Rich Warren: Digital storage of CD contest poses a puzzler

Rich Warren: Digital storage of CD contest poses a puzzler

Large collections of an old technology known as the compact disc encumber us like the chains on Marley's ghost. Many of us want the flexibility of hearing our music anytime, anyplace without the space and handling required by physical discs. We also may prefer the full fidelity offered by CD. Of course, you could buy your collection anew by downloading from iTunes or competing Internet music sources, but that would be expensive.

As long as you retain the music from your CDs for personal use, how you store that music remains your business. Making an "archival backup" does not violate copyright law. With this in mind, here's a thoughtful question from a reader: "I recently copied my music collection of about 200 CDs in Windows Media Player. I now regret my choice as it does not appear I will be able to transfer the collection to my computer at home.

"For convenience, I did the copying at my office, since other than loading albums in the disk drive and perhaps assigning a genre; the process ran in the background. I have ripped all my albums without compression, and the result was .wav files. For all I know, there is a much better format.

"At any rate, this collection does me no good at work, and I see no good way to get my collection home other than physically transporting my office computer. I am looking for a music management program that is at least somewhat portable. Even if I did not want this collection at home, I certainly expect to move it to a new computer when it is time to replace my current one.

"What options are you aware of, particularly that will not be obsolete in five to 10 years, or at least will have an exportable database? Media Player seems to work well enough, and I like the way it is organized. However, I would prefer to be able to assign more than one genre to an album, for obvious reasons. For instance, I am currently listening to an album titled 'Celtic Lullaby,' which could be considered folk and children's music. Christmas music also presents this problem."

This might be the most difficult reader question received to date, because it contains so many facets. Unknown to casual music listeners, CDs contain more data than the audio you hear.

There's plenty of information hidden on the CD called "metadata," which may or may not be part of the database desired by the reader. If the performer, engineer or record label encoded it, the metadata provides considerable information about what's on the disc. Most CD ripping software fails to extract the metadata.

Scores of CD ripping programs exist and many ways to store the ripped music as well as different data formats. Microsoft's .WAV format probably is the closest to a standard. It encodes audio with minimal changes to the data, meaning there's no degradation of fidelity, such as occurs with compression formats such as MP3, AAC and others.

Storing audio as .WAV files with the accompanying metadata offers the best long-term format, assuming cost and space for stacking computer hard drives is no object. Storing sound using MP3, or the like, reduces file size by at least 80 percent, but makes future file manipulation difficult and causes some loss of fidelity.

Hazarding a guess, most of you use iTunes to manage your music collection, but I've never found this a satisfactory solution. In the spirit of "crowd sourcing," I ask you to contact me at my email address below with software suggestions for our reader for ripping his CDs to his computer, transferring it between computers and managing his music collection.

Also, if you have suggestions about how our reader could transfer his audio files with the additional data stored by Windows Media Player from one PC to another (short of transplanting or cloning the entire hard drive), please let me know.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at hifiguy@mchsi.com.

Topics (2):Music, Technology

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