Ripping and listening to my CD collection
May 23, 2007 10:14 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to rip my CD collection and be able to listen to them when I'm not at my computer. I want to be able to listen to them in the living room or kitchen. I've got several hundred CDs. And I don't want to spend a ton of money.

So I've got a couple questions:
1. Does Windows Media Player, set to (WAV) lossless do a decent job? I like how it catalogs the CDs on my computer at the same time, and I don't know if it's worth going with FLAC, EAC, etc

2. Is there a better way to store them than on my harddrive? Are there inexpensive players for this kind of thing?

3. If I store on my computer, how can I setup speakers off of my computer so that I can wire them around the house? Can I buy some kind of card or amp or whatever a regular stereo uses?

posted by GernBlandston to Computers & Internet (22 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
i just bought a ripper on line for $20 and it works great, rips fast in any format or size, and automatically assigns album/song name

size of file depends on quality, usually 40-60 megs each

i story mine in a 160 gig hard drive, which i gues wouldn't be big enough for that format to do several hundred, at 40-60 megs each x 12 songs on a cd x say 700 cds...

you could just rip them in mp3 you're not going to lose that much quality if you're listening around the house...

i just use the 1/8 out of my sound card, it splits into two RCA's which go into my amp etc

works fine then from there setup is like any other sound system
posted by Salvatorparadise at 10:34 AM on May 23, 2007

for your #3 question. You can run a cable from your computer's headphone jack into the inputs on the back of a standard stereo system tuner. I used something like this. I've done this and then wired speakers around the house (with a switch that allows me to turn on or off the various speakers) and it works great. Our house has a crawl space, so I've done most of it by running wires underneath and drilling tiny holes in the floor. You could definitely do it in the attic as well.
posted by krudiger at 10:43 AM on May 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Couldn't you just buy wireless speakers? My parents have a pair in their dining room that play music from a stereo on the other side of the house. Sometimes they take them out onto their back porch too. It's pretty cool actually.
posted by ml98tu at 10:56 AM on May 23, 2007

maybe just get an ipod and put powered speakers in whatever rooms you want to play music in, then plug the ipod in when you want to listen there? or get the airport express things, they have a stereo mini out, and you can stream wirelessly from itunes. it would be a lot easier than wiring a house, plus if you decide you want speakers somewhere else instead, you can just plug in the airport thing anywhere. or, anywhere where there is an outlet and isn't super far from where you're streaming.
posted by snofoam at 10:59 AM on May 23, 2007

Ripping to WAV files, as the "lossless" name implies, gives you the exact same quality as the CD. It's essentially just copying the CD Audio to your hard drive. It's the best way to do it, but it takes up a lot of space (as much as the CD, so usually 400-700MB per disc). AIFF files are the same way.

Since uncompressed, lossless files like AIFFs and WAVs take up so much space, people have come up with various ways of compressing them without throwing any information away. These are formats like FLAC, Monkey Audio, Apple Lossless, etc. Conceptually, they work just like zipping a spreadsheet: all the data is there, it just takes some work for the computer to unpack and restore it. (And you could simulate a lossless audio archival format by taking WAV or AIFF files and ZIP, BZ2, or GZing just wouldn't get as small results because those algorithms aren't optimized for music.)

Then to get smaller sizes, you can start throwing away information. This is how WMA, AAC, and MP3 work: they throw away information that their algorithms say you're unlikely to miss, thus making te file smaller. (They also compress what's left.) Somehow, 128kbps has become a de facto standard, but I think it sounds like crap. I would say you should avoid ripping your entire CD collection to a lossy format, unless your time is very cheap and you're really strapped for cash.

If you rip to a lossless format, it's always possible to re-encode it later to produce MP3 files or whatever. But if you rip initially to MP3 files, you're never going to be able to go back up the quality chain -- so let's say you get a good speaker system, and suddenly start hearing all the encoding artifacts from your're stuck, and will have to re-rip the CD, if you didn't keep a lossless copy. Given that hard drives today are cheap, I think it's a no-brainer...but YMMV.

Really I think the "best" way to do this would be ripping the CDs and storing them on a computer somewhere, then pulling Ethernet cable around, and using something like a Roku Soundbridge or a Squeezebox at each stereo you want to listen from. But they'll set you back at least two C-notes a piece. The Apple Airport Express is cheaper, but you have to choose the songs to play from the computer/server end, there's no controls on the client. Still, it's cheap and wireless.

Uglier solutions would be analog -- basically running wires from your computer's soundcard to various stereos in your house. I think this is a bad idea, because they'll be unbalanced lines, and susceptible to 60hz AC hum and all sorts of other noise (which drives me insane), and it still leaves you without the ability to choose the music from the stereo. (You'd still have to start the music playing on the computer and then go turn the stereo on elsewhere, set to Aux.) And you have to drill holes and run the cables. Better to stick with something digital, IMO.

