Silver linings

While waiting for the details on my cancer, I seem to have ended up with a lot of time on my hands. I’ve not much work on at the moment, what I do have I’m working through quite quickly, and no-one expects me to take on any new tasks given that I could be imminently off work for 3 months or more.

So I’ve found myself kicking my heels somewhat. Which is definitely a mixed blessing. It’s nice not to be under additional pressure from work, but it does leave me a lot of time to start imagining the types of scenario that frankly, its better not to think about. So I started looking at the honey-dew list for some things to do, until I realised that the reason stuff was on that list was because it all required lots of planning and effort to complete. Ie, no short-term tasks to speak of.

So I finally got around to one of the boring tasks that has been sat on my personal “todo” list for nearly a year now, and digitised my entire CD collection. It’s not as though I actually have that many CD’s – no more than a couple of hundred or so, but it’s still taken several days of almost continuous effort, feeding them into the CD drive, ripping and encoding them.

The original plan was to put them all onto my home server so I could then play them back through my Squeezebox “classic”, and never have to mess with the physical CDs again. Of course, since then time has passed, and I’ve realised I also need those same tracks on my laptop, on my phone (which I use as an mp3 player) and on my kids MP3 players & laptops. So, the question was, what format to rip to?

In theory my Squeezebox supports MP3, FLAC, OGG, WMA and PCM/WAV/AIFF audio natively (ie, without needing transcoding) plus a whole lot more via transcoding at the server. So FLAC was the original “obvious” choice, simply because it is whatever the CD was, and didn’t put any transcoding load on my server. However, compression isn’t as good as the lossy algorithms, and support on hardware devices is patchy. So despite being the biggest archive, I’d still need to maintain extra copies to allow all my playback devices to be supported.

So in the end I’ve ripped everything to MP3 using LAME’s “V1” option, which gives me ~240kbps variable bitrate encoding. I know its not as good as FLAC, but when I compared the original CD’s to the squeezebox playing back the rip, I honestly couldn’t tell the difference. And I’m saving so much storage space that I can even afford to easily maintain a second copy of the music, transcoded down to a lower bitrate for the phones/mp3 players etc where storage really is at a premium, and the 240kbps rips are too large.

Interestingly, there were several of my CD’s that are starting to exhibit signs of failure … and this is not scratches … rather the actual disk seems to be perishing in some way. Fortunately cdparanoia managed to retrieve all the data (though in one case it took it over 6 hours to do so!) but the original claims for CDs of perfect music lasting forever are clearly not holding up in practice.

Anyway, I finally spent most of today fighting with “EasyTAG”, which whilst not in practice as easy as I hoped, did allow me to get the tagging sorted for all my music relatively quickly. And I’m amazed at the breadth of CD information contained within FreeDB … it knew every CD in my collection, including some short-run private pressings from very small niche artists. Amazing what a big enough cooperative effort can achieve I guess.

The nice thing about having done this, is that since it’s so easy to dip in and dip out of my music collection, I’m finding that I’m listening to stuff that I’d probably never have chosen if I’d had to go find the CD, put it in the player, etc.

Grip (front-ending LAME and CDParanoia) and EasyTAG under Ubuntu.

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