How to cheaply and easily encode 3,500 CDs to MP3s?
June 5, 2008 3:04 PM   Subscribe

i have about 3,500 CDs. I want to rip them to MP3. I'm too lazy to do it one at a time on my computer and too cheap to pay a service like MusicShifter. Any other options?

So I'm a bit of a music nut. Managed to collect about 3,500 CDs. The new ones I get I tend to rip to MP3 right away, but I have a serious backlog. In fact, some are obscure and require manually adding in song and album information which adds to it being a pain in the butt.

I'm entirely too lazy to do this one by one on my computer, and way too cheap to spend $2,500 - $3,500 on paying a service to do it for me. Any other options? I'm looking for encoding at no less than 192 VBR joint stereo.

Bonus question: i also have about 1,000 cassettes and 500 - 700 vinyl records (in various sizes from 7" to 10" to 12"). Would love to get them to MP3s too. All ideas for how to accommodate my laziness and cheapness are appreciated.
posted by tundro to Computers & Internet (28 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Hire a student from local university.
posted by markovich at 3:12 PM on June 5, 2008

You could get a bunch of CD drives (I'm picturing a stack of external drives 10 high) and do them in batches. It'd be easier than doing one at a time, though not really any faster.
posted by 0xFCAF at 3:14 PM on June 5, 2008

Do what 0xFCAF says, but when you come across a CD that needs the data to be manually entered, skip it and put it aside. Then do what markovich says for the remainder :)
posted by helios at 3:17 PM on June 5, 2008

Whatever you do, make sure you've got a good backup scheme in place for when the task is accomplished. The only thing worse than having to rip 3500 CDs is having to do it again.
posted by Nelsormensch at 3:22 PM on June 5, 2008 [4 favorites]

Lazy Method: keep a box of un-ripped discs next to the computer. Do one or two a day, when you're eating a sandwich or something. It takes a while, but then one day you're done! Worked for me (1200+ discs)...
posted by Aquaman at 3:23 PM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, iTunes gives you the option of importing the disc and ejecting it - thus you just pop in a new disc each time one pops out and you never have to do anything assuming the CD info is in CDDB. That will speed up ripping that amount of discs considerably. Otherwise, I mean, without paying a service or somebody to do it, there's no quicker way. iTunes offers MP3, AAC , Apple Lossless or WAV encoding.

As for the analog tapes and vinyl, that's going to be an even bigger pain since you have to play it back at normal speed (some methods will try to play it back at 2x speed but the end result is iffy). You can get some decks and turntables that are USB and try the make removing pops and splitting tracks easier, but yeah, I do not envy the task at hand for the analog media.
posted by cgomez at 3:53 PM on June 5, 2008

If you decide to rip the CDs, use an app that has a continuous rip feature, so all you have to do is load discs over and over for CDs where the app can find data. If you run Windows, JRiver Media Center does this, but isn't free. JRiver Media Jukebox is free but I'm not sure if it has the same feature. Both JRiver products are fairly limited in their data lookups.

I'm sure there are other apps that do the same thing.
posted by cnc at 3:57 PM on June 5, 2008

If you can get three or four computers networked to a good chunk of network attached storage, you could rip a CD from all of them into the same folder on the NAS. Hire a local university kid to do it for you. Get a program that will rip to .wav in a filename format such as:

artist name - album name - track name - track number.wav

Have the university kid rip them all in that format to the NAS, then, after he's finished, a simple script could be run to encode them all into .mp3 (grabbing the ID3 tags from the filenames). You don't have to pay him for that time--just run it over night. He could just shuffle from machine to machine swapping discs.

Pay him well, as you say, it would cost you 2-3 thousand dollars to have this done professionally. Pay him 12-15 dollars per hour (seriously!) and a pizza and you'll still come out much better than the alternative.