The final, DIY solution, is that you could set up cheap computers at the endpoints (near the stereos) running DAAP client software, run iTunes (or some other DAAP server) on the computer with all the music, and basically do what the Soundbridge does, potentially for less money. But it could be a big PITA and probably wouldn't be cheaper unless you have a lot of spare computers. (And then you'd have to worry about your power bill.)

Sorry if this is an unsatisfying answer. But what you're trying to do isn't trivial. It's one of those situations where you can have any two of convenience, simplicity, or frugality.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:06 AM on May 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm with ml98tu. Even wired speakers can be wired up throughout the house.

Sigh, I know I'm a dinosaur. But I don't and will never get the fascination with moving all music to computers/hard drives, when we've had the technology to play music in other ways for decades.
posted by iguanapolitico at 11:09 AM on May 23, 2007

Until the end of the month Squeezeboxes ( are on sale for $250.00. You can also use a promo-code of “live365” to get an additional $20.00 off. They plug right into your stereo or you can just use computer speakers with them. The downside is you need a machine running whenever you want to use it since they connect to the Slimserver software. Any machine (Windows, Linux, Mac) will do.

I’ve had one for a couple months now and I love it. They’re almost flawless.
posted by bondcliff at 11:11 AM on May 23, 2007

I know I'm a dinosaur. But I don't and will never get the fascination with moving all music to computers/hard drives, when we've had the technology to play music in other ways for decades.

In my case, it's because (a) I live in a small apartment, and a harddrive takes up less space than a huge shelf of CDs, and (b) I'm mobile, like listening to music anywhere, don't know how to pick stuff in the morning that I'm sure I'll want to listen to in the afternoon (which is why the old Walkman/throw-some-cassettes-in-the-backback thing never worked for me). I adore having 700 CDs on my tiny iPod and being able to pick any song from my collection wherever I am.
posted by grumblebee at 11:25 AM on May 23, 2007

1. Does Windows Media Player, set to (WAV) lossless do a decent job? I like how it catalogs the CDs on my computer at the same time, and I don't know if it's worth going with FLAC, EAC, etc

FLAC is much better than WAV, because WAVs are ridiculously huge. There are detailed instructions for getting Windows Media Player to work with FLAC here. I know it's a bit of trouble, but unless you are OK with wasting at least half a gig of space for each and every CD you rip, you'll want to avoid WAV. FLAC file sizes are something like 10 times smaller than WAV, but retain the same audio quality.

If you already like Media Player, the guide above should set you up with a very nice lossless media center. If it turns out you don't like the way it works with FLAC, try Media Monkey instead. It's a free program which catalogs and organizes your music, and also has iPod sync and some fun auto-DJ/party mode play settings. It might work a bit better for you, since it has FLAC support built-in.
posted by vorfeed at 12:03 PM on May 23, 2007

For 95% of people, there's no advantage for them to use FLAC over a well-encoded MP3. FLAC, for the record, is about 1/2 the size of a WAV, not 1/10. MP3 is about 1/8. I've ripped over 1000 of my own CDs to mp3, and I stream them to pretty much every room in my house, and 99.9% of them sound exactly like the original.

Any decent ripping program will let you catalogue your music as you rip it, regardless of what format you're ripping it to.
posted by Jairus at 12:23 PM on May 23, 2007

Quick addendum to Kadin2048's answer:

A bizarrely underadvertised feature of the Airport Express is the ability to play on multiple sets of speakers simultaneously. If you bought two Express units and installed them at opposite ends of the house, you could play music simultaneously on two different stereos and your computer speakers, or any combination. I like this feature a lot. It sounds great for 192 kbps mp3s. Anything higher than that will break every few minutes to re-buffer. YMMV.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:33 PM on May 23, 2007

Has anybody got an opinion on the squeezebox (mentioned above by bondcliff) vs. the roku soundbridge? Both seem to get good reviews.
posted by vytae at 12:33 PM on May 23, 2007

I've used both. I returned the soundbridge and now own three Squeezeboxes. I love the Squeezebox hardware (I love the aesthetics of it) and found it did better dealing with my somewhat weak wireless signal. It also plays more formats natively and the server (slimserver) is open-source, written in PERL and runs on anything (even my Infrant NAS, so I can use my Squeezebox with no computer on at all). There's a huge geek support community writing plug-ins for slimserver to make your Squeezebox do wacky stuff like scroll RSS headlines and such, and the software supports Pandora (!!), Scrobber and other Internet Radio stations. There are even various people doing audiophile mods to the hardware if your taste runs to the obscure and costly.

