Adventures in CD Ripping, Part 1
Like many music fans, I've long been wrestling with the best way to rip and manage my large 2500+ CD library. Sure, I’ve gradually accumulated a bunch of music on my hard drive that I use for portable playback, but it's a tiny fraction of my collection. (That's not even mentioning the 900 LPs...a story for another time!). A few years back I tried to organize things with a couple 400-disc CD changers and PC-based jukebox software. But keeping track of which discs were in which slot and controlling the changers was a royal pain. And definitely not random access...Who wants to wait while CDs get switched out between every song??
So that experiment got abandoned and since then I've just been muddling along with most of my discs sitting on shelves collecting dust and cluttering up the living room. In my digital fantasy world, everything would be stored on a network media server, from which I could stream different music to every room in the house, all using a convenient remote control interface with instant search capabilities. I could do things like find all 12 versions of Hey Jude and play them back-to-back comparing differences. Or if I'm on a Van Morrison kick, play every album in chronological order. And all in pristine full CD quality over excellent speakers, no compression or tiny ear buds involved! While the second half of that fantasy may still be a little ways off (at least budget-wise), the first half is completely doable at a reasonable cost, thanks to free-falling hard disk prices.
The logistics, however, are daunting. As a quick test, I ripped two representative CDs in my laptop drive. It took almost 15 minutes, including time to pop the discs in and out. Multiply 2500 by 7.5, and that's 312 hours of ripping...So I've been working on ways to streamline the process, and thought I'd share some tips with others embarking (or re-embarking) on the same quest. As I move forward, I'll share my experiences and tips on the organization and streaming aspects. Meanwhile, if any of you have advice on this topic, please comment! I'll round up the best suggestions in future posts.
1) Get a RAID drive to store your collection, and back it up again, if possible. I've already reached the 500-discs ripped mark twice, only to experience file system corruption and loss of weeks of work both times. This is a job you don’t want to repeat, believe me. Get a RAID 1 or 5 drive that protects you if one drive fails, and use Creator or Toast to back up the final collection when you finish. (In case a hurricane, flood, fire, earthquake or other disaster comes along and wipes out your entire drive...)
2) Rip in Lossless quality. Again, this is a job you only want to do once. You can always convert part of it to MP3 or AAC for your portable player, but if you want to be able to put your CDs away in the basement for good, rip at full quality. Disk storage is now cheap enough that this is practical. My entire 2500+ collection should fit on a 1TB drive (at about .45GB per disc in Apple Lossless format). A 2TB RAID array can be had for under $700, or 28 cents per CD for fully backed-up accessible storage. Note that I'm using Apple Lossless since I use iTunes. Other popular lossless formats include FLAC and Monkey’s Audio. Easy Media Creator 10 has native FLAC ripping support, and can convert FLAC to almost any other audio format. There's an excellent discussion of lossless formats here.
3) Use a fast CD Recorder for ripping. I'm using iTunes to rip to Apple Lossless, as well as the automatic feature that starts ripping as soon as you pop in a disc, and ejects the disc when it's done. But the drive itself also needs to be fast, and most combo CD/DVD recorders are much slower at ripping that dedicated CD drives. So I bought a 64X CD reader off eBay for $40, and can now rip at an average speed of about 2.25 minutes per disc, including insertion/ejection times, a vast improvement.
4) Rip one artist at a time. After ripping, you'll want to correct the artist/track names and album titles retrieved from CDDB, so that all the artist names appear exactly the same, and album titles are consistent. It's easiest to do this one artist at a time. At this point, you should also correct the genre (rock, R&B, jazz etc.) to what you want it to be, again consistently for each artist. I also change album dates to the dates the music was actually recorded, rather than the date issued, and add a custom comment if the album is live (so I can search for all Live tracks by an artist, for example). You may have other priorities in your CD organization, but now is the time to make the data changes, before you put away the CDs. I also add album cover art at the same time, making sure it matches the actual cover. All this organizational work is much less cumbersome when you do it as you go, with CD jackets in hand, and not all at once at the end. I find both ripping and organizing to be great activities to do while I watch TV.