- Lossless; clear sound with no compression artifacts or “sizzle”
- Liner Art! Feelies! Presentation! There’s an art and a vibe for each album.
- Supported on most platforms
- No encryption or Digital Rights Management
- Can listen to CDs long after the music store goes out of business
- CDs are never “no longer available in the library”
- After ripping, I can push the files to my own media server and listen everywhere
- Since I own the physical media, I have a Fair Use license for ripping
- If my storage crashes, I can re-rip from disc without buying from the store again
- Nobody tracks my playbacks and pushes recommendations to me
- Because fuck you, that’s why.
So the new Rush album, “Clockwork Angels” was released today to the North American market. After work, I stopped by Cheapo CDs on Lamar to pick up a copy. After scanning the bins, I asked the guy if he had it in stock.
“No, we don’t have it, sorry.”
I laughed incredulously, “Really?”
“Yeah, it’s too expensive.”
“We only spend $300 a week on new releases. Don’t want to order too much and not have it sell — we can’t return it.”
“Man. I guess I never considered that financial aspect.”
“I’ll be ordering later this week, though, or you can try Waterloo Records.”
“Meh,” I grimaced. I usually dislike going there.
“Doesn’t matter. We’ll be closing by year’s end.”
“You act surprised. CDs are dead. We can’t afford to stay in business.”
And so it is. Another music shop going away. Encore Records already closed this spring. I heard Backspin Records closed. And now Cheapo later this year. Before long, everything but the niche and specialty stuff will be sold online either as shipped discs or as digital downloads. I prefer to have discs because the audio quality is completely lossless and I have a bauble to hold in my hands. Digital downloads are fairly cheap and rather quick, but the lossy psycho-acoustic compression makes them sound terrible, and lossless formats usually cost more. Plus there’s no standard for additional collateral like liner notes and cover images, so it’s a crapshoot what you’ll be getting in your download.
So, go there. Go now. Help ’em out. They have stock that they’ll be needing to get rid of. When all these businesses close, what next? Who is to occupy their empty spaces? More boutique baby furniture shops?
It’s finally done. My month-long project to rip my entire CD collection into FLAC files was completed this afternoon. 560 albums, 186GB, roughly 339.2MB per album. Aside from a few low-priority sounds effects discs (and a copy of U2’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” which got destroyed in the ripping process), here’s my collection up to this point:
This question goes out to all you librarians and taxonomists in my readership.
I have a large music collection, and I make every effort to keep all of my file tags as clean, correct and complete as possible. This allows me to easily search my collection and drill down to the artist, album, and song I demand to hear at that moment. If you’ve ever seen my CD collection, you’re aware of my meticulous arranging and sorting by certain criteria. The same is with my electronic collection. Physically, I prefer to sort by artist, then by album release date. Electronically, I can sort by any taxonomy I so choose. Easy enough.
So, going back to my library research orientation in my first year in college, I learned that books are sorted by subject, then by the author’s name, last name first, and then by book title. If the first word of the title is an article like “a”, “an” or “the”, it is moved to the end of the title after a comma and the book is sorted appropriately. So if I were to search for H.G. Well’s “The Time Machine”, I would search in the fiction section under the author “Wells, H.G.”, then for “Time Machine, The” somewhere after “Ten Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”. This makes sense. If the author was a publishing group or authorship can’t be pinned to one author, then it would be sorted under the group name.
I do the same with my music collection. If the album is published under a band name, then it’s sorted alphabetically under the band name. Aerosmith would be sorted before Aphex Twin. But if the album is published under the artist’s name, then it’s sorted by the artist’s name, last name first. So Fiona Apple would be sorted between Aphex Twin and Apples In Stereo under Apple, Fiona. This makes sense.
When I first built my music collection, back when music software wasn’t so smart, I would manually put articles at the end of the album and song titles because the software could clump all of the “The”s together, etcetera. It’s a pain and a hassle to do it manually, and sometimes the “extra album info” features of the software would break because it didn’t recognize the album title, but I lived with it. Luckily, modern music software has gotten smart about the use of articles in the song and album titles and sorts appropriately in the music browser interface.
But the problem comes with the artist names, which I store in my particular, perfectly reasonable way according to my training and my experience with sorting physical media: last name, then first. However, the software doesn’t know that I’m listening to Fiona Apple; it searches the web for Apple, Fiona and finds no data to show. Just like the old days with the title articles, so it is with artist names.
So what do you guys do about this? Is saving the artist name as “Last, First” still viable, or is it a vestigial relic of an older technology? I like to sort by this method because it makes sense to me; I shudder to think about trying to scroll through a page of Michaels just to get to Michael Hedges. I don’t know, maybe doing the “Last, First” method is as obsolete in the electronic realm as typing double spaces after sentences; a complete necessity on technologies now rendered obsolete. Should I get modern and save artist names in the natural format? Most player software has a search box to allow me to jump straight to my desired songs, but I’d have to change my habits.
What’s your thought?
I suppose the downside to using FLAC as a codec for storing your music is that the file sizes are much, much larger than MP3. Based on my current statistics, each album will average around 340MB on disk, which seems like a lot but it’s not bad considering the Red Book Standard for CDs declares 700MB total capacity per disc.
Here’s a sample comparison between MP3 and FLAC using Rush’s album “Presto”. The MP3s were generated with the LAME encoder at 192Kbit, 44.1KHz, stereo. The FLACs were generated with the FLAC encoder, medium compression setting.
- MP3: 73282 bytes (71.5MB)
- FLAC: 342188 bytes (334.2MB)
- Overall storage growth: 467%
That extra quality comes at a cost. However, with the dropping prices of large hard drives, storage space becomes inconsequential.
The second drawback of using FLACs instead of MP3s is one of hard drive performance. With the smaller MP3 files, the audio player can read in the entire file and cache it in memory instead of hitting the disk constantly for the next data block to decode. FLAC players, unless they’re written to use a larger block of memory to cache the larger file, will have to hit the disk constantly throughout playback. You may run into situations, as I have, where the player will run out of audio data to send to the speakers if you’re doing something that’s creating extra disk activity. Saving files, copying files, anything to do with adding work to the disk may crowd the music player’s file accesses so it has to stand in line to read the data. This can be overcome with faster disks, larger caches, or smarter music players.
All that being said, I’m glad I’m switching to FLAC. I’m actually hearing the music clear as a bell, just as it’s mastered to the actual CD. All the little nuances, the sonic fluttering in the background, and tiny little noises in the studio, it’s all there. And FLAC, since it’s a perfect copy of the CD material, retains the aural phasing and panning between stereo channels, so if the material’s recorded to “come out of the speakers”, then it comes out of the speakers. MP3 processes all this and crunches it down aurally into only the important pieces of the sound and drops the rest.
It’s good to hear my music again.