Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
Saturday, August 17, 2002

 

Pure Digital joy



Someone I know well was griping about his mp3 collection and how he wanted to re-encode all his cds from 160kbps mp3 to dolby digital's new ACC format because it sounded so much better. I thought about this for a while. I was going to suggest he try the ogg format, which sounds pretty good to my ears. But then I had multiple revelations.

I've been pretty dissatisfied with mp3s. Even mp3s encoded at a high bitrate tend to sound harsh to my ears. What I did like about them (and the napster revolution) was the convenience of being able to choose a few hours of music that I wanted to hear, by name, with a few mouse strokes, and to then be able to sit back and listen. That's something that radio or the cd by itself doesn't give me. I can also watch the goom tool generating these really trippy visuals in time to the music.

Amazing tools like the collaboratively created freedb cd database make it possible to index your electronic music libraries with album title and song titles. CDs by themselves can't do that, either.

But typical mp3 creation is hell on concept albums like Pink Floyd's - the very point to these albums is the immersive listening experience. Hearing the unnatural gaps a typical mp3 encoding gives between tracks is jarring, to say the least. Also, if you really want to understand what your encoding method does to a well-recorded album, give "Dark Side of the Moon" a shot. You'll go running back to your cds or your cherished vinyl in a hurry.

So, while thinking I would re-encode everything I had again in some better format, I turned around and looked at my CD racks. Not counting the cds that are scratched or missing, I own 180 cds. Or, approximately 90 GB of uncompressed music. If you subtract out the unsalvagable disks, it's probably closer to 100 cds, or 50GB.

80GB hard disks cost less than 90 bucks. It's even getting difficult to find hard disks smaller than that.

A light bulb went off in my head. Bits are bits. There's no need to convert the audio to a lossy format anymore, my personal disk storage is so great that I can just store the whole thing and play from a pristine copy. Despite what various cd player manufacturers say about their technologies, once you've got the bits off of the cd the only audiological problem left is in the final D-A conversion.

I don't think I'll ever buy another stand-alone cd player again.

So I started copying my entire collection today. At 6 minutes a disk it will take 10 hours of my spare time to archive, forever, perfect copies of everything I own and listen to at present. In linux I can copy a concept album with a single command line

cdparanoia 1-

Ahh. "Animals", by Pink Floyd. ELO's "Time". Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska". Some Glenn Gould, Shostokovich, and a Christine Lavin live album... my ears are in ecstacy!

And you know what? Once I'm done with this task, I'm gonna buy replacements for all the disks I've lost or scratched, and archive them, too. And then I'm going to put all the cds with boring covers and lyric sheets in storage. I can't wait to clear out that wall space for something pretty, like my mom's paintings.

Wow, I'm going digital.
 
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David Täht writes about politics, space, copyright, the internet, audio software, operating systems and surfing.


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