Best way to get the CDs off my shelf
December 19, 2011 7:44 PM   Subscribe

Best way to store ~300 CDs of music on an external HDD for use with a variety of players? Ideally: cross-platform, not just for iTunes, and nice-sounding for my future self who might care about this.

I may want to get this all set up and see if a neighbor kid would want to help process all the CDs in exchange for some $$, since I can't imagine this not taking hours and hours. I'm willing to rent a good CD/DVD drive, since the one in my laptop's dock is probably not the fastest.

So, I've read some older questions and recommendations; many seem to recommend using iTunes for reading in (I hate the word "ripping") music from CDs; however, I'd like to keep open the option of using a non-iTunes system, particularly since a member of this household has an Android phone (he hasn't yet tried to figure out how to put music on it).

I'd also love to have the ability to easily categorize the music, to have the tracks be automatically labeled, etc. I know iTunes can do this, but again, I don't want to be stuck with iTunes forever.

I'd like to have the music in some flexible structure, and also be able to access it from iTunes (i.e. my current phone, an iPhone).

I *think* I may want lossless storage; half a 1TB drive (plus another for backup) seems sufficient for this much music, but I could be wrong. "FLAC" came up a lot - is there a specific program for getting the music into this format? Is FLAC usable by programs I'd want to use?

I'm open to paying a tiny bit for a phone call (or visit, if you're local to Chapel Hill) if someone feels this is too much for an AskMe question - MeMail me.
posted by amtho to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Clearly, I'm pretty clueless in general about this, but I should at least have specified: I run Windows (XP), but I have access to a Mac if absolutely necessary.
posted by amtho at 7:51 PM on December 19, 2011

Unfortunately FLAC is not readable in iTunes, and the iTunes equivalent, Apple Lossless Codec, is only readable in iTunes (I think). The only lossless version that's readable in and out of iTunes would be AIFF or WAV, and they're huge.

Really, unless you're a big audiophile, 320 mp3 should suit. (Because I'm weird I would rather store both limited-utility lossless and universal lossy if I were trashing the discs.) Organize into artist folder and album subfolder; iTunes can do this automatically when ripping.
posted by supercres at 7:56 PM on December 19, 2011

Best answer: I think iTunes does FLAC these days.

Regardless, you should do it in FLAC. If you're going to go through the trouble of burning 300 CDs, you should do it lossless. Half a TB will be plenty. You can easily create a mirror directory in MP3 should you need to, e.g. for an iPod-like device.

I'm a big fan of the dbPoweramp software. That will rip your CDs in whatever format you like (including FLAC) and check against a database for any ripping errors. It will also take a directory of FLAC files (or whatever) and create a mirror directory in some other format.
posted by mikeand1 at 8:06 PM on December 19, 2011

Here's what you need to play FLAC in iTunes.
posted by mikeand1 at 8:09 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

More on playing FLAC in iTunes.
posted by mikeand1 at 8:13 PM on December 19, 2011

What I'd probably do for starters is rip the CDs either to BIN/CUE or single-file FLAC/CUE: that's probably about 250GB max, and it's your source material, with one big audio file and one track-listing file per CD, which is nice for portability. Use a decent ripper: EAC is the best option on Windows. Get a second HD, make a copy of those files, put it somewhere safe, and it's there in the event of [insert event] so that you should never need to rip those CDs again.

Then, with those files, use dbPoweramp to output whatever you like, divided into one file per track for daily use. (Somewhat previously on this.)
posted by holgate at 8:14 PM on December 19, 2011

Unfortunately FLAC is not readable in iTunes, and the iTunes equivalent, Apple Lossless Codec, is only readable in iTunes (I think).

Apple Lossless (ALAC) can be read by other programs using either code from the ffmpeg project or Apple's own recently released library. Unfortunately, ALAC support is not common on non-Apple devices (many of which do support FLAC).

