Can I Use iTunes to Play Hi-Res Music?
Q I want to check out the world of High-res audio, but being a Mac and iTunes user presents challenges in that arena. I have spent hours researching Hi-Res-friendly computer music playback alternatives, but each seems to have drawbacks (and costs). Is there a way to use iTunes for Hi-Res playback, or do I have to wait for Mother Apple to eventually condescend to selling and supporting Hi-Res music? —Scott Oakley, Phoenix, AZ
A It’s true that the iTunes ecosystem isn’t geared for Hi-Res audio. First, the iTunes store only sells albums and tracks in the compressed AAC format (encoded at 256 kbps). Second, the iTunes application doesn’t support the lossless FLAC format widely used by websites that sell High-res music.
As a result of Apple’s Hi-Res format indifference, many audiophiles have turned to other kinds of music playback software. There are several iTunes alternatives geared towards Hi-res, including JRiver Media Center (PC, Mac), and MediaMonkey (PC). Each of these supports the High-res FLAC format (also DSD, with JRiver) and provides a library interface to browse albums/tracks and organize playlists.
If, like most people, you’re perfectly comfortable using iTunes, there are a number of workaround steps you can take to make Apple’s app more Hi-Res-friendly. The first is to buy Hi-Res music in the ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) format, which is offered by sites such as HDtracks as a FLAC alternative. The second—and here’s where the workaround part comes in—is to switch between standard and Hi-Res audio formats using your Mac’s Audio Midi Setup utility. Basically, what you’ll need to do is select the appropriate format and bit rate (e.g., 96kHz/24-bit) for the track you want to play. Then, when you switch to a different format, you’ll need to repeat the process all over.
Of course, having to repeatedly call up a setup utility depending on the file type you are playing is a hassle. That’s why a range of Mac-based iTunes software add-ons such as Audirvana+ ($49), Amarra Hifi ($35), Pure Music 2 ($129) and BitPerfect ($10) have emerged. These programs run alongside iTunes, automatically switching format and bit-rate settings for you as you switch between file types, and they also serve to improve sound quality.