Listening to Hi-Res Apple Lossless on the Cheap

[disclaimer: contains amazon affiliate links]

I’m no audiophile. I can’t always tell the difference between compressed and lossless files.  However, I love listening to lossless audio. I feel like I’m getting everything the artists intended for me to hear. It doesn’t matter if my ears can’t always hear the difference. You can test your ears here. I’ve enjoyed Apple Music Lossless even though it has its querks.

Let’s get one thing out of the way. You can’t listen to lossless over bluetooth. Lots of blogs and youtube videos talk about this, so I’m not going to go through the technical side of things.

For most cases, listening to lossless is simple. Almost every computer or device with a 3.5mm headphone jack is capable of playing back regular lossless (16-bit or 24-bit, 41,000khz-48,000khz). For devices without a headphone jack, you’ll need an adapter. You’ve seen what I’m talking about.

Apple Lightning to 3.5 mm Headphone Jack Adapter
Apple USB-C to 3.5 mm Headphone Jack Adapter

These have a DAC inside that converts the digital signal to an analog one like we hear coming through the headphones or speakers. The DACs in these adapters max out at sample rates of up to 48,000khz. If you want to listen to Hi-Res music, which is just about everything with a higher sample rate, you’ll need a different DAC.

There are some similar dongles that you might see on Amazon that advertise to be capable of sample rates up to 384,000khz, but I ordered a few—they don’t work as well as I’d hoped. Fortunate for me, I purchased the perfect pocket size DAC about a year ago.

The Fiio BTR5 is an excellent portable DAC. It has a USB connection to connect to a bunch of different devices. It comes with a USB-C to USB-A cable, but if you are all on board the USB-C train, you can use your own USB C to USB C Cable. It has both the 3.5mm headphone jack and a balanced 2.5mm jack (I still haven’t gotten into the whole balanced headphone game). In addition to being a DAC, it’s also a bluetooth receiver. If you want to make some previously non-bluetooth headphones bluetooth capable, this little thing can help. You can even use it to add bluetooth to your car. (Remember, lossless and bluetooth aren’t quite friends yet.) What’s more, it has a clip case and built-in microphones.

So, plug this thing into your device and plug in your headphones on the other end and you are set. If you are on MacOS (and maybe even Windows or Linux), you’ll need to set your audio output to the desired bit rate. But, this is were iPhones and iPads come in. These devices grant exclusive audio control to the DAC. This way, the DAC will adjust itself to the correct sample rate on the fly. Darko Audio recommends listening on an iPad.

For iPads with a USB-C port, you can connect the DAC via USB-C. If you have a lightning port, you aren’t out of luck but you will need to purchase a special cable. It is not MFI certified, but it works like a charm. The USB DAC OTG Cable by Meenova does the trick and is a must have for anyone wanting to listen to Hi-Res Audio on a device with a lightning port.

Finally, headphones and speakers matter. I don’t have lots of money to pour into headphones, but a friend recommended two pairs to me, both by Phillips. The Philips Fidelio X2HR Over-ear Open-air Headphones sound great and can’t be beat for the money. You could also spend some extra cash and get its successor, the  Philips Fidelio X3, but why spend more money?

If you want something a little less expensive, try the Philips Audio SHP9500 HiFi Precision Stereo Over-ear Headphones. It will be hard to find a more comfortable headphone, and while they don’t sound a rich and full as the X2HR, they do sound pretty great. You can also try its successor, the SHP9600.

Before purchasing any of these headphones, you should know that they are open-back headphones. That means they leak sound everywhere. It makes for a wide soundstage for the listener, but fellow commuters, roommates, and family members will hear some sound coming from these.

Lastly, we come to speakers. As I mentioned previously, I don’t have a lot of cash to throw down on equipment. If you are looking for a budget speaker system, I recommend the Dayton Audio B652s. They are usually about $50 or so on Amazon. If you want a slight upgrade get the Dayton Audio B652-Airs for an extra $10.

And of course you’ll need an amp to run these on. There are a lot of good and bad inexpensive ones out there. If you get something like the Lepai LP-2020T, you’ll be content with the value to cost ratio.

That’s about it really. I’ve got all of these items except for the X3 and SHP9600. I love them all. I hope this was helpful to someone. Regardless of your equipment, listen to music. Music changes hearts and minds!

A Language Learning Framework

As a linguist, language learner, and language teacher I am often asked questions similar to the following:

  • So how do you actually learn a language?
  • What can I do to learn a language more easily?
  • How can I learn a language more quickly?
  • What’s the trick to learning a new language?
  • In your experience, what are the best ways to learn a new language?

