What's the best way to preserve my music?
April 11, 2010 5:20 PM   Subscribe

Ideally, what is the best way to digitally store all of my classical music and jazz CDs for the long term?

I have about 200 CDs of classical and jazz music. I'd like to move these to a more sustainable format. Honestly, I can't tell much of a difference between lossy and lossless formats unless I listen really hard. But thinking about the longterm, would it be better to burn all the files in lossless format (and if so, which one?) to a hard drive?

I think burning all that to my laptop would take up most of my drive space (only 200 gigs free) but I could put it all on an external drive. Ideally, what would you do?
posted by johnxlibris to Technology (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
200 CDs? FLACs on two external drives.
posted by box at 5:29 PM on April 11, 2010

Best answer: A friend I know who cares very much about these things stores an archival copy of each track in FLAC and then converts each to mp3 and ogg vorbis for playback on his various devices.

The FLAC stuff doesn't have to be online for you. You very well could store that on several cheap usb hard drives and convert the music as necessary. This would let you adapt your library to whatever new format came alone in the future.
posted by mmascolino at 5:32 PM on April 11, 2010

Concur with the earlier comments -- rip the cds to FLAC format to an external HD, then transcode those FLACs to mp3 (v0) to keep on your laptop (at least for all those that you want immediately accessible). I'd also recommend burning the FLACs to a batch of DVDRs, just for backups.
posted by inigo2 at 5:44 PM on April 11, 2010

Agreeing with the lossless archive, and suggesting adding redundancy to the HD backups, and to the DVDs if you also go that route.

As for the lossless format choice, it's up to you to decide which is more convenient for your situation.
posted by Bangaioh at 5:54 PM on April 11, 2010

Best answer: I tend to agree with earlier posters - FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) is often the best solution, both because it's lossless and because it's free and therefore likely to have support as long as you need it to in a wide array of applications.

You don't say what operating system you're working on, but the chances are that you're on Windows. If so, the very best method I've found for transferring CDs to digital (whether wav, mp3, FLAC, or whatever you choose) is Exact Audio Copy, or EAC. EAC is amazingly good at error detection and correction, and though it sometimes takes slightly longer (simple because it allows a higher level of error correction) I think it's the idea choice if you're looking to archive your CDs.
posted by koeselitz at 6:20 PM on April 11, 2010

Exact Audio Copy -> FLAC, CUE, LOG on several external drives in different locations.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:42 PM on April 11, 2010

No advice on format (hubby is the guru), but we keep all of our "media" on a server, which includes a huge (HUGE!) music library and all of our photographs. We back this up regularly, and we even take back up hard drives to the bank to put in our safe deposit box.

I do know that he didn't burn the cds to the hard drive in a compressed format. They have to be converted to work on the mp3 player. He's a huge audiophile, musician and music buff, so sound quality was extremely important to him.

Storage is cheap these days, so get thee some external hard drives and get burnin'!
posted by wwartorff at 8:09 PM on April 11, 2010

What box said. Even assuming a generous 500MB per CD, 200 CDs is only 100GB, which is a drop in the bucket with how cheap storage is. Rip to FLAC, make a backup copy if you really want to keep it.
posted by neckro23 at 9:08 PM on April 11, 2010

Many hardware drives over 100GB are cheaper than you think.

For archiving purposes, I don't know how long hard drives last without being used for 2-3 years.
posted by sanskrtam at 9:21 PM on April 11, 2010

With all due respect to the the fans of FLAC, and to the advice of ripping them first to a lossless format and then creating mp3 versions of them, which I agree with in principle, I'm lazy, and here's exactly what I do (on OS X):

1) Rip everything into iTunes.
1. Check the setting iTunes --> Preferences --> General tab --> Import Settings to a format and bit rate you can live with first. I use 192 kbps mp3, but, again, I'm lazy. iTunes supports mp3, aiff, acc, wav, and Apple Lossless Encoder.
2) Let iTunes copy things to my library and keep it organized (iTunes --> Preferences --> Advanced tab -->)
3) Keep a local backup via Time Machine.
4) Keep a remote backup via Backblaze.

Though the paths to the preferences are probably different on Windows, the only step in the process that is truly Mac-specific is #3. On Windows, I always used SyncBack, but there may be better options.
posted by wheat at 4:12 AM on April 12, 2010

Crap! I was intending to renumber my list. Obviously, "1)" should really be the second step in the process. And "1." should be the first. It's sequential from "2)" (really "3)") on.
posted by wheat at 4:14 AM on April 12, 2010

Another aspect of preserving digital content for the long run is making sure that both the hardware and the software don't suffer from bitrot. If you aren't using your archive every day, make sure to check every year or so that you can still read the backups and that you have software to handle it. Also check whenever you buy a new computer. No, it's not likely that you'll lose access to software able to process MP3s and FLACs any time soon, but it is not impossible that 5 or 10 years from now there will be a better lossless format that becomes the new standard.
posted by metaquarry at 5:07 AM on April 12, 2010

Another vote for Exact Audio Copy and Flac, and for periodically checking the integrity of your storage media.

You might also like foobar2000, which is a no-frills but highly customizable audio player for Windows, and MP3Tag, a versatile file tagging system. Both are free
posted by quidividi at 5:59 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Exact Audio Copy is indeed the way to go if you're on Windows, but it takes a while to configure. I find the Hydrogenaudio Knowledgebase to be a good resource, here's the EAC configuration page. If you're completely new to CD ripping, it might be better to spend a little time learning the basics before starting.
posted by Bangaioh at 10:47 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

A bunch of people are mentioning this as a detail, but I think it's important: If you intend this to be a long-term solution, you should definitely back it up. Ripping several hundred CDs isn't a huge amount of work, but it's enough to be upsetting when the hard drive you store the data on breaks (and every hard drive will break, eventually), particularly if you've gotten rid of the original CDs or even just put them in storage.
posted by aneel at 12:29 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

In case it wasn't clear, I said two external drives because the one backs up the other. I figure doing it that way is easier than RAID.

Consumer optical disks (CD- or DVD-Rs, I mean) are not a long-term storage solution.
posted by box at 1:01 PM on April 12, 2010

Consumer optical disks (CD- or DVD-Rs, I mean) are not a long-term storage solution.

Amen. Sadly.
posted by Goofyy at 6:36 AM on April 13, 2010

wheat: “With all due respect to the the fans of FLAC, and to the advice of ripping them first to a lossless format and then creating mp3 versions of them, which I agree with in principle, I'm lazy, and here's exactly what I do (on OS X)... Rip everything into iTunes...”

Yes, I thought about mentioning this earlier: if EAC is a bit hardcore for you, or if you find it tedious or annoying or just too much for what you want to do, it's ridiculously easy to do this with iTunes (and on Windows just as easily as on OS X.) EAC, of course, offers much better error catching and correction, but with iTunes you can set it up in two or three clicks to pop in a disc, auto-rip, auto-eject, pop in next disc, etc... For those who don't really need perfect archival copies and would rather do the whole thing quicker, this is a much better system.
posted by koeselitz at 11:33 AM on April 13, 2010

EAC can also be set to auto-rip and auto-eject in a couple clicks--it just takes a little longer setup time to get there. But after going through all the settings and saving a profile, now I just open EAC, hit 'test and copy' and then hit 'ok' a couple times.

I don't mean to come off anti-iTunes, but if you're interested in the highest possible quality (stereotype: as a classical/jazz fan, you might be), or if you only want to do this thing once, I think EAC's the way to go.
posted by box at 12:04 PM on April 13, 2010

after going through all the settings and saving a profile, now I just open EAC, hit 'test and copy' and then hit 'ok' a couple times

This is the way to go with EAC, it should be used by default and only switch to secure when you're having problems with a particular CD. Secure mode is overkill for most cases (unless most of your CDs are scratched); a simple test & copy in burst mode will obtain the same results and is much faster. Even the test pass isn't needed provided your rip is verified by AccurateRip.

One could easily get the same results with the foobar2000 ripper combined with the file integrity verifier component. You'll need the read offset correction value for the drive (foobar auto-detected mine) and not much else.

There's also dBpoweramp but it's not free.

It depends on what you are after: are you really concerned with having bit-perfect copies of your CDs as much as possible? Will you want to tag all your files or just having the audio data will do? Will you also want to store album art? Note that none of these questions has a right or wrong answer, it all depends on your personal preferences.

Having said that, I agree with box and reckon that if you're going to rip all your CDs, avoid iTunes: even if you don't care much for bit-identical copies, using either a properly configured EAC or the foobar2000 method I mentioned above, I presume you'll get about the same ease of use and speed of iTunes AND correct rips for most of your collection (I say "presume" because I've never even installed iTunes, but I'm having a hard time imagining how it could be significantly simpler than foobar).
posted by Bangaioh at 3:01 PM on April 13, 2010

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