If you want to get rid of your shiny media and go all digital for audio, should you rip into ALAC (Apple Lossless) or MP3 or both? If storage is not a concern, nor is extensive tagging ability, then it makes sense to rip to Apple Lossless. Although there is little if any audible difference between the two at 320Kb, you have the peace of mind knowing that you have ripped into a non-compressed, lossless format. The difference in storage requirements is about 2.5:1 between the two.
From Wikipedia, we can get the standard definitions of AIFF, ALAC, and MP3.
AIFF: Audio Interchange File Format is an audio file format standard used for storing sound data for personal computers and other electronic audio devices. The format was co-developed by Apple Computer in 1988 based on Electronic Arts’ Interchange File Format (IFF, widely used on Amiga systems) and is most commonly used on Apple Macintosh computer systems.
The audio data in a standard AIFF file is uncompressed pulse-code modulation (PCM). There is also a compressed variant of AIFF known as AIFF-C or AIFC, with various defined compression codecs.
Standard AIFF is a leading format (along with SDII and WAV) used by professional-level audio and video applications, and unlike the better-known lossy MP3 format, it is non-compressed (which aids rapid streaming of multiple audio files from disk to the application), and lossless. Like any non-compressed, lossless format, it uses much more disk space than MP3—about 10MB for one minute of stereo audio at a sample rate of 44.1 kHz and a sample size of 16 bits. In addition to audio data, AIFF can include loop point data and the musical note of a sample, for use by hardware samplers and musical applications.
ALAC: Apple Lossless (also known as ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec), or ALE (Apple Lossless Encoder)) is an audio codec developed by Apple Inc. for lossless data compression of digital music. After initially being proprietary for many years, in late 2011 Apple open sourced and made royalty-free the Apple Lossless codec. It is worth noting that Apple does not use the ALAC abbreviation, always using the name Apple Lossless when presenting or discussing this codec, but it is more commonly referred to as ALAC outside of Apple.
Apple Lossless data is stored within an MP4 container with the filename extension .m4a. This extension is also used by Apple for lossy AAC audio data in an MP4 container (same container, different audio encoding). However, Apple Lossless is not a variant of AAC (which is a lossy format), but rather a distinct lossless format that uses linear prediction similar to other lossless codecs. These other lossless codecs, such as FLAC and Shorten, are not natively supported in Apple’s iTunes software, either on computers (Mac or Windows) or iOS devices, so users of iTunes software who want to use a lossless format which allows the addition of metadata (unlike WAV/AIFF or other PCM-type formats, where metadata is usually ignored) have to use ALAC. All current iDevices can play ALAC–encoded files. ALAC also does not use any DRM scheme, but by the nature of the MP4 container, it is thought that DRM could be applied to ALAC much the same way it can with files in other QuickTime containers.
MP3: MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 Audio Layer III, more commonly referred to as MP3, is a patented digital audio encoding format using a form of lossy data compression. It is a
MP3 is an audio-specific format that was designed by the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG-2 Part 3) with additional bit rates and sample rates was published in 1995 (ISO/IEC 13818-3:1995).The use in MP3 of a lossy compression algorithm is designed to greatly reduce the amount of data required to represent the audio recording and still sound like a faithful reproduction of the original uncompressed audio for most listeners. An MP3 file that is created using the setting of 128 kbit/s will result in a file that is about 1/11 the size of the CD file created from the original audio source. An MP3 file can also be constructed at higher or lower bit rates, with higher or lower resulting quality.
There are some key differences between the formats in that the Apple portable devices do not replay AIFF formats, so if we are to have AIFF, we must also have MP3. This makes life more complicated. So the real question is do we have to have AIFF? Does it really sound better than MP3 at 320Kb?