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Free Audio Codecs for Mac The main function of an audio converter is to change audio file from one file format to another. Sometimes, it’s good to experiment with different audio codecs to see which ones fit you. Some prefer MP3 or AAC, but others like OGG. Why? Different sound quality, smaller file sizes, for playing files on other devices (iPod, mobile phone etc.), it all boils down to your personal perference.

This is how it works: load the file you would like to convert to another format into the converter, choose the output format you want for your file and the converter will first decode the file and then re-encode it to match the output format.

So we’re sort of talking about two things here: Converters and codecs. Let’s start of this article by explaining what codecs are. When we are planning to backup our CDs onto our computers, we have several choices to make: what sort of audio quality we want, our target output filesize and which media player we’re eventually going to play our music on. All this will determine which codec to use. A codec compresses your songs to a smaller filesize. And what differentiates each codec is the quality of the sound it produces for the same bitrate. (For instance, some argue that 128kbps AAC will sound as good as a 190kbps MP3)

FLAC, APE, ALAC, WAV, AIFF. The list of audio codecs is endless. Ok well, not endless but quite long. Due to user preferences, there will always be a myriad of codecs to please the various ranges of audio perception. From lossless encoding for audiophiles, to MP3 or WMV for others who aren’t so picky about the quality of their music collection.

As an audiophile myself, I personally prefer to have my songs uncompressed or encoded in a lossless format. I would like to believe that I can actually hear the difference between songs encoded in 256kbps MP3 and AIFF. I don’t really buy into Apple Lossless because I feel that any song which is encoded in a lower bitrate will have some quality loss. Although, there are arguments that we can’t tell the difference in songs encoded in a bitrate higher than 320kbps. If you would like to find out your sensitivity to music quality, check out ABX Testing.

When choosing which audio codec to backup music CDs with, FLAC seems to be the most popular lossless codec, with APE coming in a close second place. Unfortunately, our very dear iTunes music player recognizes neither of the two. So, cue the role of audio converters to convert these files into formats which iTunes does recognize i.e. AIFF, MP3, AAC, etc.

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Two of the most prominent free audio converters are Max and XLD. I decided to try them both out and see which rises to be more superior. Let’s go with XLD first.

XLD (X Lossless Decoder)

I’ve been using this application for a while and I’m quite pleased with the results. The interface is simple and the preferences aren’t confusing at all. It recognizes and converts between almost every audio format except for WMV:

XLD Preferences

These are FLAC, Monkey Audio (APE), Wavpack, True Audio Codec (TTA), Apple Lossless, AAC, MP3, AIFF, WAV, and PCM

XLD Main Convert Window

It can read and split files with a cue sheet (.cue), manually add album artwork directly to output files and preview songs with its internal player. Where XLD fails to win my total support is the inability to edit output song names before decoding, the fact that it only decodes one file at a time and doesn’t utilize multi-core processing, and if the need arises to cancel a batch convert – XLD only allows me to cancel each item separately.

Max

MaxNext up is Max. You’ve probably heard about it. It’s one of the more popular CD-ripping utilities for Mac. In addition to that, it is also a pretty decent audio converter. Like XLD, it supports all of the popular codecs (FLAC, APE, AAC etc.) and about thirty more. Because of that, setting up the output format is pretty confusing. It is so highly configurable that it has several OGG, MPEG4 and AAC output formats; and plenty more formats which I’ve not heard of.

Formats

You may choose one or several output formats but beware, if you select more than one, there isn’t a prompt selection window just before decoding. Max will decode the files in all the formats selected resulting in one file but with several different formats!

Max Main Convert Window

Where XLD fails, Max triumphs. It provides me with the option to edit filenames before decoding them, along with customization of ID3 tags and album art via Amazon Album Art downloader.

Max Amazon Album Art

Max utilizes multi-core processing and it will decode/convert two songs at the same time, speeding up the process for those who can’t wait to listen to their spanking new songs. And again, bringing XLD to shame, Max allows me to cancel a batch convert with a single click.

In conclusion,

Max is :

  • Confusingly highly-configurable
  • able to edit ID3 tags before decoding
  • tricky if several output formats are selected
  • able to download album art from Amazon and attach them to output files
  • utilizes multi-core processing

However XLD is :

  • Simple to use
  • easy to choose output formats
  • able to preview songs before decoding
  • restricted to decoding one file at a time, doesn’t utilize multi-core processing
  • difficult to cancel a batch decode

Seems like Max is the obvious winner here. But due to the simplicity and easy of use of XLD – it is one which I would recommend for casual users. For those who need their songs to be configured exactly the way they want it, then Max is the way to go.