These are all great questions with no short answers. However, as I’ve observed my own language learning and the learning of countless others, I’ve identified three components to language learning. My hypothesis is that if at least two of these components are present, the language learner will be successful. When all three components are present, you may find an exceptional language learner.

This concept needs testing. I invite anyone who wishes to prove or disprove this hypothesis to please do so.

Aptitude, attitude, and access are three factors that contribute to second language acquisition.


Aptitude refers to the learner’s natural ability or capacity to learn language. This is not necessarily connected to general intelligence. Some people have a natural aptitude for language learning. When I first shared this idea with a group of language teachers, Ray Clifford pointed out that we can do some things to increase aptitude. While nature is clearly a factor here, nurture may be as well.


Attitude refers to several factors. Motivation centers on the reasons for learning and the impact those reasons have on effort. Effort is the time and work put into learning a language. In one of my earlier drafts I called this component effort because of the huge impact it can have. After thinking about it, effort is directly connected to the attitude of the learner. But attitude is not limited to effort. What types of attitudes do language learners have toward risk-taking, failure, and success? Certainly, these learner responses to these situations have an impact on effort and progress.


I’m thankful that Troy Cox found a better name for this one. When I mentioned these ideas over lunch I used the term environment. When he was talking to another colleague he remembered it as access. Access seems to target the core idea of environment. Certain environments are more conducive to learning a language. This may refer to being in a country where the target language is spoken or it may refer to classroom culture and instruction. The concept behind access is that the the language learner has unfettered access to language input and opportunities for language output.

Implications for Language Learners

While ideal, it might be rare to have all three factors in a language learning situation. But, having two of these generally leads to effective language acquisition. What can the language learner do to enhance any of these areas? There are probably a multitude of activities and practices that could help strengthen language learners in these three areas. Perhaps, the first step is to simply let language learners know about the three components. I am continually impressed by how my students can take knowledge and understanding and convert it into application.

Implications of Language Teachers

Ideally, teachers should help learners reach their potential in these three areas. Some may be easier to tackle than others. Perhaps access is the area in which teachers can have the most impact on language acquisition. The culture of the classroom coupled with effective instruction can promote language acquisition. Then again, teachers have the opportunity to inspire their students which may impact attitude. And, does the very act of learning a language increase language learning aptitude? Are there other things we can do to increase aptitude?

Waterfall Lesson Planning

[Adapted from a post I made on another blog a few years ago.]

I often have the opportunity to sit on a panel of experienced teachers [1].  Being on panels like this where novice teachers [2] ask questions about teaching is always an enlightening experience. It makes me reflect a lot on my past teaching experiences. I’m also occasionally lucky enough to have a brilliant description of a rather obvious process leave my mouth. One of the teachers asked the panel about lesson planning. I thought of my approach to lesson planning and opened my mouth. In that moment, I named my process the Waterfall Approach. It’s a process I’ve used for a long time but never named.

Waterfalls are beautiful sites. The fluid mechanics involved and the mark they leave on the terrain are incredible. A few years ago, I went to. You can’t get to the falls by car—you take about a three mile hike to get to the bottom or last of the falls.

I’ve never been to the top, but there is a small pool. When it is full, the overflowing [3] water creates a waterfall. This is the approach I like to take when lesson planning.

Life as a teacher is easiest for me when I first do all of the lesson planning possible at the beginning of the semester—actually before the semester begins if possible. The semester pool is very deep, so I try to do as much planning and prep as possible. What doesn’t fit flows into the smaller weekly pools. I try to set aside a time each week to plan for the next week. At this point, you might be thinking if there is anything that spills over into the daily pool. By now I’ve put so much effort into my classes that I can use the daily pool to customize the lesson based on the needs of the class. I’ve found that moving as much planning as possible to the beginning of a semester cuts down on stress and burnout and increased the quality of my teaching.

My image below probably needs some tweaking, but hopefully it represents my approach. The sand or dirt represents the time I spend lesson planning. If I spend a bunch of time at the beginning then my weekly and daily lesson planning time decreases.

It might not work for everyone, but it’s an approach that helps me.

[1] As much as I would like to talk about what makes a teacher “experienced,” I’ll save that for a later post.

[2] We’ll have to define “novice” sometime in the future, too.

[3] It’s always overflowing—all year long—you can create your own symbolism for that.

First Day with the New Commuter Bike

In case you were unaware, I sold my trike to buy a commuter bike . . . . and so far I love it! Today was the first day of commuting by bike. I have always wanted to be bike commuter, but the trike just wasn’t doing it for me. It’s so hard to store and hard to take places. Plus, it’s an expensive piece of art that I couldn’t just leave anywhere.

