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brocomm
2006-02-24, 08:49
Hi. I'm a beginner with all this stuff, but I'm also a classical music lover with lots of classical CDs. So, about 2 weeks ago, after reading all the reviews, I purchased the Squeezebox 3 and fell in love right away. I immediately started ripping many of the (mostly classical) CDs that have been sitting on my shelf all these years.

My issue is that I'm a Mac owner, using iTunes, and when I first starting ripping CDs a year or so ago, I only knew about MP3. At that time then, I set the iTunes importing preference to the MP3 encoder, at the highest quality (160 kbps). So, 2 weeks ago, when I went on my Squeezebox-driven ripping rampage, I didn't change that preference.

Yesterday, I read in "The Beginners Guide to Classical" in the Slim Devices Wiki Community that it's essential for classical music lovers to play music "gapless" and thus use a lossless format. The Guide goes on to specifically say that MP3 is lossy and thus NOT good and that I should use FLAC.

So, here are my questions: (1) Given that Macs do not support FLAC (I think), what should I use?; (2) Should I take this advice in the first place? That is, should I re-rip all of the CDs (about 150 of them) that I've already ripped as MP3? and (3) If not, should I rip all future classical CDs in the lossless format that you recommend in #1?

I hope this all makes sense and thanks so much for your input!

danco
2006-02-24, 09:08
If you think that your MP3s are satisfactory, there'sno ned to rip them again. It's up to you.

I would use FLAC for future rips, though. Then you can decide if the quality is sufficiently better to make it worth reripping your old CDs.

xACT will produce FLAC format. I've not actually used it on CDs, but I believe it works. It seems fine on conversion of already existing aiff files into FLAC, which is all I've used it for.

aubuti
2006-02-24, 09:17
It depends on how much time you have to re-rip, and how much the gaps and music degradation of MP3 bother you. Listen to a few of your MP3s and see if they sound okay to you. If they do, then don't re-rip just because the wiki says you should. But I suspect that your ears will agree with the wiki.

FLAC is supported on the Mac. The flac package is multi-platform, and if you go to http://flac.sourceforge.net/download.html you'll see options for Mac. I don't use a Mac (yet!), so others will have to help you with the particulars. Once the flac files are on your Mac (assuming that's where you're running slimserver), the Squeezebox doesn't care where they're coming from -- it's just a data stream.

Apple lossless is another lossless format that the Squeezebox supports and (obviously) has support on Macs. For anything that you plan to keep for a long time, I'd always recommend open-source (e.g., flac) over proprietary (e.g., Apple lossless), but some others would disagree.

My recommendation would be for your option #2: re-rip everything to FLAC. After getting my Squeezebox last month I was pleasantly surprised how quickly I was able to rip my CD collection. I would just grab ~10 CDs from the shelf, put them next to the computer, and stop by the computer to shuffle them in and out as I did other things around the house. When those 10 were done, put them back, grab 10 more, and repeat.

Note also that if you have an iPod or other portable player, it's easy to make MP3s from FLAC files, which is useful when you want smaller files and the listening equipment & environment isn't so great anyways.

Good luck, and enjoy your new SB!

brocomm
2006-02-24, 09:30
Thanks for both your replies.

Aubuti -- a few follow-up questions for you:

(1) do you know if the FLAC options on the link you provided work in conjuntion with iTunes? I'd love to stick with iTunes if possible;

(2) Should I be concerned with the amount of space that 350 CDs ripped to FLAC will occupy on my iMac?, and

(3) I agree that the actual ripping time isn't all that huge, it's the fixing of the tags that's been driving me nuts, especially with the classical CDs; any suggestions on what to do to fix poorly iTunes-tagged CDs?

Thanks again. Your response was great!

ceejay
2006-02-24, 10:41
1 - iTunes won't play FLACs. Probably never will, either. If you want Lossless and iTunes, you'd have to use Apple lossless. You could of course rip to two formats in parallel -quite a few people do (I keep three!), its not a huge penalty over just lossless.

2 - FLAC, or any lossless commpressed, should be around 50% of the size of an uncompressed album. Say around 350MB each. But 300GB discs aren't expensive now.

3 - tagging classical is a whole subject in itself! There's a page in the wiki, and dozens of threads here in the forum. One thing that is, I think, universally agreed - tagging classical music is a big pain. I reckon to spend about 10 minutes of my own, real hands-on, time per classical CD. As opposed to about 10 seconds per pop/rock CD !