  1. Ayan Guha
    October 31, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    Hi, nice and detailed article. I had always used Max for purposes of audio conversion, and since I like to tinker with software, preferences and customisations, I LOVE Max. My preferred output is Apple CoreAudio Mpeg4 AAC (192kbps, VBR and maximum quality). I don't care much for mp3, nor for any other lossless codec. I love AAC, VBR and 192. Now, ever since I updated to El Capitan, the customisation options for the AAC codec is now greyed out. I'm reading elsewhere on forums (Pro Tools, Audio Equipments and their native drivers, etc) where it's being claimed that CoreAudio has changed considerably in El Capitan. For this reason and this reason alone, I'm sticking with Yosemite, because Max functions fully in Yosemite. To me, now, frankly, tools like Max, Handbrake and other open source goodies are more reliable and robust solutions compared to Apple's megalomaniacal habit of trying to fix things that aren't broken. With every passing OS X upgrade, some open source software gets the wrong end of Apple's "game-changing" codes... Anyway, I don't know if Max will be updated on this occasion as it hasn't been updated in the last 6 years. I've used XLD as well, but I love Max precisely for the reasons you point out here... Is there a worthy equivalent to Max?

  2. pengsz
    February 4, 2010 at 11:35 pm

    iMoviesoft audio converter for mac
    it can convert between all popular audio formats., including MP3, WAV, MID, MIDI, M4A, MP2, AAC, AC3 such as converting MP3 to WAV, AAC to AC3, etc.and alo can extract audio from video files including MPEG, MP4, M4V, MPG, MPEG2, WMV, ASF, MKV, MPV, AVI, 3GP, 3G2, FLV, MOD, TOD, such as converting MP4 to MP3, MKV to AAC, etc.

  3. Muctur
    October 29, 2009 at 1:25 am

    Does anyone have any input on a viable "audiophile" burning solution for Mac?
    I import my music as backup, but want to retain that quality when I want to burn it.

  4. robert
    October 28, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    hey man. thank you for this article. i've been looking for a free audio converter and this one works great.

    peace,
    robert

  5. LoRick
    August 14, 2009 at 12:42 am

    Hello all, I have heard CDs on top level speakers. That is, all the highs and lows and everything in between. I enjoyed it. So, the better or higher the quality of ripping or audio conversion into my Mac the better. I can than go down like MP3 to other devices. Memory is getting much higher and less costly. Topics such is this seem to be confusing to a newbie of such compression. The stated applications are fee, are there any paid apps that have it all. In addition. In checking iTunes 8, 44,100 khz in AAC, is this about the same as CD? If so, this is my confussion?
    Thank you all...

  6. Koolkey7
    August 13, 2009 at 10:54 am

    I have a Cowon D2 and even though I liked XLD it will only encode FLAC as oga.FLAC, the D2 does not recognize this codec. I would think that the D2 is looking for ogg.Vorbis. So it is useless to me since I want to use only Lossless compression and it does not do APE. I would say it DOES NOT DO FLAC! rather oga.FLAC which is something much different. I really wonder if any mp3 player can use oga.FLAC.

    • xld fan
      September 24, 2009 at 11:00 am

      Xld converts/rips to flac or ogg flac. If you don't like OggFlac: In the general preferences select flac as output format and then click option. Make sure OggFlac is not checked.

  7. Jason
    August 12, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    To anyone who claims that there is more bottom end (or any audible difference) on any ripped file is mistaken and doesn't understand digital audio.

    As Paul was saying, there can be drop outs and glitches but the nature of digital audio is that the data either gets copied or doesn't. You either miss a chunk of time or not. There's no change in sound.

    Additionally, I'd be interested in what data you are seeing that says that new CDs are not manufactured as well as old ones. I work in a audio facility that burns thousands of CDs a month and tests most of them for quality in a Clover, CDX testing drive. I can say that quality has gone up over the years. "They don't make 'em like they used to" does not apply here.

  8. Jon
    August 8, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    Thanks for the review. This was very informative. Honestly all I needed was the summary at the bottom. Short and sweet comparison, right to the point (eventually...).

    - Jon

  9. Anon
    July 23, 2009 at 8:41 am

    'As an audiophile myself,'
    This is such a misleading article, written by someone who clearly doesn't understand compression or formats. Ignore.

  10. Jame
    July 14, 2009 at 5:59 am

    XLD has one very handy feature 'Add encoded files to ITunes library'. It's also better converting a batch of files if you set the option 'Subdirectory search depth' to 0, which means unlimited depth. With MAX you have to add one folder at a time. I also found the 'Preserve directory structure' option valuable when converting flacs already organized in folders.
    There was however one thing I missed in XLD: the ability to embed thumbnails automatically while batch converting massive number of flac folders. I have added a thumb.jpg file in every album folder while I was using slimserver database for my flacs. It would be nice if you could specify a name for a file (or a list of them) that would be recognized as a thumbnail if found in the same as the flacs.
    Or does anybody know any other way to add the thumbnails easily to the converted iTunes library?