In short, I can't recommend the Squeezebox highly enough. My time with the Roku was short, so I can't say it's not great, but I can't imagine it competing with the Squeezebox if only for the open nature and geek support that Slim Devices encouraged . . .

HAVING SAID ALL THAT . . . Slim was just acquired by Logitech. I have no idea if this will matter. They claim nothing will change. They always claim nothing will change. Worst case, they screw everything up and you have to use the software and hardware as it exists today, which is to say, pretty close to perfect. Do I sound like a satisfied customer? Yeah.
posted by The Bellman at 12:46 PM on May 23, 2007

See also here and here previously
posted by exogenous at 12:47 PM on May 23, 2007

FWIW, I believe the FireFly Media Server software (formerly mt-daapd) that I use with the Roku may be open-source. It definitely supports many formats and is quite robust.
posted by exogenous at 12:56 PM on May 23, 2007

I also love my Squeezeboxes, but they are not cheap, and that's what the OP was looking for. DAMN fine hardware, though, if you can afford it.

One caveat: use the nightly builds instead of the release versions of the software. Release Slimservers always suck. Nightly builds are always great. Why this is, I don't know.
posted by Malor at 1:17 PM on May 23, 2007

If you're going to be playing music in a room with a TV, look into a modded XBox running XBMC. I prefer it to the Squeezebox, but you need a TV.
posted by Jairus at 1:33 PM on May 23, 2007

(Actually, that might no longer be the case. I think I heard something about an XBMC remote control you can run from your PC.)
posted by Jairus at 1:33 PM on May 23, 2007

It also plays more formats natively and the server (slimserver) is open-source, written in PERL and runs on anything

Just a note to point out that the Roku Soundbridge can also use the Slimserver software - I've not used anything else in the 3+ years I've had my Soundbridge.

In fact, I'd argue that the Soundbridge is superior due to lower cost and more flexibility in server software support (the Rokus work with 4 or 5 different server packages, I believe the Squeezeboxes only work with Slimserver?)
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 12:39 AM on May 24, 2007

The Soundbridges have very inferior hardware, and the Roku people don't understand sound at all. Their most recent units all do a hardware resample to 48Khz and the Roku guys didn't even understand why that was an issue. (beyond sound quality problems, that also means you can't play DTS-encoded 44.1Khz WAV files, which do exist.)

In Squeezeboxes, the analog DACs are excellent, and the circuitry behind them is very clean. If you use the digital out, the jitter is extremely low, to the point that you'd have to buy a long way up in CD transports to get anything that good. Squeezeboxes will stand toe to toe with $1500 CD players in terms of analog sound quality, and I think you have to go significantly higher to match the jitter specs. I'm not sure that jitter matters for most people, but some of the audiophile crowd is convinced it's really important. If you're one of them, Squeezeboxes deliver the goods. If you're not, well, they're still only $250, and will drive a serious audiophile's stack very nicely.

In comparison, the Rokus are roughly comparable to computer soundcards.... ie, they suck terribly. If you need something really cheap and you're driving crappy speakers, they'd be okay, but I wouldn't recommend them most of the time.
posted by Malor at 11:45 AM on May 24, 2007

Please tell me that Slimserver no longer transcodes everything to MP3 before passing it over the network, otherwise what you've just written re: DACs and audio quality needs to be weighed against the fact that you're playing back (at absolute best) a 320KB/s MP3 file. Whether it's still the case or not I don't know, but you could feed the best quality WAV/FLAC file in the world into it and it would still transmit the audio to the Squeezebox (or other compatible device) as an MP3 stream.

You can have the best components and interconnects in the world, but if your source is crap, your sound will be crap, too. Most people have MP3 collections or other lossy formats.

My Roku's primary function is my alarm clock and music player when I'm in the shower in the next room. It's played back through, of all things, a 5.1 surround amp for the simple reason that I had one going unused when I set the system up.

Nowhere in the system, from the 128KB/s-192KB/s MP3 source, the Roku Soundbridge, the 10m of line-level interconnect to the LG 5.1 kit, or the tiny satellite and cheap subwoofer speakers could be considered by anyone this side of tone-deaf as "Hifi".

Personally, I don't care, it still sounds good enough for me for the circumstances I use it in.
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 2:40 PM on May 25, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone for the advice!

I went to Best Buy and bought a Linksys Music Bridge, and downloaded MediaMonkey. I've been ripping CDs to FLAC and the Music Bridge works great! I recommend it.

I also bought a 250GB external HD, but don't think I'll be needing it immediately. The problem with it is that Carbonite doesn't back it up since it's external. I'm not sure how to get around that.
posted by GernBlandston at 4:03 AM on May 30, 2007

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