Sound levels: Apple lossless vs. original CD

I have been following many threads on this as I try to set up my computer based server system. I have gone out and purchased a Mac in order to simplify all the issues vs. a PC based system.

I have been recording in Apple lossless format and I find there is a noticable difference with lower quality as compared with my inexpensive CD player that I am using (an inexpensive Panasonic).

I am playing both methods back through a DAC - Musical Fidelity X-Dac v8 (the latest model).

The data stream from the CD player is via optical output miniplug - through an optical converter to digital coax cable (there is no cable available directly from optical mini to coax). The data stream from the Mac is via USB output to the DAC USB input.

First - the music via the inexpensive CD player sounds better. There is a noticable difference in the voices being more forward from the music (less compressed?). The Mac sounds excellent - but the CD still sounds better.

Second - the sound level from the CD player is much louder (perhaps 25-35%% louder). If I am streaming digital bits from both sources, why is the CD player much louder than the Mac? This doesnt make sense to me??

Lastly - would there be any reason to copy in AIFF rather than Apple lossless? It seems now - but I just want to get the lastest view.

Any help is appreciated ! Thanks !
Sounds like it may be a software issue. Computer based player software often has settings that can be adjusted. For example, you may have a replay gain or other setting enabled on the computer that is affecting volume or other adjustments.

There could also be other issues (say with the USB interface, etc.) but I'd start by carefully going through every software setting you can find.
Did you check the box for Itunes to do Error correction when reading Discs? This is key...
Otherwise get a program called "MAX" for the Mac for losseless ripping like EAC on the PC side.

is your USB DAC interface using USB bus powering? if so look to add a battery powersupply otherwise you will be lossing dynamics and focus..

Try the Toslink out of the mac mini to see if the USB DAC you have is really that good....
Thanks for the replies so far. The USB to DAC is powered by the USB output? How do I add a battery supply?

Also - I have checked every sound level in the MAC and they are all on full.

Should the sound levels of the pc and cd player be the same? I would think so .
Your situation is a surprise. I have a similar Mac to USB setup. I would suggest you check a few settings. There are no-brainers....but just making sure.

A) make sure iTunes volume out put is set at maximum.

B) Make sure your iTunes equalizer is not active ..uncheck the "ON" button

Then I would play a CD in your Mac with itunes and compare that to your Panasonic. If the Pana CD still sounds better there could be an issue with your USB connector.

But I would also want to check your DAC. either use another Mac to provide the source to the DAC or connect your Mac to using Optical or even 3mm analog. to your amp/pre-amp. It's a matter of isolating each component to find the problem. I don't think that Apple Lossless vs CD is the issue here.

Good luck, ed
Another thought....Do you have a DVD player? Maybe connect the DVD player and play a CD through it to see if your CD player has an abnormal high output.

BTW your DAC is AC powered (Spec: 100 / 115 / 230Volts AC 50/60Hz)so it is not USBbus powered. Bus powered would be something like your mouse or keyboard (no additional AC input).

Sounds like you already checked your itunes and OS settings

try a cheap Radioshack 3mm-to-RCA cable~$6 confirm the level. that directly to your pre or amp.

Unfortunately you can't use Toslink cable direct to the DAC since the MF X-DAC doesn't accecpt Toslink...a good converter is expensive route. USB *should* work.

BTW which Mac are you using?
I've got an iMac with all Apple Lossless files going through a Benchmark DAC to my preamp, along with a Denon 2910 as a CD transport going to another input on the Benchmark and on the the preamp. The sound level and quality from either source is the same.
I don't have a CD player yet, so I'm not much help with a comparison. As well, I have an airport express optical out into a Monarch M24. Quite a different setup from you.

But for me, Apple lossless sounded the worst (it's still a lossy format). I found WAV the best (bit for bit), and I assume AIFF is the same.... I use itunes so I use AIFF. However, the strange part is (don't flame me), I found 320kbps MP3 format, which is the smallest file size of the ones mentioned, sounded better than lossless.. (vocals more forward, more detail, more robust sound)... FWIW.
Actually the USB DAC likely does use power from the Mac (PC).I doubt if it is the issue though. Typically I have seen 5v supplied as part of the USB ports. A quick test would be plugging the DAC into the keyboard instead of the CPU box- with both DACs I tried I got an error message. The easy fix is to modify a USB cord- split off the power leads and add a power supply or battery of your choice (many options, check out the DIY sites). Optical USB wires have a separate power supply at the "end" because of this.
Thanks again yo everyone thus far. I will experiment tonight and post an update tomorrow.

Re the question of which Mac - I am using a Macbook. The middle model 2.4 ghz dual core with 2 gig of memory.

The equalizer was on ! I will try that with it off. Another good suggestion. There are so many variables !!