Or just find a grad student and just offer him the pizza (;
posted by Precision at 4:18 PM on June 5, 2008

A CD-ripping party. Invite 15 or 20 of your friends over on a Sunday and tell them to bring their laptops. Each person gets a stack of 100 CDs to rip. Afterwards they can dump the results on a network drive. Provide entertainment, food, and drink.

Oh and it had better be damn good entertainment, food, and drink, by the way. And these had better be damn good friends.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:21 PM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

P.S. 1-5 min per CD = 3500 to 17500 minutes = 50 to 250 hrs = $500 to $2500 at a measly ten bucks an hour. With the volume of CDs you have you're better off hiring a professional than a student.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:23 PM on June 5, 2008

I'm assuming 4 CDs in 4 minutes, using 4 computers. (we're just ripping, not encoding. 4 minutes is conservative). And $500 is a lot better than any professional you'll find.

There's a reason I recommend ripping to .wav, not straight to .mp3. You'll save half your time immediately.
posted by Precision at 4:26 PM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I used Aquaman's method on a slightly smaller collection, and was done in several months. My method was to rip five discs whenever I sat down at the computer. It was a happy happy day when one day I ran out of discs to rip.
posted by harkin banks at 4:37 PM on June 5, 2008

Multiple internal/external optical drives for the win. For encoding and/or burning, this is your solution. See if your encoding software allows duplicate copies of the executable to run at the same time to double your encoding productivity.

I knock out runs of 100 or so discs a week with a pair of external FireWire CD-R/DVD-R burners. On the Mac, I'll run two instances of Toast to get the job done.
posted by porn in the woods at 4:38 PM on June 5, 2008

Radio Shack is (was) having the XITEL cassette/LP to USB .wav and MP3) hardware/software package on clearance. Mine cost $50. Works great. Downside, it copies at the play speed of your player. Unless you are a very young person you might not have enough time to transfer 1000+ cassettes and 500 LPs to .WAV to MP3.
posted by Raybun at 4:45 PM on June 5, 2008

Buy a 200 CD/DVD changer (Sony XL1B). I bought one for $200 earlier this year.

Spend the initial time loading it up, create a script to rip/change disc, and come back in a few hours. You can even daisy chain 5 of them for 1000 CD/DVDs.

You could even burn backups this way also.
posted by wongcorgi at 4:48 PM on June 5, 2008

I bought a bunch of USB external drives, and two drives in the puter, found iTunes to be the best; as noted above, it runs through them one after the next, and gets all the track info for you, encodes it however you decide.

There's a reason I recommend ripping to .wav, not straight to .mp3. You'll save half your time immediately.
posted by Precision

Bright idea, definitely outside the box, great 'hive mind' stuff. Now take those four puters and external usb drives on each of them also and your time/trouble is really cut.

Precision: What program to rip to .wav and get all the pertinent info for conversion to mp3? And the best program to convert, .wav to mp3 (or ogg, whatever) would be ??

As far as your cassettes and LPs -- you are going to suffer. Accept it. And then move into the task, which should be done sometime within your lifetime, if you hurry. I don't envy you this one.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:58 PM on June 5, 2008

Another benefit of ripping to WAV is that it is uncompressed. Any lossless format saves you the time of re-ripping when you decide to switch to a new format (lossy or lossless).
posted by Monochrome at 7:26 PM on June 5, 2008

A CD holds 650MB of data, or slightly less than that. Thus if you ripped to WAV, you'll need about 2 to 2.5 TB to hold all of the music from your CDs. You can expect compression ratios around 2:1 for FLAC, about 3:1 for ZIPped or RARed .WAV files, about 10:1 for MP3, so depending what you want to end up with, get 2 large external USB drives or a size to hold your whole collection; at least 500 GB, preferably 1TB.

