To Lose Or Not To Lose? Format Is The Question.

Yesterday I brought down from the loft about 150 CDs, ready to rip for my NAS.

I don’t have the NAS yet, but the first part of it, the 1TB USB 3 backup drive, is arriving soon and I am eager to start filling it with my music. A couple of weeks ago I purchased a Samsung USB CD/DVD drive for this purpose. It works perfectly with my MacBook Air (who is called Becky, because she’s a MacBeck Air, just so you know).

So, the format question: which format should I choose to rip my CDs to?

There are a couple of considerations to be thought about before ripping: the format you want to rip to, and the size of the ripped files. Essentially, this comes down to choosing a lossy format (whereby the resultant file is compressed but some audio data is lost to achieve this) or a lossless format (whereby the resultant file is still compressed a bit, but no audio data is lost). The consideration of format must also take into account the devices on which you want to play the files. For example, it’s no good using the lossless FLAC format if you are playing on Apple devices that don’t support it. Equally, it may not be sensible using a lossless format with its large file sizes if you are wanting to play on a device that only has 8GB of disk space.

As I am creating a NAS and disk space is pretty cheap these days I decided I wanted to rip to a lossless format. Another reason for this is that you can always convert lossless to a lossy format at a later date, but you can’t convert from a lossy format to a lossless. It makes more sense to rip using a lossless codec and if I ever need to put files on a memory-constrained device I can easily convert to a lossy format.

Having chosen a lossless format I needed to decide the specific format I wanted to use. As my main playing devices will be Apple devices and SONOS devices I decided to use the Apple Lossless (ALAC) format. SONOS has a great page that shows which formats are compatible and both the lossless formats of FLAC and ALAC are supported. However, Apple devices don’t natively support FLAC so ALAC seemed to be the best choice for me.

It’s worth noting that, in theory at least, both of these lossless formats are equivalent in terms of the sound quality, i.e. they are lossless, so they are effectively the same as the source material. Using a lossless format also means it is easy to convert to another lossless format in the future if that is required.

The next question to answer was which ripping tool should I use? iTunes was the obvious candidate, but I don’t particularly like iTunes so I searched for something else. The Internet screamed at me that XLD is the best ripper for the Mac, so I downloaded it. It’s ace. It auto-connects to the FreeDB service to get all the CD metadata. It’s simple to specify the directory to rip to and the filenames of the files it produces. Talking of which…

I spent far too long trying to decide how to structure my music files. I asked the Internet, which turned out to be a bad idea as people do it in all sorts of different ways and I got confused. Genre? Artist? Album? Preferred clothing choice of artist? How to structure everything.

Eventually, I settled on the structure I’ve always used: Music Folder -> Artist -> Album -> Album Tracks. To me this is the most logical way. I may regret this in the future, of course, but that’s for then.

Finally, I needed to tell XLD how to structure the filenames. I figured that <Number>-<Track Name>.<suffix> was ideal, e.g. 01-Livin’ On A Prayer.m4a. But, I then decided that having the artist and album name in there too would be useful. It won’t impact on how the tracks are displayed in my SONOS library, for example, but it will make the filenames more descriptive if ever my structure needs to change.

Here’s a recap:

Choose a lossless format as it’s more flexible – I chose Apple Lossless (ALAC)

I use XLD to rip CDs

Think about the file and folder structure you want before you start

Think about how you want the filenames structured before you start

In terms of disk space a ripped CD is using around 375MB+ – this may be too much for portable devices, but remember you can easily convert ALAC/FLAC to a heavily compressed lossy format for this purpose

I’ve got about 150 CDs to sort through and rip. Once that’s done I’ll be copying them over to the backup drive ready for when the remainder of my NAS arrives.

And in about a month or so I should have my music streaming solution working throughout the house.

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