Tuesday, October 12, 2010

FLAC Project Finish

FLAC Progress
In a previous post, The Year of the FLAC, we kicked off our home audio CD digitization project. We finished the project on October 1st. First we’ll present some of the parameters of the project, followed by some tactical suggestions if you are considering such a project, and finally some thoughts on the project in general.

Project Parameters

- Number of CDs ripped: 2228. Each CD was read (physically put into a computer disk drive) at least once or more in the case of problem CDs. The 2228 albums were for 1247 artists. The FLACs are stored in the typical folder hierarchy of artists\album.

- Bad CDs: 6 CDs had some bad tracks and 3 CDs were not FLAC’able at all.
- Software: We used dBpoweramp to rip CDs and encode into FLAC.

- OS: Windows 7 on a desktop computer that had two DVD drives which could be operated simultaneously. When using both drives it seemed best to stagger the use of the drives by letting one drive rip while getting the metadata and preparing for the rip on the other drive.

- Size: 643 GB for all the resulting FLAC files (includes imagery which is minor). We calculate roughly a 33% reduction in disk space used compared to the normal audio format (uncompressed PCM raw).

An example of creating a simple PowerShell script for checking for empty music folders after ripping is shown here.

Tactical Suggestions If You Are Thinking About Approaching a Similar Project

- You need a good system of organization when processing this many CDs (or anything for that matter). We used different locations and bins to indicate CDs waiting to be processed and CDs finished. Sticky notes were used freely to leave notes on different CDs because in our effort there were two of us working at any given time.

- You might need to clean a CD in order to get it to read properly. If one drive doesn’t work, try another. We had a couple of cases in which one drive was able to read a CD that another couldn't.

- While Dbpoweramp is pretty good at supplying metadata (it draws from several metadata sources), you should still verify it.

- Spot check rips after completing. There are a couple of cases when a custom post-project PowerShell script that we ran found problems with some tracks. In a nutshell any FLAC file that is less than 500kb is considered suspect as potentially incomplete and we did find some CDs where we thought the CD ripped fine, but didn’t. These infrequent problems are accounted for in the Bad CDs number above.

- If you care about the quality of artwork, the metadata that comes through when using Dbpoweramp may disappoint you, but you can substitute your own. The maximum image size pixel size accepted seems to be about 500 x 500 so anything bigger is scaled to that.

Thoughts on Digitizing a Moderate-Sized Home CD Collection

There is a lot of music we purchased that probably wasn't worth the effort to rip. We will probably never listen to that music and it's perhaps not worth even cluttering, both space-wise and information-wise, our home system. We estimate that about 10-20% of the final music count (2,228) CDs is what we care about. Now with services where you can listen to almost anything you want on demand, we will not being buying CDs in the same way. Yes, we will purchase some, just not as many as we have in the past.

The medium is (part of) the message. A format that you experience music in is important to your connection to it. Part of the angst in the project was letting go of CDs and embracing digital collections like auto-generated playlists (Pandora), music on-demand services (Rhapsody), etc. The Sonos system makes this easy. We get locked into media choices and it becomes hard to change the longer you wait. It seemed inevitable that we took this step. We went through similar pain with a cassette conversion project.

For this project we opened boxes of CDs dated April 2005, when they got packed for our remodel. Wow, not opening a box in 5 years must mean we don’t need or a least we don’t use what’s inside, right? I think the music in those boxes has a greater chance of being used now that it is digitized and easily accessible via Sonos.

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