Rip CDs to Drive #1 by some method; Aquaman's is ideal, just run the ripper as a background, low-priority process, and flip disks through it the whole time you're in front of a computer, at home or at work if you can get away with it, browsing MetaFilter or playing WoW, whatever. Ideally use a ripper that looks up album/artist/song info, or that prompts you to enter the info if it can't find it. At worst, you're entering a couple dozen song titles and artist names, a 2-minute task, every 20 minutes or so. Do labelling immediately; that is not a task you can put off, or else you end up with a whole bunch of "TRACK1.WAV" which sucks to find anything in.

The USB drive facilitates this job since you can easily lug it around. Whenever you fill Drive #1, while you sleep, run it through the compressor onto Drive #2. Should take less than 6 hours a time, easily done overnight. Then empty Drive #1.

When the job's done, months from now, copy Drive #2 to Drive #1 overnight. Now you have a backup. Put it away, lend it to friends, whatever. Its purpose is to prevent you ever having to do this again.

For cassettes, the easiest way to do them is:
(1) Sort them first, and number them. The order of the cassettes is to be the order of the files. The number on the cassette is the name of the file. Do not deviate from this plan.
(2) Get the best stereo player you can, and cords to connect it to your sound card's input (microphone). Ensure that the stereo capture is working properly, by using the balance knob on the stereo to generate "all left" and "all right" sound samples. Rig up your sound input to capture at the quality and file size that you like. If in doubt, go higher.
(3) You are creating one huge WAV per cassette side, and two files, eg "512-A.WAV" and "512-B.wav". If you're good at this, and have a good program and a player capable of it, you can adjust play speed to record faster, and slow down the resulting audio to normal volume (YMMV). You can do the recording silently of course, but if it's not a distraction, you might as well enjoy the music while you do it; if you discover that some of the music is borked, make a text file "512-notes.txt" and type a note to yourself.
(4) If you have a scanner, and I strongly suggest you get one, scan the cassette labels at the same time, and label the files "512-A.JPG" "512-B.JPG".

Snipping them into individual songs and labelling the songs is a whole new PITA that requires a great deal more attention than labelling CD tracks. Actually entering MP3 information (IDv3 or whatever it's called) is a whole other PITA, that can probably be most easily done by using a consistent labelling practice (eg "Album Name - Artist - Song Name.MP3") and using a program that intelligently infers these things from the filename.

Exact same thing for LPs.

All of this is pretty low-intensity work for a computer, and can easily be done on a cheap laptop while you sit at your desk, if your main computer doesn't cope well with it, or it's a shared computer. IMO a laptop capable of this task would cost less than the USB drives, and could be sold for the same price after if you don't want it any more.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 9:02 PM on June 5, 2008

(One minor point: Number with enough leading zeroes. If you have 587 cassettes, number them "001" to "099" to "587". This is for proper directory sorting.)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 9:08 PM on June 5, 2008

I'm in pretty much the same boat (same kind/size of collection -- not quite as many tapes, though) and after several years of occasional random rip-and-tag sessions I'm finally working through how I'm going to tackle the whole thing in a systematic manner. I'm not quite there yet, but one thing I have determined is that when I finally buckle down and make a real project out of it, I'm going to be ripping to lossless and transcoding from there as needed. Probably FLAC, one file per CD, with embedded cuesheets. (REACT does this out of the box.)

3500 CDs in FLAC is probably under a terabyte, disk for which would cost you under $200 today and probably under $100 by the time you get everything ripped and tagged. So unless you're 100% absolutely, positively sure you'll never, ever need that music in anything other than MP3, you may as well just keep lossless masters and run off copies in the format of the day whenever you feel the urge. (This is doubly true for the vinyl, which you may want to go back and clean up later.)

Unfortunately you're not going to get around having to manually enter track titles on a lot of 'em. I still find plenty of discs in my collection that aren't in freedb yet -- hit a couple just in the ten I took to work today.