In case you were unaware, I sold my trike to buy a commuter bike . . . . and so far I love it! Today was the first day of commuting by bike. I have always wanted to be bike commuter, but the trike just wasn’t doing it for me. It’s so hard to store and hard to take places. Plus, it’s an expensive piece of art that I couldn’t just leave anywhere.

Long story short. I like cycling and I like cycling to work!

Standing Desk

I’ve read all about standing desks. I like them. I’m never going to be a full-time stander though. I like to stand and work on days that I don’t stand in front of a classroom all day. But, after 4 hours of teaching, I prefer to sit. I’d seen this great Ikea hack a while back about a cheap standing desk. We went to ikea this weekend, so I decided to give it a try. I switched out some of the ingredients mentioned in the aforlinked article. I used $3 brackets and a $1.99 shelf. I also went with the black-brown look.

Lack side table – $9.99
Ekby Valter – 2 X $3.00
Ekby Laiva – $1.99

It was still under $20! Hopefully it will continue to work for me.

Using Siri in the Classroom

This isn’t really a post about how to use Siri in the classroom. Well, it could be. This semester I have a deaf student in my class. He’s fluent in Russian, Uzbek, American Sign Language, and Russian Sign Language. He’s here to learn English. Communication with him involves an interpreter or a series of notes on paper. Enter Siri. After class, his interpreter had to leave but he still needed to talk. Honestly, I got tired of writing/typing everything. It was slow and annoying. I opened up notes on my ipad mini and started using Siri. I could say whatever I wanted and it would be written in real time. He would then type his response. It sped up our communication and was fun for both of us. Siri, thanks for making my job easier and enjoyable!

Why do interfaces always change?

It’s been a long time since I have written anything. I logged into the new blogger today with it’s new interface. I upgraded to Lion with it’s newer interface. Why do people always change the interface? Why are there so many themes, skins, or whatever you call them? I think I might have an answer. Really I’ve boiled it down to two possibilities. First, perhaps the new interface is “better.” I’m assuming that software giants like Google and Apple do market research and usability testing. Then again, they might not. Better said, they don’t do it the way I think they should. Perhaps they get feedback via email or other communications. Maybe the designers who use the software just realize that somethings need to change.

The reason I think that they do it though, is to prevent the appearance of stagnation. If gmail still looked the same as it did when they released it, people would think that it was old and out of date. However, I don’t remember two many things about the interface that I didn’t like or that aren’t still around today. Firefox now updates every 6 weeks. OS X has had a steady two year average release time between versions. While the new features and abilities are welcome, the change in the interface seems to be the eye candy that draws you back in. Ubuntu does a good job with this. With every new release every six months I want to see what it’s like. I might even install the new version.

This post really doesn’t have a point. Well, maybe it does. I think the constant changing in interface layout, functionality, and overall look and feel is to keep people using their products. People just seem to like new things.

Dana Ferris at BYU

The Linguistics and English Language Department at BYU is sponsoring a lecture series on second language literacy. Today, Dana Ferris was the speaker. It was great to here her speak. She is a very intelligent person with a clear perception of the field. She provided some very helpful insights about teaching. She listed 10 things she feels are the most important in developing literacy.

  1. Extensive reading
  2. Vocabulary Development
  3. Text Selection
  4. Reading Strategies
  5. Reading/Writing Assessment
  6. Peer Response
  7. Teacher Feedback
  8. Grammar Instruction
  9. Written Corrective Feedback
  10. Collaboration Among Faculty

One of the things that I enjoyed about her was her attitude toward working with others. She said we don’t need be prideful and that we don’t need to have a chip on a shoulder. We should be willing to work with English departments and all departments to help ESL student write better. This really stuck out to me. We, as ESL professionals, don’t know everything.

She also brought up some things that teachers do that are “mean.” She said that the high-stakes timed writing is mean. She said that when teachers wait to give feedback until the final draft is “mean.” I agree.

Great Lifehacker Post

I have not been a great blogger lately. I can’t believe that my last post was on May 31st. This week I saw a great post on Lifehacker is an awesome blog with loads of posts about interesting tips about life. This week they had a post on some language tools. Click here to check them out.

I had seen or used most of the tools, but the one I didn’t know about was After the Deadline. So far, it seems to be quite good. It’s a nifty tool that could probably best be described as the Super Hero version of Spelling/Grammar Checkers. Language teachers, especially writing teachers, might find it incredibly helpful. I hope to teach a class at the ELC next semester. If I do, and if it’s writing, I might explore some of these things.

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