  11. Paul
    July 13, 2009 at 12:41 am

    There are no audible issues with lossless compression ... there's really no controversy here, and it's easily shown even without an abx test. If you take an uncompressed file (like AIFF), compress it with a lossless codec (ALAC or FLAC), and then convert it back again, it will be bit for bit identical to the original.

    This is exactly the same concept as with lossless compressions used in image and data files (zip, lzw, etc.).

    I know it sounds too good to be true; the price you pay is a much smaller compression ratio.

  12. Bob
    March 6, 2009 at 5:50 am

    Neither Mac or XLD can rip some of my CDs. They basically time out or sit on the last track forever. Apparently it is on CDs that contain data in addition the music. iTunes doesn't have the same problem. As a point of interest, I have had scratched CDs that both Max and XLD were unable to rip even with so-called "secure" ripping turned on, whereas iTunes worked like a charm, with no clicks or pops.

    • chimpy
      July 14, 2009 at 9:20 am

      That's what it's supposed to do Bob. The secure ripping makes sure that if any jitters and such like are detected during the ripping process, you know about it. It keeps the quality "secure" so to speak. iTunes however just goes on its merry way and rips it anyway.

  13. baker
    January 11, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    I don't regularly need to convert audio, but some of these might prove useful in my latest attempt at podcasting, so thanks for the great picks.

    oh about brokenstones :)

    baker at swgms.com

  14. rruffin
    January 3, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    There is some controversy in this area, though. Some say that iTunes on a Mac using the error correction feature is just as good as XLD's "secure ripping" for newer CDs. The benefit of XLD comes when the CD is worn or damaged. The kicker is that newer CDs are made less well that older ones (thinner plastic, thinner coating) and are more easily damaged. The word is that ten or so playings of a new CD can begin the degrading process.

    Anyway, since both programs are free, we are all free to try each and make up our own minds. I tried a secure rip of a new, once played CD and found that it had a more solid bottom end. Oddly, I like the sound of the secure rip better on headphones, but less well on speakers than the error corrected iTunes rip. Obviously, I am only at the beginning of this "conversation"....

    • JJRJ
      March 21, 2009 at 2:25 pm

      I'm not sure I understand how a secure rip could have a better low end throughout the track-- wouldn't that be like saying "The lyrics are so much wittier on vinyl"? Secure ripping avoid digital artifacts like blips and dropouts, but how on earth could it change the frequency response in a consistent way?

      Can someone explain this to me?

  15. Simon
    January 3, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    I totally agree - in respect of audio ripping quality XLD is superior to MAX, some reviews showed it's performance is very close to Enhanced Audio Copy - the reference software for CD ripping. Finally there's secure mode ripping for Mac!

    Hope more Mac users start to think about this as it's senseless to rip a CD with non-appropriate software like iTunes and then store it in high quality Apple Lossless.

  16. rruffin
    January 1, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    I am new to this, but it is my understanding that the feature which makes LXD so valuable is that it allow for "secure ripping" - it uses a sophisticated program for error correction (CDParanoia) and one for checking the quality of the rips (AccurateRip). Although both of the reviewed program can convert FLAC to ALAC, the beauty of LXD is in the quality of ripping, something that is quite underappreciated in the larger sound quality discussion.

  17. Mike
    September 28, 2008 at 7:58 pm

    "I don’t really buy into Apple Lossless because I feel that any song which is encoded in a lower bitrate will have some quality loss."

    You are misunderstanding. ALAC files are mathematically the same as the original, in the exact same way that FLAC files are. In fact, rumours abound that Apple essentially pilfered the internals of FLAC for their own Lossless Codec. There is zero sonic difference between an ALAC file and the original, because it is not possible for there to be. It is made smaller ("compressed" seems to upset some people and cause anxiety) in the way that Word documents or software programs are "ZIpped" or "Rar-red." There is no missing information, and if there were you would be missing words or code. The bitrate that is displayed next to the ALAC file is not an accurate indication of the quality of the file, in the same way that iTunes will not display the VBR rate of an AAC file encoded in iTunes. This is why your idea that ALAC files are "encoded in a lower bitrate" is plain wrong. Cheers...

  18. RixiM
    September 11, 2008 at 9:19 am

    command-i will allow you to edit metadata in XLD, it's also in the file drop down.

  19. nao
    April 18, 2008 at 8:29 am

    XLD can utilize multi-core CPU if you increase #threads in prefs...

    • Jackson
      April 19, 2008 at 1:34 am

      Thank you! Didn't see that...

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