HTH

Ceejay

aubuti
2006-02-24, 10:43
Thanks for both your replies.

Aubuti -- a few follow-up questions for you:

(1) do you know if the FLAC options on the link you provided work in conjuntion with iTunes? I'd love to stick with iTunes if possible;
As I said, I don't know my way around the Mac options very well. To encode to FLAC, you need to feed the flac program the data on your CDs. In Windows I use EAC to create a clean WAV file, which is lossless and uncompressed. That gets fed to flac, which makes a lossless compressed version of the file. It might sound complicated, but it's not that hard to automate it, so that the only user intervention is to change the CDs and occasionally edit erroneous tags (EAC gets tagging information from freedb.org).

I suppose you could use iTunes to create WAV files from your CDs (under Edit / Preferences / Advanced / Importing / Import Using: on the Windows version of iTunes), and then send the WAV files to MacFlac. But that seems like a long way around to me.

I would leave iTunes out of the equation for ripping to FLAC. A Mac user can probably come up with a more elegant solution, but you might want to try either of the programs mentioned on the SB help pages, xAct (http://www.versiontracker.com) or MAX (http://sbooth.org/Max/). Or if you have a Windows emulator on your Mac, you could run EAC + flac in that.



(2) Should I be concerned with the amount of space that 350 CDs ripped to FLAC will occupy on my iMac?, and
You don't say how big the hard drive is ;) Any lossless files are inevitably big. Expect a CD compressed to flac to average 250-300MB. That means your 350 CDs will take up about 100GB in flac. Disks are cheap these days, and will be even cheaper next week. You might want to consider getting an external USB or Firewire drive, or a network drive (NAS) to hold your music library.



(3) I agree that the actual ripping time isn't all that huge, it's the fixing of the tags that's been driving me nuts, especially with the classical CDs; any suggestions on what to do to fix poorly iTunes-tagged CDs?

Yes, tagging is where the real labor comes in, and from my experience, even when you think it's done, you still find errors. The bad news is that I don't know any way to preserve the tags that are in your MP3 files for the conversion to flac. The consolation is that they're poorly tagged to begin with. Look for a ripping/compression solution that links to a music database like freedb.org. They're not perfect, but they're good. And you can fix problems later on if need be.

Finally, before you start your tagging efforts, I suggest you read posts here and elsewhere (maybe on http://www.hydrogenaudio.org) about tagging classical music. The standard pop music tagging scheme (artist, album, track, etc.) is not particularly well suited to classical music (composer, conductor, orchestra, movement, etc.). There are some good -- and probably some not so good -- suggestions out there for reconciling them. I know my classical tags are a mess, but they still sound great on the SB......

brocomm
2006-02-24, 11:13
Ceejay --

Thanks for your reply. It was your comments on the "Beginner's Guide to Classical" (which I loved!) that caused me to ask these questions. Of course, I have a few follow-ups, if you don't mind:

(1) Is Apple Lossless as good as FLAC in your mind, given that I want the iTunes integration?

(2) How do I rip two formats in parallel and what's the advantage?

(3) When you say 300GB discs aren't expensive, are you referring to external disk drives? Remember, I'm a real computer novice.

Thanks so much!!

mikerob
2006-02-24, 13:58
There are some applications for ripping and tagging Flac on the Mac .

Max (http://sbooth.org/Max/) can rip CDs to Flac. Max is fairly new and probably slightly immature but the developer seems responsive to requests.

However the biggest issue with Flac on the Mac is that I haven't found a decent application for tagging and managing files. Media Rage from www.chaoticsoftware.com supports Flac but I really don't like it as it is a bit of a dogs dinner of various tools.

As you have probably discovered, tags downloaded from the internet are consistently inconsistent and if you don't have a decent application to tidy these up, it makes ripping even more of a tiresome task than it is already.

Personally, I've ripped my CDs to Apple Lossless as I haven't come across any Mac applications for Flac that come close to the functionality and ease of use of iTunes.

I believe that it is possible to rip gapless tracks in Apple Lossless. I don't have any classical music in my collection so I haven't tried it myself but before ripping the CD, you select the CD tracks then select Advanced, Join CD tracks from the iTunes menu.

