This is a report from the tail-end of the process of bringing our thousand-or-so CDs online; previous instalments have included Mass Music Migration and More Music Migration.

Size and Scale · Here’s what iTunes says; the songs are all in Apple Lossless encoding:

10823 songs, 946 albums, 31.5 days, 230.21 GB.

The search performance is pretty well instant, but when I actually click on “Play the Album”, I sometimes get many seconds of the beachball while it gets ready to go. It’s hard to get upset, because that’s still way quicker than pulling a physical CD out of the rack and firing up the old player.

iTunes’ fit-&-finish could be a whole lot better; little things, but irritating. Here’s an example: When you want to change what what you’re searching for, it seems to take one click to give the search window focus, so to select its whole contents to start typing over it requires a total of four clicks. There are more and I could list them, but it’d sound petty because they’re all low-level irritants.

By and large, it mostly Just Works.

Playing Music · With our collection, just putting it on shuffle-all is not an option. There is just no mood which in which it’s appropriate to sequence Bill Evans and Jack White and Ute Lemper and Gustav Mahler and PJ Harvey. Not gonna happen.

So first of all, I gleefully did a “select all” and blanked out the filthy misleading “Genre” column. Now I’ve started using the “Grouping” column as a “tags” field, putting in comma-separated lists of terms such as “choral” and “electric guitar” and “baroque”. Then I make “smart playlists” based on the groupings, and so far that works just fine.

And if you want to hear anything in particular, iTunes’ search function is just the ticket. My only serious regret that I still can’t convince it to show me an alphabetical-by-artist virtual CD rack organized the way I’d like.

Sound · I’m happy with the sound of the Benchmark Media DAC. The music takes a noticeably darker shade than via the Linn it replaced. Think about this logically: The Linn could either have been a little heavy on the highs, or light on the bass; the Benchmark could be a little light on the highs or heavy on the bass; or (most likely) some combination. Fortunately, should I want to find out, we have the technology. But I may not do the measurement, because I really very much like the music’s new chocolate flavor.

Artwork · Initially I relied on iTunes to find the artwork for the disks as I scanned them, but that’s a bad idea, because often it just gives up, and gets the wrong artwork for lots of others. So what I did, when I got each stack of disks out to scan, was spend a few minutes with Google Images tracking down their artwork; then you can just drag the picture from Safari onto iTunes’ album-metadata screen.

That got me partway there, but I have a lot of obscure decade-or-more-old disks that I bought in flea markets in Darmstadt or Sydney or wherever, and while the Gracenote database apparently knows the tracks on everything ever recorded, the art just isn’t out there. So I ended up manually scanning a hundred or more CD inserts. I developed a super-clever workflow so that I could do all the jewel-case wrangling while the scanner was scanning. Pity I’ll never use it again.

Backup · Once I had all the music scanned, I picked up a 500G USB disk made by, uh, someone or other, and moved all the music over. This led to a couple of pleasant surprises.

I had carefully followed Apple’s instructions and stored the actual tunes on my mirrored-1TB disks. So I was worried that I was going to have to back up both that and the metadata from ~/Music. Not so; if you follow the instructions for connecting iTunes to someone else’s library, it seems that all the metadata is right there with the music itself; ~/Music/iTunes seems only an index, which it’s happy to rebuild.

So I took the outboard disk over to my office (off-site backup, y’know) and plugged it into the USB hub, and told my laptop to import-but-not-copy, and now I have 10823 songs, 946 albums, etc. , right there in my office too. Given the low and falling price of outboard storage these days, the mind reels at what a bad person could do to what’s left of the music industry’s business model. I’m imagining a table in a public flea-market covered with USB sticks, $50 for 50 hours of music.

New Music · Now that I’m all set up, want some new tunes. Except for I flatly refuse to buy anything which has suffered abuse via lossy compression. I checked out HDtracks, but they only sell to US credit cards. I’m sure there are alternatives but I haven’t really gone looking yet.

I went over to Linn Records and bought the high-rez Mackerras Mozart symphonies — that’s some of my favorite music — but so far, I can’t get the 24/96 FLAC converter to actually produce anything that iTunes will play. The open-source software that’s supposed to do this seems very crashy.

The Leftovers · We still have the rack full of CDs wasting space in the living room. I don’t think it’s worth the effort to pull them out of their jewel cases, so I guess I’ll just pack those into cardboard boxes and toss ’em into storage. I do, however, want to pull out the booklets and keep them around, so I can find out who played bass on track seven or sung the role of the Russian Count in Act Two. I’m not sure yet what the best way is to store a thousand or so CD inserts so they’re still useful.

Android · I went and got an 8G MicroSD card for my G1 Android phone, and have got it loaded up with a huge amount of music, using doubleTwist, from “DVD” Jon Lech Johansen and friends. That program does one thing very well; break music out of the Apple’s iTunes jail into an open format so my phone can play it.

