3rd Time Lucky

Tuesday 6th December, 2005
When I first started seriously ripping my music digitally, I didn't know what I was doing. After ripping maybe 2 dozen albums I suddenly realised that the quality I had chosen was very poor...certainly 128kbps doesn't cut it.

So I started again, after a bit of testing. I ripped the same track over again at different bitrates and listening to the output on the best system in the house. The difference between 128kbps and 192kbps was dramatic and making it a variable rate (vbr) on top of that allowed bit rates to peak a little higher when necessary. I compared 192kbps VBR with 256kbps and couldn't hear any difference at all on my setup, so i concluded I'd found the best quality vs. storage setting for my needs.

I ended up ripping over 60GB of music into my iTunes music library, as Vowe pointed out it's bigger than any iPod. This is great for my Sonos music system though. Any track, any album, any artist, any room...superb. But slowly my needs have changed...again.

I came from a CD-only background. I wanted to play an album, I'd just put it in the player. Now I'm in the world of flexibility, I can have playlists, genres etc. All my track are available at all time. I can just get my system to just shuffle all track, or just the 'rock tracks'.

The problem here is that 'all tracks' and 'genres' are a load of crap if not managed properly. Do I really want to go from Paradise City by Guns & Roses straight onto a track from the Phantom Of The Opera soundtrack? Never! Even limiting the genre can be unpredictable. I got all my artist/title tags from an iTunes online lookup. Most of these are right, but genres are generally applied at an album...not disc...level. It's fairly rare in my collection to find an album where all the tracks are consistently one genre, there are usually one or 2 tracks that don't fit. And then there's the lower quality 'album tracks'. You don't mind listening to them in the context of the album, but a poor album track in a randomised shuffle play is not desired.

So, I tried to workaround this using iTunes "ratings". By applying a low rating to the 'album tracks', I could easily exclude them from my dynamic playlists. This worked ok but didn't take genre into account and this isn't changeable when listening to the music away from a PC. The only solution would be to go back and edit the core database and manually retag all the tracks. But is this practical? Especially given the sheer amount of tracks I have. It would certainly be hard to keep track of those I'd done and those I hadn't, and then it happened...

There I was playing Whitney Houston and 'The Greatest Love Of All' came on. A seriously powerful vocal that clips the limit of the source CD on the top end. On my 192kbps VBR MP3 rip it sounded awful, painful, unlistenable. I found vocals from Mariah Carey and Carol Decker (T'Pau) equally affected. And so I took a trip to my storage and brought all my CDs back into the house.

I've now started ripping this time, but not in MP3...in a lossless codec. This has the same fidelity of the original CD. It's also 5 times larger in this less-compressed format so my re-ripped library will be a cool 300GB in size!!!

As I rip each disc, intead of doing it basically unattended, I'm making an effort to manually apply a genre to each disc...at track level. So if there's a soft love song in the middle of a rock album, into the 'love' genre it will go. If it's a dodgy album track it now goes into my 'album' genre which will be excluded from all general playlists. The end result will be an easy, usable music library that matches my needs. As I rip, I'm even using 'Tag & Rename' software to add additional data and album sleeve art, it works very well. The album art feature in the Sonos system I saw as a little gimmick at first, but now I think it's quite nice to see the sleeve of what's playing as you actually play it.

So there we have it, 3rd time lucky and ultimately, a proper usable CD music library.

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