If you’ve read my article rant about the future of digital downloads where lossless music is concerned, you’ll know that I’m somewhat of an audiophile. The problem is, even if you can find lossless music online, it will most probably be in FLAC format, which is incompatible with Apple’s iTunes. You’ll therefore need a converter, which is where X Lossless Decoder comes into the picture…
XLD is an extremely simple, but powerful and free application for Mac OS X that can convert audio from one format to another as well as rip CD’s. Format support is extensive, with support for popular compressed formats such as MP3 and lossless formats such as FLAC and Apple Lossless. There’s also an option to output to multiple formats which comes in handy on the odd occasion!
When I said the interface was simple, I meant simple! You navigate around XLD via the menu bar and not much else apart from to change your preferences. Going into XLD’s preferences is similar to every other OS X application, select “XLD” from the menu bar and select “Preferences”. In this window, you have a multitude of options to choose from, including the format you wish to output your tracks in, as well as the extremely useful option to add your encoded tracks to iTunes when possible. This is a feature I find myself using all the time, to save me the job of going into iTunes and importing the tracks manually. You can choose whether to import them just to your library, or to a specific playlist of your choice.
When encoding, XLD also takes care of all the Metadata of your tracks for you. If you so choose, it will automatically add tags to your tracks when possible, and even embed cover art into the tracks.
When testing XLD, I decided to convert a batch of FLAC files to Apple Lossless codec, and also rip a CD to Apple Lossless format. To test the quality of the CD rip against that of iTunes, I’ll rip the same album in both applications to see which has the best quality (presuming size isn’t an issue).
When converting a track, I’ve yet to find a better application than XLD, which handles the job quickly and effectively. The speed of the conversion is no doubt down to the utlilisation of my processor, which was being worked at 100% on both cores, with two tracks being converted at a time.
When XLD rips a CD, it first detects the pre-gap before showing an analysis of the disc. You have the option to maintain the pre-gap from the CD, exclude it or save the disc as a single file formatted in .cue. When you’re happy with your chosen options, you can decode the album and locate a folder to save the tracks in. The CD itself takes a rather long time to rip, at least marginally longer than iTunes, and the output quality was extremely similar, I certainly couldn’t tell the difference on my sound system at loud volume, and the file sizes were almost identical, with differences of a few kilobytes only.
When converting tracks, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend X Lossless Decoder to anybody running Mac OS X, as I don’t believe there’s any better tool for the job. When it comes to ripping CDs, I wouldn’t warn anyone away from XLD, but I believe you’d get better speed when ripping with iTunes, and the difference in quality is indistinguishable.