Mass .flac to Apple Lossless (ALAC .m4a) conversion

I have a couple posts going on the back burner, namely the re-foaming process on the 8″ woofer drivers from the Advent Heritage speakers I found in Greenpoint and the Mac Mini media server setup we have going now.  But first, say you want to convert all the albums you ripped to FLAC to Apple Lossless (.m4a) under OS X.  You want to know what’s easiest and quickest for batch conversion?

The X Lossless Decoder (see: XLD) is one very good option for OS X.  I find generally his application works best decoding full album single file rips from EAC with .cue sheets.  Usually with EAC you’d have three files, the .log, the .cue and the full album .flac file, XLD will nicely split the .flac into .m4a (Apple Lossless) individual files with little effort.

For larger batches, and because I used Stephen Booth’s “Max” for a lot of ripping, I find batch processing of tags and mass conversion a bit easier.  Where XLD is good on an album by album basis I found that Max was very good for converting whole directories of individual artists with multiple albums.  I find that I’m often fixing tags first in Max and then again in iTunes and then the last step is usually confirming the album art for use with Cover Flow.  It takes probably 5-10 minutes per album and it’d be faster if I had uniformity in my ripping standards.

I think ultimately, as an archive, using EAC and backing up to an image (.flac, .cue & .log) makes the most sense (but takes the longest). For playback and ease of use, unless you’re really crazy about bit perfection, I think the sound quality with Apple Lossless (.m4a) and iTunes is perfectly acceptable, especially with a halfway decent external DAC.  I’ve been using the Mac Mini as our A/V front end and the Apple Remote application for the iPod Touch works very well (over wifi)  allowing me to control iTunes on the Mini.

X Lossless Decoder (XLD)

X Lossless Decoder (XLD)

Stephen Booth's "Max"

Stephen Booth's "Max"

Multiple iTunes libraries under one roof

I’m not sure why I hadn’t found this program before but it’s listed on Apple’s site as a legitimate plugin for iTunes, it’s called “MultiTunes 1.3” it is only OS X 10.3+ compatible.  It exploits the “feature” of iTunes which requires you to choose your library on startup (in OS X hold down “option” in Windows hold down “shift”) MultiTunes allows you to switch libraries from within iTunes on the fly without having to restart the application.

Why would you want to do this?  Well I had another post a while ago about lossless audio and I’m still on the warpath to a better mousetrap.  On the drive up to Vermont in the Mazda 3 (which had an 1/8″ stereo auxiliary input jack we plugged our 2GB Nano into) I realized that iTunes and AAC/Apple Lossless .m4a files are all I want.  LAME encoded .MP3s albeit highly cross compatible, simply didn’t sound as good as the iTunes AAC encoder even at 320kbps.  And I understand we were in an economy car, with an economy car stereo, with a cheap 1/8″ mini cable, but with headphones the difference was clear too, the AAC stuff sounded better.  Shocker, maybe the hardware MP3 decoding on the iPod isn’t optimized.

So Apple has tweaked iPods and we have to live with it.  I just want to give the iPod and iTunes what it wants (AAC and Apple Lossless files.) Thankfully FLAC to Apple Lossless conversion is pretty straightforward using SBooth MAX or X-LD.  The only hiccup with having multiple libraries as I understand it is that the ratings and play-count numbers don’t cross over to the lossy library, obviously.  I’m not too worried about this.  This is it, I tell myself.  This is all there is.

[Edit: It seems MultiTunes 1.3 is shareware and isn’t really easier than simply holding down the key combination I’ve outlined when starting iTunes, so there.  Oh well, it was a good thought.]