I have had a digital music collection for probably about 10 years now. When I started digitizing music, I used the tools that were available at the time, and I made the choice to convert most of my CDs and albums to low bitrate WMA files. I chose low bitrate (about 96kbps) because, at the time, file sizes were a concern, and my music collection was a staggering 10GB (large back then). I chose WMA because, having been a Microsoft employee, I wanted to keep with my company’s file format.
Lately, however, as I’ve gone through my collection, I realized that I made a bunch of decisions that annoyed me. Some were simple: my naming standards, for instance. But mainly, I wanted to re-digitize my collection with modern tools and use high variable-bitrate MP3 files instead (which are far more portable, for instance, to my iPhone).
For ripping CDs, I of course use Exact Audio Copy, available from http://www.exactaudiocopy.de/. It really is an amazing tool that makes getting tracks off of CDs simple. It speaks FREEDB so even with my more obscure singles, I’ve never had to enter any track information myself.
For mastering the files (including trimming, amplifying, and fading), I use Audacity. Get it at http://audacity.sourceforge.net/. Formerly, I used Cooledit 2000 (which I purchased, many years ago), but Cooledit is showing its age: for one, it fails to write out the TLEN field for MP3s, resulting in problems determining track length. Microsoft even has a support topic on this subject for the people who’ve noticed this: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/306507. Cooledit was purchased by Adobe, who’ve updated it to a more modern tool, but why buy the replacement when Audacity is great, and free?
Both Audacity and EAC support FLAC files, which is perfect: they’re smaller than WAV but lossless, so typically I go CD –> EAC –> FLAC –> Audacity –> MP3. WAVs would work instead of FLAC, but they don’t support metadata tags, so I lose all the information that EAC downloaded from FREEDB for me. Of course I could save to MP3 straight from EAC, but that means if I make any edits (which I often do, to amplify quiet tracks or trim silence off the end of tracks, or fade live tracks in and out), then I’m double-saving in a lossy format, which compounds the lossy-ness.
Another benefit of re-digitizing my collection is that I’m able now to go back and re-consider which tracks I really want off any given CD. For some, I’m finding that there were tracks I inexplicably didn’t rip the first time that I now love. In other cases, I know to skip certain tracks that I had previously digitized but no longer listen to anymore. The real upside is that I’m listening to more of my collection now (instead of focusing on the few favorite tracks in my collection), and it’s fun to hear some of the older albums in their entirety.
Overall, my collection has grown: a given file that was 2MB as a 96kbps WMA is now about 4.2 as a 160kbps VBR MP3. For devices where storage is an issue (like my 8GB Zune), the Zune software has a great option to save down-converted/smaller files to the device (say, anything over 192kbps gets converted to 192kbps on the Zune). For devices where it’s not a problem (like my iPhone, or my 30GB Zune), I keep the original files. It’s all working out very nicely.
Right now, for reference, my music collection consists of 1723 MP3s (taking up 14.5GB) and 4683 WMAs (taking up 19GB). Given that I’ve been at this for a few months now, I guess it may take about another year for me to finish the job!
As a side note, I’ve discovered that as part of this effort I like having quality album art associated with my music. WMP, Zune, and iTunes all do an ok job with cover art for the mainstream albums, but many of the singles I own have no digital album art available, so I’ve used my scanner to add them. Here are a few of the random covers I’ve scanned in so far: