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  1. #1
    Heavy Metal Fruit Gyroscope's Avatar
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    Gyro's back-of-a-fag-packet guide to getting your CDs into a file for streaming

    I know it's presumptious of me to post a how-to guide, but I'm getting bored of the same questions being asked, and the same mistakes being made.

    Starting point: you've got a huge pile of CDs
    Desired end point: some kind of digital streaming system, playing your tunes

    I'm not going to go into playback hardware; PC, Mac, Squeezebox, Sonos, Linn DS, whatevs. In my opinion the only real way they differ is in their user interfaces and expansion capability. They're all digital systems, so the only thing that's going to make a significant difference to the sound is your choice of DAC.

    What I'm actually after is your approach and choices regarding ripping your CDs to files, so you can play them on your new system. The overall aim is for you to rip once, and never again, rather than getting half-way through, discovering a problem, and starting over.

    This is not an unbiased, equitable guide. I have opinions, and I'm going to spell them out.

    Finally, I don't want this to go on for pages and pages - stop me if I get boring. So without further ado:


    Lossless versus Lossy

    Lossless music file formats are just that, lossless representations of the original CD. Exactly the same digital data as the original CD. Lossy formats sacrifice some data for smaller file size.

    The most common lossy format is mp3. mp3 comes with different settings, measured in kilobits per second, the higher the kilobits, the more data, the closer to the original, but the larger the file.

    You probably call yourself an audiophile, or at least you're interested in good sounds and music, that's why you're here. Do not use a lossy format. Use a lossless format. If you rip to a lossy format then information is gone for good; you can always transcode down from lossless to lossy for a given application, you can't go back up the way. I'll say that again: USE A LOSSLESS FORMAT.


    Compressed versus uncompressed

    On the assumption that we're using a lossless format, the three biggies in this arena are FLAC, ALAC and WAV. ALAC is owned by Apple, and is really only useful for Apple kit; namely Macs and iPods. There is also the Microsoft Proprietary WMA lossless, but support for this is severely limited so I'm going to discount it right now.

    Lossy formats effectively compress the original data. BUT this does not mean that all compression is lossy. FLAC and ALAC are lossless, and compressed. WAV is lossless, and uncompressed full fat. The usual comparison made is to a Word document (the WAV file), and a zipped copy of that Word document (FLAC or ALAC). If you unzip the file all your words are still there. Compressed is different to lossy.

    As we're all aware, disc space is very cheap. Resilient, managed space is less cheap, but still not going to break the bank. iPod space is limited and more expensive, so for your core system (assuming it's not an iPod) the compressed versus uncompressed debate is a red herring.

    Tags / Metadata

    Tags are chunks of information, embedded in your music files, that describe the file. Artist name, track name, track number, album art, all that good stuff.

    FLAC and ALAC support tags.
    WAV does not.

    Nearly all music management programs maintain their own database of what is in files. So for instance Windows Media Player and MediaMonkey will be able to tell you what is in a particular untagged WAV file because you've told them. If your untagged WAV files become detached from the life-support-system of the player, say through a software malfunction, or you simply decide to change player software or hardware, then you've lost all context of what is in them. Tagged files carry data about themselves around with them, so it's simply a matter of telling the new player to go and scan your files, read in the information, and build up a new index.

    You can see where I'm going with this.

    USE A TAGGED FILE FORMAT. DO NOT USE WAV.


    Software choices

    I'm going to get this out of the way up front. You're desperate to start ripping, you've got a PC, Windows Media Player is already installed, so you're going to use it. DO NOT USE WMP - at least until you've understood the alternatives. For a start, WMP only supports WAV, WMA and mp3, and you will be sent to the naughty step if you rip to any of these.

    The most commonly suggested ripping programs are

    MediaMonkey
    EAC
    dbPoweramp
    iTunes

    The first three support FLAC, iTunes does ALAC.

    My personal preference is for dbPoweramp - its lookup of metadata when you insert a new CD to rip is very good, and it effectively uses "crowdsourcing", comparing your rips with those of other users to ensure they're accurate. I'm sure others will chime in with details of their favourites.

    Portable Devices

    Let's face it; iPods.

    iPods don't support FLAC. If you're in a homogeneous Apple world then you've ripped to ALAC, this will play in iTunes and on your iPod and all is cool.

    If you have non-Apple kit, you've ripped to FLAC, which won't (without serious intervention) play on your iPod.

    You'll need to transcode from FLAC to (usually) mp3. You can either maintain two libraries, one lossless, one in mp3, or some software such as MediaMonkey can transcode on the fly to synch with an iPod.


    Conclusions

    Use a lossless format.
    Use a tagged format.
    This leaves you with FLAC or ALAC.
    Transcode to mp3 for your iPod if you're using FLAC

    Personal Preferences

    I rip with dbPoweramp, for reasons mentioned above.

    I manage music with MediaMonkey - it makes bulk tag editing very easy, and has good transcoding abilities.

    Flame on ...
    Last edited by Gyroscope; 17-11-2010 at 10:39 AM. Reason: added a load of links

  2. #2
    Contains mild peril browellm's Avatar
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    Awesome, rep added. I was thinking of doing something similar, but it wouldn't have been as good, or as lucid.

    Might be worth giving AIFF a quick mention, as it's uncompressed and supports tags. Some of the paranoid Mac users like it.

    I'm sure you're too modest to ask, so I will - Stickification, please mods!
    Last edited by browellm; 12-11-2010 at 11:30 AM.
    “We had an audiophile living on our street, until his house accidentally burned down.”

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  3. #3
    All Ears Eckythump's Avatar
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    Nice one Gyro.

    Just a bit daunting looking at 1000 cds and imagining all that time feeding them in and waiting for them to rip. Life is too short. I need to train a monkey.

    Has noboby found a faster way? Are there no companies out there that rip quick for a fee?
    "Nothing is something worth doing"

  4. #4
    Wammer
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    Top effort, rep added

    I use a mix and match, why? I don't know, it just ended up that way.

    I like the visuals of iTunes and how easy it is to edit tags and move things around, so all my music is ripped to ALAC and then for the ipod I just set the sync options to convert to 128 mp3 when I add music from the library, I can also control iTunes remotely with the ipod touch via the remote app which works a treat.

    But it's on a windows PC and that's the end of the Apple trail.

    I did use FLAC a squeezebox and ipeng previous but I couldn't get it to be reliable enough and it was getting a pain in the arse, so I binned it off, no doubt more IT savvy folks can get it running sweet as.
    Shoe bombers! Increase your payload by becoming a clown.

  5. #5
    Contains mild peril browellm's Avatar
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    Has noboby found a faster way? Are there no companies out there that rip quick for a fee?
    Several. I think Keith @ Purite offers the service on his website. I'd do it for less though
    “We had an audiophile living on our street, until his house accidentally burned down.”

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  6. #6
    Leper Wammer AmDismal's Avatar
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    What an excellent post.

    Allow me to add a link: Robin Bowes's excellent Perl script FLAC2MP3.
    http://projects.robinbowes.com/flac2mp3/trac

    What this does to take your FLAC library and duplicate it in MP3. Trivial, you might think, but there are a couple of sweet additions:

    1. It only does what needs to be done, so you just run it every so often to synchronise your FLAC and MP3 libraries
    2. It has a "tags only" mode, so if you update your FLAC tags, it updates just the tags on the MP3s

    It is dead easy to set up in Linux, and there is a guide to doing it in Windows. While setup does take a bit of time, once it is done you just need to create a shortcut/batch file/whatever to run the same command every so often, so maintenance is zero. Very cool.
    Compression drivers twerk my eardrums

  7. #7
    In the trade Wammer BobC's Avatar
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    Excellent guide and over the past week of asking fo advice i have ended up doing exactly what you recomend. I would heartily recomend mediamonkey as a replacement for i Tunes for those with I Pods. Now I have a windows phone I don't even have to put up with the hassle of a pod.
    ITEMS FOR SALE

  8. #8
    Wammer karlinamillion's Avatar
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    It's not cheap....
    http://www.pcpro.co.uk/realworld/362...-cd-collection

    Quote Originally Posted by Eckythump View Post
    Nice one Gyro.

    Just a bit daunting looking at 1000 cds and imagining all that time feeding them in and waiting for them to rip. Life is too short. I need to train a monkey.

    Has noboby found a faster way? Are there no companies out there that rip quick for a fee?
    If it ain't going in, it ain't coming out

  9. #9
    All Ears Eckythump's Avatar
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    Thanks Karl, that is a good article.

    Ouch! It is certainly not cheap. Looks like it will be a long labour of love if I go that way.
    "Nothing is something worth doing"

  10. #10
    Wammer
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    It doesn't take as long as you think to rip.

    I used to lay a stack of 20-30 CDs next to the PC, whenever I was going to be on it for a while I would start ripping, it spits them out when ripped so you don't really need to keep an eye on anything, just browse net and rip
    Shoe bombers! Increase your payload by becoming a clown.

  11. #11
    Wammer Timbo's Avatar
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    Top guide, rep added.
    I may have another crack at this malarkey when winter really kicks in.
    Tim

  12. #12
    Wammer
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    Top guide - many thanks :-)

  13. #13
    Moderator Cambs12's Avatar
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    Thanks for a great informative guide,i am looking to go down this road myself,and this guide is a big help,cheers!

  14. #14
    Contains mild peril browellm's Avatar
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    I'd also make another software recommendation for anyone wanting to get into this properly, a free tag management program called mp3tag http://www.mp3tag.de/en/

    It's incredibly powerful, allowing batch tagging based on rules and queries. It also has a very useful right-click context menu action, so you can browse windows folders, and load up the tags from an album right there.

    If you have file tags and your music management software isn't displaying the information as it should, mp3tag will help you get to the bottom of it, by highlighting conflicting tags applied to the file.
    “We had an audiophile living on our street, until his house accidentally burned down.”

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  15. #15
    Panda Jezzer's Avatar
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    Excellent! This should be a sticky.
    Eats, shoots and leaves...

  16. #16
    Super Wammer Chumpy's Avatar
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    Very interesting. I still like to put artwork discs-tapes in/on suitable player, but look forward to streaming not-on-commercial-disc WAV/mp3 files soon.

    I agree that these sort of sticky tips should be on e.g. tobacco-containers rather than the unpleasant pics/words, and is very helpful to many.
    Last edited by Chumpy; 17-11-2010 at 08:01 AM.
    'Sometimes via the senses, mostly in the mind' (or pocket)...

  17. #17
    Wammer
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jezzer View Post
    Excellent! This should be a sticky.
    And as if by magic...

  18. #18
    Panda Jezzer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Boxer View Post
    And as if by magic...
    Excellent work there Mod!

    (for a change)
    Eats, shoots and leaves...

  19. #19
    Wammer
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    Rep from me too. Once you have got the basics sorted out, choice of lossless file format, tagging etc, it comes down to personal preference as to which software you like using and which interface at the using end floats your boat. Before making a decision try the alternative hardware at Richer Sounds or wherever and trial the different software. If you are concerned about any of these programmes wreaking havoc with your computer clone your hard drive first.

  20. #20
    Contains mild peril browellm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Camverton View Post
    Rep from me too. Once you have got the basics sorted out, choice of lossless file format, tagging etc, it comes down to personal preference as to which software you like using and which interface at the using end floats your boat. Before making a decision try the alternative hardware at Richer Sounds or wherever and trial the different software. If you are concerned about any of these programmes wreaking havoc with your computer clone your hard drive first.
    Indeed, and the beauty is that it is possible to try nearly all music managers to gauge personal preference, without touching your data. And therein lies one of the main beefs with iTunes. Unless one is forearmed and changes the the default settings, iTunes will merrily recatalogue your folders, move your album art and change your tags. Reversing this is an entirely manual process. Very, very poor form imo.
    “We had an audiophile living on our street, until his house accidentally burned down.”

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