(On preview: no, you're not going to get 3:1 compression on WAVs with ZIP or RAR. If that were possible, don't you think FLAC would be using those compression algorithms instead?)
posted by Lazlo at 9:33 PM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think either EAC (Exact Audio Copy) or Audiograbber would let you rip to .wav sans encoding with filenames holding the metadata. Both should be able to grab data off CDDB or Gracenote or something.

Lame or Blade are good for .mp3 encoding, Lame is considered the best usually. You'll probably just want to have a friend write you up a quick script, I could probably do it if I looked into the Lame documentation.

Otherwise, maybe some frontend does this out of the box, but I wouldn't know. I use EAC+Lame to rip all my CDs, and I rip as I buy. Being as young as I am, never have had a backlog, lol.

I'd definitely encode into .mp3 using the V0 Lame preset (variable bit rate), and then replace the .wavs with FLACs, and keep the flac. Both combined should still take less space than the .wavs, so you should be safe.
posted by Precision at 10:26 PM on June 5, 2008

Since I've been wanting to re-rip my collection, as an experiment, I just ripped a CD. . . took about 3 minutes for iTunes to rip to Lossless AAC.

iTunes' automatic mode kicks ass, just feed it CDs one by one, that's it.

At 20 discs per hour, 2 hrs per session, 3 sessions per week, that's 120 CDs per week, 30 weeks of work. Prolly be best to combine the activity while watching the tube or something.
posted by tachikaze at 10:41 PM on June 5, 2008

Something no one has said yet: be prepared to purchase a new CD drive or two if you're ripping that many disks. I have a collection that's maybe half that size (if that) and I burned out two CD drives ripping it.

YMMV; of course it's possible I had defective drives (two different brands though).
posted by the_W at 11:01 PM on June 5, 2008

If that were possible, don't you think FLAC would be using those compression algorithms instead?

I'm not 100% sure of this, but on a file-by-file basis, you're absolutely right, compressing individual files with FLAC is the best result. But if you are compressing multiple similar files, RAR and other multi-file archivers can compress all of the files together, which should provide greater efficiency in compression according to how alike the files in the archive are to one another; in a 1TB archive, this should make a big difference.

Create 1.WAV, 2.WAV, 3.WAV, 4.WAV, 5.WAV ...
Archive all WAV files to MUSIC1.RAR

Compress individual WAV files to 1.FLAC, 2.FLAC, 3.FLAC, 4.FLAC, 5.FLAC ...
Archive all FLAC files to MUSIC2.RAR

My gut feeling is that MUSIC1.RAR <>ought to be smaller, and as the number of files in the archive increases (particularly with Paul Simon or Nickelback songs), the difference between the two ought to increase.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:28 AM on June 6, 2008

...which should provide greater efficiency in compression according to how alike the files in the archive are to one another

True, but audio files aren't similar to one another in this way. Even different masterings of the same release will have completely different bitstreams.
posted by Lazlo at 9:18 AM on June 6, 2008

The problem with ripping to WAV and later converting to MP3 is that it usually complicates tagging and potentially even naming.

I'm partial to Poikosoft's Easy CDDA Extractor. I can't remember the last time it failed to identify a disc, no matter how obscure. Rip speeds on even older machines are usually about 10x realtime, or 10 CDs ripped an house.

It's configurable to eject the disc when it's done, so you can just keep slapping discs in and changing them when you notice they're done.

I think you're up against "fast, easy, cheap: pick two" here.
posted by phearlez at 1:14 PM on June 6, 2008

Under Linux, I was pretty happy with ABCDE when I was doing this - just set the EJECTCD flag in it's config file, and write a quick and dirty wrapper to keep recalling it when it finishes. Wide choice of encoding formats, it's free, and it's even got Deb packages.
posted by Orb2069 at 10:23 PM on June 14, 2008

At 20 CDs per batch this may not be up to snuff for you but it might be of interest to someone else.
posted by phearlez at 1:17 PM on June 16, 2008

« Older Punk Summer of 08   |   Friendships: where's that "hibernate" button? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.