iTunes is great for your ordinary CD collection. Ordinary CDs are encoded with 16-bit, 44kHz audio, which iTunes can perfectly convert to lossless sound information. But what if you want to convert CDs or DVD-audio discs? And what if you want to listen to these in full quality? Then you’ll need something else — like Fidelia for example.
iTunes can encode and transcode audio up to a maximum of 16-bit 48kHz audio. Toast Titanium 11 Pro is capable of converting audio to a losslessly compressed format — FLAC — but it stops at 16-bit and 96kHz (a good explanation of CD and FLAC) encoding, which is strange as most DVDs are encoded at 24-bits and 96kHz.
Of course, it’s illegal to rip SACDs and some DVD-Audio CDs as well — and difficult too — so you will need to buy digital files encoded at high enough resolution to enjoy better quality than iTunes. If you don’t want to buy those, an audiophile player may still be what you want, given the less than optimal sound coming from iTunes anyway.
IT Enquirer rating
Price (approx.): €22.50
I found a couple audiophile music player and conversion apps for the Mac that are capable of 24-bit and higher and up to 192kHz encoding. Among them Amarra, a quite expensive offering, and Audirvana, a free open source app that made my ears pop from the harshness of the sound produced.
One of the offerings got my attention, because it uses iZotope’s MBit+ sound dithering technology. iZotope’s technology makes for a rich sound with no distortion at all. That is what I wanted for my 1,200 classical CDs collection. Several of the CDs in the collection are Super Audio CDs and DVD-audio discs — all encoded to 24-bit/96kHz, but as I lack the proper ripping software, they were all ripped at 16 bits and 44.1kHz.
The audiophile player/converter that I purchased for that reason is Fidelia by Audiophile Engineering. Audiophile Engineering is the company that develops Spectre, a set of audio meters and spectrum analyzers. They’re also the makers of QuizTones, an app that helps people get a perfect ear. Audiophile Engineering is known for integrating iZotope technology into their products, which makes them belong to the top.
So, I thought I couldn’t miss with Fidelia. Well, I couldn’t miss sound-quality wise. Connected to a FireWire Apogee Duet set to 96kHz and a pair of Sennheiser audiophile headphones there is a distinct difference between iTunes and Fidelia, with Fidelia being a lot better. Since Fidelia integrates with the iTunes Library, I decided this was the app for me. It’s also dirt cheap at US$19.99.
Big problems with Fidelia 1.2 beta’s Library and Mac OS X incapable of counting beyond 9
The problems started when I tested Fidelia 1.1.2 and wanted to convert my Super Audio CDs into FLACs and dump the lot into the Fidelia Library (which is different from the iTunes one). You see, the guys at Audiophile Engineering really know about audio and how it should sound; apparently, that’s their focus (which is good, but not enough).
The Fidelia Library doesn’t integrate with GraceNote or MusicBrainz, so if your CD contains “1 Audio Track 1″, you’ll have to be happy with that. But with Fidelia 1.1.2 it becomes worse. The Library also doesn’t know that “10″ comes after “9″, effectively messing up the Movements in pieces like Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”. Album artwork can be rendered, but you can’t edit, nor can you edit metadata such as “Artist”, “Composer”, etc. That has been solved in version 1.2.
The solution if you’re using Fidelia 1.1.2
After having fiddled a day to find a solution to the problem, I found the solution to my problem. It consist of three elements:
- File Buddy 9
Ordinary CDs I convert using iTunes with its conversion set to one step higher than CD quality. I don’t really know if that makes sense, but it won’t hurt either.
SACDs and DVD-audio discs I convert using Fidelia. I first copy the CD to a temporary folder on the Mac’s disk. Then I create a new list in File Buddy and drag tracks 1 to 9 into the list. I set File Buddy to add a “zero” to the digits. This ensures a correct counting in the Fidelia Library. If the CD is part of an album, I make sure to also add “Disc 1-”, “Disc 2-”, etc. If I don’t, all tracks are messed up again.
Finally, I drag the files to a folder with the name of the composer, the artists, and if needed the music piece. Because the files are still in AIFF format at this time, I then drag them all to the Fidelia Library. I have Fidelia set up to automatically convert to 24-bit/96kHz FLACs (to save a bit of space — you could also set to convert to the same bit depth/frequency AIFF, but then you’ll end up with very large files).
Would I recommend Fidelia? Yes, I would, but only for its sound quality. The management features of the application are below par. The interface design is nice but I wouldn’t mind less eye candy and more management power.