"FLAC" came up a lot - is there a specific program for getting the music into this format? Is FLAC usable by programs I'd want to use?

iTunes does NOT play FLAC files; fluke does not work on Windows systems running iTunes. I use Exact Audio Copy to archive my CDs to FLAC with a cuesheet and a log of ripping activity, including Accuraterip verification. I configure it to tag the files during encoding (mostly automagically) and do tag editing later as needed using MP3Tag. Depending on your needs, OP, this may be overkill. I listen to music in this FLAC format using foobar2000; when I want to copy it to my iPhone, I transcode with foobar2000 using Nero's Digital Audio encoder, then sync the resulting AAC files using iTunes.

Really, unless you're a big audiophile, 320 mp3 should suit.

320 MP3 may be the compromise format of choice for independent music labels and others but it's an inefficient choice: it forces a larger file size versus variable-bitrate encoding (particularly using LAME in variable-bitrate mode) with no measurable improvement in sound quality (even mathematically, discounting perception). MP3 generally is a less efficient lossy compressor than AAC; iTunes has a passable AAC encoder and Nero's free-for-end-users AAC encoder (usable with Exact Audio Copy, foobar2000, etc.) is quite good.

Ultimately, OP, here's the takeaway: if you're not OCD, not an extreme audiophile, would like to be able to work within Apple's ecosystem or outside of it, good enough is good enough: I think encoding to variable bitrate MP3 files with a target minimum bitrate of 192kbps or AAC files with a targeted minimum bitrate of ~160 kbps is good enough. If you're going to throw out the CDs, but want to be reasonably future-proof, then the thing to do is archive them losslessly using FLAC.

More on playing FLAC in iTunes.

That article is hosted on a spam site which features exclusively links to software made by "developers" who use the site to promote their FFMPEG-derived (in violation of its license), undoubtedly broken crapware. BigASoft, like Pavtube, ErightSoft, and various other Chinese and Russian "development" companies, is a fly-by-night scheme operating by flimsy legal and ethical principles and should be ignored.

posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:16 PM on December 19, 2011

If you rip your songs to mp3 through itunes, you can do whatever you want with them after that, you aren't stuck using itunes. I did that with about 1000 CD's, and used another media player for a long time.

Honestly, with only about 300 CD's, and the cheap price of hard drives nowadays, I would suggest ripping them all to WAV format, and then once that is done, just have another program make mp3's with them in one large batch (which can be done left alone while you are sleeping). This way you don't have to worry about compatibility or quality issues later on, and you can listen to your mp3's on your ipod or whatever right now. If you later feel that the quality isn't good enough with your mp3's, you can either encode them again to something better, or listen to the wav files without worrying if your current ipod or other media player will support another file format.
posted by markblasco at 8:29 PM on December 19, 2011

Response by poster: Hmmm... I like the idea of having both MP3 and a lossless version (WAV? FLAC?).

Can anyone suggest a program to batch convert into MP3s?

What's the best method to read from CD into WAV on a HDD?

I'm not currently an "extreme" audiophile, but sound quality is becoming more important to me as I gain experience, and I do have a lot of classical recordings that would probably benefit from attention to fidelity, eventually, when I have a decent sound system.
posted by amtho at 8:32 PM on December 19, 2011

Best answer: What's the best method to read from CD into WAV on a HDD?

Don't rip to WAV for permanent storage. Use Exact Audio Copy, which will first copy the WAVs to your hard drive and then compress them with FLAC, tag the FLAC files and put them in a smart-name directory, and delete the redundant WAV files. This process yields a lossless copy. I would go ahead and rip to tracks for day-to-day convenience (rather than as a disc image) because given the cuesheet created by EAC, you can just as easily go back from tracks to a CD and don't have to worry about whether other devices can use one giant CD-image FLAC file with an accompanying cue.

Can anyone suggest a program to batch convert into MP3s?

Foobar2000 works very well. The Converter plugin is ready to go out of the box and configured to a sensible preset; you'll need to download LAME separately for licensing reasons but once you download it, you only need to drag and drop a directory or directories of FLAC files onto Foobar2000, pick your output folder in the Converter window, and click start.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:37 PM on December 19, 2011

FWIW, I also use Exact Audio Copy (EAC) to rip, straight to FLAC (which comes with EAC), in Windows XP. I then make an MP3 version of everything (at 192 kbps) for certain players (like in the car, and iTunes).