Thanks again !
Make sure that you turn off crossfade, sound enhancer and sound check. They are located in iTunes=>Preferences=>playback. Now that I've typed it, sound check may have been the reason for the attenuation compared to your cd player as that is what it is meant to do.
Elf73 You claim that ALL is "lossy". Would you please explain what you mean? Everything I have read suggests that ALL is indeed lossless, bit for bit. I am using a MacBook into a Wavelength Brick USB DAC streaming ALL files to my system and it sounds superb. I also own an Audiomeca CD player which I will do some A/B testing with this afternoon.
I meant Apple Lossless is "lossy". Aiff and WAV as far as I know is bit for bit... all formats sound pretty good to my ears. Just nit-picking.

A lot of people seem to like Apple Lossless (it's the worst on my system.. just curious if others had the same result), but I don't know why, if people have an external hard drive etc... they wouldn't just import in Aiff (itunes) or WAV. Especially after all the money they spent on actual store bought CDs.

Myself, personally, I don't have too many CDs and really like the uber-convenience of a computer based/digital source.
Elf73, Apple lossless isn't lossy, it's lossless. It encodes the bits to save disk space but then decodes it on playback to be the same as the original file. People use it because it saves disk space. That may not be an issue if you have big hard drives connected to your computer but it is very useful when you want to put lossless files on an iPod.
Hmmm.... not sure how that works. Regardless, if it sounds good, than that is all that matters. Just wondering if anyone did a comparison before they ripped everything into Apple lossless.

I'll have to do a more comprehensive one, when my system is complete, just to satisfy my curiousity.
Elf73 I have over 3000 Cds digitized to 3 external hard drives. I encoded to ALL, because to my ears, it was indiscernible from AIFF & WAV. My understanding is that ALL works similar to ZIP files, completely bit for bit lossless.
MarkNY I did some testing this afternoon, between my computer setup and my CD player. It was completely unscientific, so please take this for what it is. It was immediately apparent that my CD player outputs much louder than my USB DAC. I have a DK integrated with a meter on the front panel that meters the output of the device you are listening to, so this was easy to verify. With the CD player engaged, a wealth of detail and layering jumped out at me. Switching to my computer setup, the result was initially disappointing. Much more muted, not as much depth and less low end information. Of course, as I raised the volume to match the Cd setup, all the missing layering and depth started to reappear. The two setups still sounded markedly different, but I feel this is to be expected between any two components. If I was asked if I was hearing a difference between the file types, I couldn't honestly answer. But my gut tells me, it's more likely to be a difference between the components.
i have compared the different import methods and i settled on apple lossless. i use a toslink cable that goes into a jitter reducer device then that feeds into an external dac. i also feed my cd players into these jitter devices and they work well. they clean up the signal before feeding into the dac. the jitter reduction devices make a big differencein the quality of the sound. i use an audio alchemy dti in my den with an adcom gda-700 dac and a monarchy dip with a manley dac in my audio room. the monarchy is a better device. in my rec room, i go straight into an audio alchemy dde from an airport express device using a toslink cable.

i read a couple of articles on the web that indicated usb connections were not recommended for audio connections. stereophile also did a review of a new dac a while back that provided usb connections and they preferred the other toslink/coax connections.
Thank you for confirming this ! It is exactly my experience thatyou also seem to have confirmed. The USB output is initially very disappointing when doing an A/B comparison between the CD player and the Mac. However, when I raise the volume on the amp when the Mac is playing, it does sound much better and the detail re-emerges.
The question is - while both sound good - why do they sound different if it is a lossless format, and in both cases I am playing a digital stream through the DAC which should be identical ?
MarkNY I'm not sure how the USB input is implemented on the Musical Fidelity X-DAC. But, my initial suspicion would start there. Perhaps some more knowledgeable members can chime in and shed some light on the USB implementation in the Musical Fidelity DAC?
On my XP playing apple lossless through a Sonos the gain from the Sonos was definitely lower than from the cd player. Once the levels were matched (I can do this permanently on the preamp) the sound quality from both sources was as close to identical as I could tell.

ALL is not the issue...
I have heard in audio buddy's home his Mac absed system with lossless conectded uSb to a home brewed single chip DAC, and man is sounded better than the Bechmak Media DAC I have we did compare 1 on 1 and indeed his project looking DAC based on a german bard and and NOS sngle chipset, no oversampling straight 16 bits has beaten hands down avery DAC we compared it against (on USB).
now 24 bit 192 KHz is another story.

Hope this helps.

I haven't tried Apple lossless but I did try FLAC and WAV. I then streamed the music to my Squeezebox 3 which is connected into a DAC. Sound was very good but not like the original CD to me. I have read how computers make better transport but the Audiogon site is a testament to how many different preferences and tastes there are for the same thing, that is to listen to music. For me listening the original CD through my Micromega Drive 1 and DAC 1 simply has that Micromega sweetness that couldn't be captured by ripping the music and playing it through the Micromega DAC on its own.
I know this probably isn't the point anymore, but have you tried ripping into different formats? AIFF, WAV, etc. My guess is that the difference in volume is a product of your DAC or Mac, not the format you rip your CDs into. One simple fix, and I will get smacked for this here, but its just an experiment right? Open your EQ in Itunes, set it to flat and use the preamp feature to match the volume to your CD, compare.