Personally, I'd recommend using iTunes ripping to Apple Lossless. As you are a beginner, I believe that iTunes is much easier to use than any Mac applications for Flac.

If someone comes out with an excellent Mac application for Flac, then you can always convert the Apple Lossless files to Flac without any loss of quality (Max can do this now).

I'd recommend ripping a few CDs using iTunes to verify that gapless works ok, then try the same with Max and Media Rage to see what way you prefer.

ceejay
2006-02-24, 15:37
(1) Is Apple Lossless as good as FLAC in your mind, given that I want the iTunes integration?

Should sound identical, both being lossless. The only difference in the slim world is that FLAC is encoded within the SB, whereas AAC (lossy or lossless) has to be done in the server. This means (1) a bit more load on the server and (2) you can't ffwd or rewind within a track on the SB. If neither of these is a big deal to you, then Apple Lossless could be a better bet given your attachment to iTunes. If they are a big deal, then you might need to rethink the iTunes thing...



(2) How do I rip two formats in parallel and what's the advantage?


Well, probably no good reason to have two lossless formats. I was thinking more of having lossless (for playing on the SBs) and lossy (for downloading to your iPod, if you have one). I use EAC with a supporting program called MAREO to do multiple conversions at once.



(3) When you say 300GB discs aren't expensive, are you referring to external disk drives? Remember, I'm a real computer novice.


Well, either external or internal (if your computer has room for another drive). What does a 300GB disc cost where you are? $150?

HTH - And enjoy the music!

Ceejay

MartinP
2006-02-25, 07:40
There's no need to combine tracks in order to get gapless playback using ALAC (Apple lossless) encoding. Just tell Slimserver to convert the ALAC files to FLAC format as it streams them to the Squeezebox. Playback will be without gaps.

Martin

brocomm
2006-02-25, 08:30
MartinP - thanks for the input. I was confused myself because I'm familiar with how to join tracks thru iTunes, and was hoping that wasn't the solution to gaplass since it removes the ability to skip from track to track (does telling Slimserver to convert the ALAC (Apple Lossless) files to FLAC fix that, too?).

2 more questions (for MartinP or anyone) from this novice:

(1) How do I implement what you advise? (i.e., tell Slimserver to convert the ALAC files to FLAC as it streams them to the Squeezebox?) If you can, can you give specific instructions?, and

(2) The one thing preventing me from going Apple Lossless is the inability to rewind and fast-forward on Squeezebox. Does the ALAC-FLAC conversion address that, too?

Thanks!!

MartinP
2006-02-26, 20:55
I don't have my server running right now, but as I recall you go to Server Settings and then File Types, where you should find a long list of check boxes. You can stream ALAC as AIFF (if you have the bandwidth) or as FLAC and get gapless playback either way. But I believe if Slimserver converts the ALAC to MP3 you'll hear gaps, though I haven't tried this myself. So I think all you'll have to do is uncheck the ALAC to MP3 box, and let Slimserver figure out the rest.

It's true that you won't be able to fast forward or rewind within a track.

axiomatic
2006-02-27, 00:31
Long time Mac user, have only used a Squeezebox about a week. Just started using Max a couple of days ago to rip my CDs and encode them as FLAC and MP3.

I'd definitely recommend downloading it and giving it a try. Very easy to use; lots of control over parameters; cdparanoia support.

One difference from iTunes is that Max uses the FreeDB database, as opposed to GraceNote/CDDB. My impression is that the more classical you have, the more gaps you'll find in the database, but it has produced good results for nearly every jazz or pop disc I've thrown at it. And unless I'm missing something, tagging options in Max are minimal: Title/Artist/Year/Genre--that's it. Composer? Conductor? No dice. But have a look. I've tried all sorts of encoders over the years, and I like this one a lot.

slimdemage
2006-03-02, 09:56
For the ultimate combination of near-lossless and small file size I would suggest taking a look at the VBR MP3 file format, encoding with LAME 3.90.3 or higher. I am certain this can be done on a Mac. The amazing quality and reasonable file sizes will amaze you. Audiophiles consider this format "indistinguishable" from the original CD.

ceejay
2006-03-02, 10:49
Audiophiles consider this format "indistinguishable" from the original CD.

Lucky you didn't post this on the "Audiophiles" forum, you might get some debate on that! :)

Ceejay