A couple of weeks ago, in Mass Music Migration, I wrote about the practicalities of moving my thousand-or-so CDs online. I’m well along on the job now; this is an update.
Data Storage ·
Last time I described my dual 1TB disks, “set up” as I said last time, “in
mirrored RAID which I take to mean that I need never worry about backup.”
Ouch, did the commenters ever fry my sorry ass. They pointed out that I am
totally vulnerable to a house-fire or to a software bug that corrupts
both disks at once, or to me boneheadedly doing the equivalent of
rm -r ~/Music.
Oddly, only the last of those worries me much. If there’s a housefire, re-ripping is the least of my problems; and if I only access the data with iTunes, the chances of software blowing my data away seem pretty small.
On the other hand, the commenters did raise one good issue; as a side-effect of ripping all this music, I’m putting a whole lot of work into cleaning up the metadata, and I’d really regret losing that. So now I’m thinking more about backup strategies. I’ll report back when I’ve figured out what to do.
Ripping and Organizing · Yeah, it’s time-consuming, but I find I can straightforwardly do other work while ripping; I only need to spend like ten or fifteen minutes each hour cleaning up metadata and swapping disks.
I’d like to preserve, in iTunes, the arrangement I had in my big CD shelf, with everything being ordered alphabetically by “surname of artist I mostly associate this with”. This means that all three versions of Bach’s Musical Offering should appear under “B”. I’m having to wrestle pretty intensely with iTunes to get it to work the way I’d like, but I’m mostly winning; you have to get the “Sort Artist” and “Sort Album Artist” fields right.
The metadata is a problem though; for most pop music it’s pretty simple, with the Artist and Album Artist and Composer being about the same. But for classical music it hurts. I started at the beginning of the alphabet and got to J.S. Bach pretty quickly; I have more of his music than any other two or three artists put together, and it was a real grind getting it to sort and display sanely.
Anyhow, I’m only three disks away from being done with the letter “B”. Since, along with Bach, it has Patricia Barber, Beethoven, the Beatles, and Brahms, that’s probably a sixth or more of the collection.
Controlling · As I said, I’m having some heartburn with iTunes. What I’d like is to have an alphabetical display where I could jump to the letter, and then see the top-level artists under that. First “B”, then Bach, Baez, Baker, Barber, and the albums under each of those. In fact, you can almost always get what you want with a little bit of intelligent typing into iTunes’ search window, but I’d still like a better virtual CD rack. There is hope; but first let’s talk about remotes.
I hear the iTunes remote app for the iPhone or iPod Touch is pretty good. But I don’t have either of those. I do have an Android G1, and Jeffrey Sharkey has created a lovely Android iTunes Remote app.
Its display is closer to the virtual CD rack than anything I can get out of iTunes. What’s really interesting though is that the program is open-source (GPL3) and Jeffrey has also reverse-engineered the protocol you need to talk to iTunes.
So if I’m unsatisfied with the control options, I should just shut up and create what I need.
Playback · I spent a few enjoyable hours surfing around researching outboard-DAC options, and ended up buying a Benchmark Media DAC1 USB.
It was a lot cheaper than the really high-end options, and the golden ears out there like the way it sounds, plus it has a bunch of nifty/useful features:
It’s small; fits neatly into the space beside my big screen in the living-room computer cabinet.
The USB lets you run your digital signal in at 24 bits and 96K/channel. Which is overkill for CD audio, but higher-resolution music is starting to come onto the market, for example from Linn Records, and I’d like to leave that door open.
The box comes with a couple of headphone ports and a volume knob with an apparently very high-quality potentiometer behind it, that you can set to control either the main analog out or the headphones or both or neither. I’ve got it set up to work with the headphones for private listening or gaming use, and I use the nice Linn pre-amp for volume-controlling the big system. So I leave the iTunes and Mac volume controls cranked to the max at all time.
How It Sounds · The Mac’s line-out sounded kind of dingy compared to my elderly Linn CD player; it wasn’t subtle. I haven’t done any serious extended listening with the new setup, and I can’t say that it sounds better than the CD player, but it’s certainly no worse; obviously better than the computer’s line-out.
Other Changes · I decided to retire my Magnum Dynalab FM tuner. All I ever listened to was CBC Radio 2; that music is all available now online. While the audio quality from their MP3s is probably not going to be as high as a live-to-air FM broadcast, frankly I didn’t listen to hardly any of those, and as MP3s go, theirs seem good.
So with that and the CD player gone, the nice oak audio table is going to be looking fairly sparse.