The conversion is kind of slow, but it has a queue that seems to work properly, so you can keep dragging music out of your library and dropping them onto the phone; then go away for a couple of hours and eventually it’ll work its way through.

Unfortunately, Double Twist, as of mid-2009, doesn’t do much else very well. It doesn’t let you select stuff from your iTunes library by artist or album very efficiently, and non-ASCII characters get mangled along the way, and it doesn’t send along album art. I’m still grateful to have it and I’m hoping it’ll live up to its potential.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Zach (Jun 12 2009, at 23:02)

You don't actually need to use 4 clicks to clear the itunes search box. One click on the X that appears as soon as you search for something both clears and focuses.

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From: Dave Pawson (Jun 12 2009, at 23:06)

". I’m not sure yet what the best way is to store a thousand or so CD inserts so they’re still useful. "

More effort, but how about scan and OCR them, then you have a searchable set of info?

HTH

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From: Tkil (Jun 12 2009, at 23:26)

Regarding storing the inserts: maybe one of those old binders designed for just the naked CD + insert (no jewel case)? With just the inserts, you should be able to store 1000 in very few binders (think 8 per page, so only 125 pages or so).

I need to get going on my own ripping; I've only completed box 4 (out of 19). Whee.

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From: Alex Fiennes (Jun 13 2009, at 02:57)

I've undergone a similar process only running under linux using slim server feeding a squeezebox driving a musical fidelity xdac-24. very happy with the result, and I particularly like the ability to open up the collection to the outside world for when I'm not at home (and have it automatically transcode the flacs into whichver bit rate of mp3 you choose to account for the network connection between the player and the data).

However, what I really wanted to say is that you should take a look at musicip (http://musicip.com). It provides playlists based around doing audio analysis of the audio data within the songs rather than tagging, and it has completely changed the way that I interact with my music collection in a very positive manner. A quick glance at their web site shows an itunes logo but I have no idea how closely it integrates...

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From: Masklinn (Jun 13 2009, at 02:57)

> That program does one thing very well; break music out of the Apple’s iTunes jail into an open format so my phone can play it.

FWIW there's not really any iPhone jail. There's the iTunes library file (~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music Library.xml) which is the officially sanctioned route for third-party interfacing with iTunes (it's written right in the knowledge base), and then there's the actual file format which is usually fairly easy to convert since you get all the sound APIs you need from Apple to get the decoded "raw" sound data allowing you to re-encode it to whatever pleases you. At least on OSX.

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From: Adrian Ross (Jun 13 2009, at 05:21)

"I’m happy with the sound of the Benchmark Media DAC."

I finally got mine a couple of weeks ago and it really does blow me away. Are you using a preamp with yours? It was when I bypassed mine and went DAC-to-power amp that the Benchmark really hit me.

"With our collection, just putting it on shuffle-all is not an option. There is just no mood which in which it’s appropriate to sequence Bill Evans and Jack White and Ute Lemper and Gustav Mahler and PJ Harvey."

Right-click on a track -> Start Genius? I've found it does a reasonable job of retaining the mood, as long as you start with something it recognises of course.

"I can’t get the 24/96 FLAC converter to actually produce anything that iTunes will play"

Sorry if this is obvious, but have you tried flac -d *.flac?

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From: David Magda (Jun 13 2009, at 06:05)

If you want to download music in high quality formats, Magnatune offers WAV and FLAC downloads (in addition to other formats and CDs):

http://www.magnatune.com/

I'm pretty sure they sell to Canadians. iTunes should handle WAV, but you'll need to get a plug-in for FLAC (or transcode to Apple Lossless).

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From: Joerg (Jun 13 2009, at 10:01)

If you like classical music, Deutsche Grammophon has a download music shop and offers some of its tracks in a lossless encoding (FLAC). http://www.deutschegrammophon.com/

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From: Aurélien Pelletier (Jun 13 2009, at 12:59)

>I’m imagining a table in a public flea-market covered with USB sticks, $50 for 50 hours of music.

I've seen see, it was 3 years ago in Thailande:

http://blog.toutantic.net/index.php?post/2006/08/29/353-vue-en-thailande

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From: Jamie MacIsaac (Jun 15 2009, at 04:30)

Hi,

I've just used Fluke - "a small Mac OS X utility that lets you listen to your FLAC files right within iTunes without needing to convert anything (http://blowintopieces.com/fluke/)" to import some 24/96 flac files into iTunes. It's easy to use and open source.

Cheers,

jmi

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From: Isaac Grant (Jun 15 2009, at 06:07)

I find both Max (http://sbooth.org/Max/) and XLD (http://tmkk.hp.infoseek.co.jp/xld/index_e.html) can transcode those higher quality flac files to apple lossless that iTunes doesn't choke on. Max doesn't like the occasional file, but XLD has never choked on anything for me.

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