tranfer from CD to hard disc. Now playing WAV's, I already hear a big jump in quality over the WMA's. Can I go farther? Dare I?

- Jack
What comes out of a computer can most definitely approach a CD player. I don't use a soundcard at all--I use a waveterminal U24 USB audio device that can be plugged into my outboard DAC via coax. Its dangerously close to my DV-50s.

I had huge problems with MM's ripping software, but it may have gotten better. EAC does a good job and, I've heard, iTunes is fairly good. I believe J. River maintains they do a better job than EAC. Can't vouch there, I haven't used it, but I gather in secure mode it does the same thing that EAC does--rereads sectors until it gets consistent matching of data.
WMA is definitely lossy compression. I think FLAC supports tags but don't know an uncompressed format that supports tags universally. Foobar lets you tag wav files but other applications will have difficulty reading the files and tags.

I have at least 10k+ wav files all sorted in subdirectories by artist and album. EAC did it automatically as they were ripped. I don't need tagging or some external app to help me find the song I am looking for. I may never understand the point of tagging.
I noticed the same thing with Window lossless several years ago. I was getting inconsistant results depending on hardware use and conditon of CD. After extensive research i switched to EAC for ripping and FLAC for lossless compression.
The sound quality of this combo (EAC+FLAC) has been flawless.
One caveat is that FLAC is not supported by iTunes, but being an ardent supporter of open source is chose community support over propriety software.
It may seem that Mac is on an unstoppable upward trajectory but that is what i thought in the early 80's and the company all but disappeared for several years. I don't wan't my entire musical collection and its future support dependant on a CEO's mood swings. My vote would be to stick with open source lossless

Just like AAC, WMA *can* be lossless, I believe. There are provisions for .wav > lossless WMA that will be bit-for-bit identical if the WMA is converted back to .wav. The "author" of the WMA has some options in terms of amount of compression vs. lossy nature of compression. Same goes for AAC.