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Digital audio formats / iTunes help (pleeze)


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#1 of 7 Jon_Are

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Posted May 27 2010 - 08:39 AM

I think I know the answer, but I'm going to ask anyway.

I have around 6000 digital songs, probably >80% that were copied from CDs I own (the others, mostly iTunes downloads). Previously, I used digital music only on my iPod, almost exclusively when working out. Therefore, I didn't much care for the quality of the files (and used whatever the default settings are).

So, today I bought myself a nice Kenwood receiver for my vehicle, along with a speaker upgrade. I tried the radio, sounded good. Tried a CD, sounded awesome. Then, I hooked up the iPod; I guess you can tell, I was disappointed in the sound.

I've only tried a couple of songs, but I suspect all the ones I grabbed from a CD will be similarly sub-par in audio quality.

On to my question. Short of re-ripping the hundreds of CDs at a higher bit rate, is there anything I can do to the music in my library to improve the sound quality?

If I do re-rip, what are my specific options? Is there much difference in, say, the highest quality and the second-highest?

Hard drive and iPod disc space are not a problem.

Thanks

ETA: I just checked my music files. Here is what is shown on a typical song:

Kind: MPEG audio file
Format: MPEG-2, Layer 3
Size: 1.8 MB
BIt Rate: 64 kbps
Sample Rate: 22.050 kHz



#2 of 7 Thomas Newton

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Posted May 27 2010 - 10:55 AM




Originally Posted by Jon_Are 
I've only tried a couple of songs, but I suspect all the ones I grabbed from a CD will be similarly sub-par in audio quality.

ETA: I just checked my music files. Here is what is shown on a typical song:

Kind: MPEG audio file
Format: MPEG-2, Layer 3
Size: 1.8 MB
BIt Rate: 64 kbps
Sample Rate: 22.050 kHz


There's your problem.  I'd consider a bit rate of 64 Kbps barely fit to encode spoken word recordings whose quality I didn't care about.  It's way too low for music.


If you encode at a bit rate of 192 Kbps or 256 Kbps, you should notice a huge difference.  (You might want to raise that sample rate to 44.010 KHz, too, if iTunes does not do that when you select a higher bit rate.)


Other ways to incrementally increase the quality:


1. Encode from CD to AAC (instead of CD to MP3).  (Before doing this, make sure that all of the devices on which you might play the files understand AAC.  It's a standard, but might not be quite as widely implemented as MP3.)


2. Find one of the third-party MP3 encoders that is supposed to be better than the one included in iTunes.  Prepare the MP3s from the CDs using it.  Then import those MP3s into iTunes for download to the iPod.


I don't think you really need to pursue either of these -- once you get MP3 bitrates up to the 192 Kbps to 256 Kbps range, just about all MP3 encoders can do a decent job.



#3 of 7 Jon_Are

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Posted May 27 2010 - 11:43 AM

Thanks, Thomas. I've since learned how incredibly inadequate 64k is.


I've got lots of reloading to do.



#4 of 7 Scott Merryfield

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Posted May 27 2010 - 01:22 PM

If you want to maintain the best audio quality, you could encode in a lossless format, such as FLAC, instead of the lossy MP3 or AAC.  This will require more storage space, though.


Personally, since I still use digital music just for portable players, a well-encoded lossy MP3 works for me. I would suggest using a decent ripper and encoder. I use Exact Audio Copy (EAC) for ripping, and a LAME for encoding into MP3 (I use 224K VBR, which I cannot distinguish from the original source material). At higher bitrates, I do not think AAC offers any audio quality advantage over MP3, either, and MP3 is a more universally supported format.


THe EAC / LAME combination is a single step process, as the LAME encoder plugs into EAC, which will call the encoder automatically.  All that is left as a separate step is to import the MP3 files into iTunes (or whatever music library software you prefer).


EAC also supports other encoding formats, such as lossless FLAC. And the best part is -- it's free!



#5 of 7 Will_B

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Posted May 28 2010 - 05:00 PM

You say hard drive space is not a problem, and, you use iTunes.


I therefore recommend -- strongly -- that you set iTunes to rip as Apple Lossless, and start ripping your CDs now.


It took me about 3 months of several discs each night to re-rip about 3,000 CDs. If I'd started with Apple Lossless from the beginning, I'd have been better off.


I went from 128 kbps AAC three years ago, to 160kbps AAC, to 256kbps AAC, to 320kbps AAC -- which I thought would be all I've ever need -- to, finally, Apple Lossless. Each step was motivated by noticing sonic deficiencies in certain kinds of music (I got into Electronica, and most of my music has female voices which seems to be difficult for mp3 and AAC to handle correctly). My philosophy also changed from ripping only my favorite CDs, to ripping every CD in my entire collection including ones I only listen to once in a great while.


I believe that within a couple years, lossy formats such as mp3 and AAC will be dead. Someone else mentioned FLAC, but since you use iTunes, use Apple Lossless -- besides being compatble with iTunes, it has the advantage of tags (song info, cover art, etc) that FLAC lacks. They're both lossless, so you'll never have to go back to your CDs again, even if something better comes out.


By the way, my 3,000 albums took about 705GB -- not bad. I use a 2TB drive, and a 2TB backup drive. For the love of all that is holy, be sure to backup to a second drive. You don't want to spend 3 months doing it all over again if your first drive fails!!!


And btw, if your computer is a laptop, don't use the built-in CD drive. It won't make it...probably. Get an external. I got a LITEON external CD/DVD burner. It was much faster and it won't overheat or anything bad.


"Scientists are saying the future is going to be far more futuristic than they originally predicted." -Krysta Now

#6 of 7 Scott Merryfield

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Posted May 28 2010 - 11:42 PM



Originally Posted by Will_B 


By the way, my 3,000 albums took about 705GB -- not bad. I use a 2TB drive, and a 2TB backup drive. For the love of all that is holy, be sure to backup to a second drive. You don't want to spend 3 months doing it all over again if your first drive fails!!!


Excellent point regarding backups, Will.  I store my iTunes library on my PC's internal system drive (currently 1TB), and backup the files to an external drive. I do not want to re-rip and encode my entire library again. Mine is much smaller than yours (around 500 CDs) and took quite an effort to encode, so I cannot imagine how long it took you to rip and tag your 3,000 CD collection multiple times.


The other advantage to using external drives is when you upgrade your PC. I just did this a week ago, and it is much simpler to move the music collection (along with all my other data) to a new PC this way.



#7 of 7 Marko Berg

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Posted May 29 2010 - 08:20 AM

There are excellent suggestions here and I don't really have much to add except to say that Jon you may want to look into NAS (Network Attached Storage) drives to minimize, or even eliminate, the hassle of keeping backups. My collection of 20,000+ songs in mp3 format are stored on a 500GB drive in a NAS enclosure, with a second 500GB drive for backup, using a RAID configuration that automatically maintains an identical backup of the first drive. If a hard drive fails, it's as simple as taking the hard drive out of the enclosure and replacing it with a new one.


The small investment is certainly a worthy alternative to re-ripping more than 900 CDs and, as others have pointed out, you can easily switch your computer for a new one without having to worry about maintaining access to your music collection. Also, a separate NAS drive has other benefits: It allows for easy simultaneous access to your music collection from several computers or other devices. I can access my music collection from the main desktop computer I normally use, as well as wirelessly using a laptop, or via my DLNA-enabled Blu-Ray player or TV set. In addition, I can download or stream songs from the NAS drive at work or anywhere else via the Internet without having to leave any of the home computers on. NAS drives do not require much power vs. a desktop computer and I don't worry about my electric bill even though the device is powered on 24/7/365.






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