I use foobar2000 to play the FLACs in Windows (which also has library management, like iTunes, although I haven't explored that much: everything is filed in folders by Artist then Album, and I usually just browse to find things).

Storage-wise, at the moment there seem to be 1745 CDs taking up 564 GB (FLAC+MP3).
posted by manyon at 8:38 PM on December 19, 2011

It's been awhile since I used EAC, but unless it's changed dramatically, it's a pain in the ass to set up. Not user-friendly at all.

dbPoweramp uses AccurateRip too; you will get bit-perfect rips unless your CD is in really, really bad shape. It also has the option to do batch ripping.
posted by mikeand1 at 9:12 PM on December 19, 2011

Best answer: I was all ready tho write a nice long essay on this, and then delighted to find that I could reduce it to:
"What Inspector.Gadget said. Both times."
Disk space is still comparatively cheap (even with recent events in Thailand driving up prices). When it comes to future proofing your music collection, do it once, do it right, use FLAC, make back ups. These guides should tell you all you need to know about EAC.
posted by dirm at 9:22 PM on December 19, 2011

Response by poster: OK, so this is the plan that's emerging:

1) Install Exact Audio Copy (EAC) onto my good old Win XP machine, with dirm's reference guide links to help (which I'll probably need);

2) obtain and connect an (maybe two?) external, fast-reading CD drive to my PC;

3) connect an external HDD to store the FLAC version of the resulting sound files (and eventually MP3s);

4) use/test EAC with a few CDs to get some example FLAC files;

5) install and test Foobar2000 with its Converter plugin to make sure my FLAC files can be successfully converted and imported into iTunes - making sure track numbers, names, and other info comes, too;

6) see if my neighbor's son will do the rest of the CDs for $$;

7) use Foobar2000 to create MP3s from all the FLAC files, overnight, while I sleep.
posted by amtho at 10:38 PM on December 19, 2011

Best answer: If you're not going to create cue sheets, there's no reason to use EAC. dbPoweramp does everything else EAC does, and you don't need five user guides to figure out how to set it up. It will also do the batch conversion to MP3s for you, so you wouldn't need to fool with Foobar2000 either.
posted by mikeand1 at 1:31 AM on December 20, 2011

Best answer: mikeand1, foobar2000 is also useful for playback of FLAC files (and packs a heavily customizable user interface and other neat add-ons like scrobbling to Last.FM, a file integrity verifier plugin, a toolkit for re-writing headers and re-packing data streams of non-compliant MP3 files.

EAC vs. dbPoweramp is essentially a partisan debate and it would be off-topic to neckbeard out about minute pros and cons here.

OK, so this is the plan that's emerging:

Looks pretty good, amo. I have a few suggestions:

1) Set up EAC to rip to the folder structure and filename scheme that you prefer so you don't have to mess around with organizing later. Here's how my preferred scheme looks. To the extent that you want to create a temporary or permanent library of MP3 files created from the FLAC files, you can set up foobar2000's converter to create an identical directory structure, albeit with MP3 files instead of FLAC. This may save time for you later when you're hunting down files to move to a device.

2) In foobar2000, exclude *.CUE from your Library so you don't encounter issues with duplicate playback entries (representing the actual files and their placemarkers in the cue sheets); this won't delete or change any information on your hard drive but will simply ignore the redundant references to your FLAC files.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:22 AM on December 20, 2011

amtho, sorry. My keyboard ate my fingers for breakfast.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:22 AM on December 20, 2011

Best answer: Previous thread about EAC. The latest EAC version comes with a CUETools Database plugin that you should install when given the option.
posted by Bangaioh at 11:00 AM on December 20, 2011

Response by poster: Note to future seekers: apparently the guide mentioned above has errors (see the previous thread linked by Bangaioh). This one is suggested instead.
posted by amtho at 8:34 PM on December 26, 2011

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