Path: Music > Conversion
Converting a collection of a few hundred CDs or, even worse, LPs to MP3 (or WMA or any other compressed format) is a lot of work. That's one reason why doing it as efficiently as possible is not wholly unimportant. Another reason to invest a bit of work and planning beforehand is that, once you've done it and have produced a few thousand MP3 (or WMA) files, the last thing you wan't to see is that you did something wrong — and that you have, one way or another, go through all these files to correct your mistake.
The basic process looks like this:
- Read the tracks from the CD and store them as WAV files (“rip the CD”)
- Convert the WAV files to MP3/WMA (“encode”)
- Download and fill in the tag information
- Check that the MP3/WMA files are fine
- Optimise the MP3/WMA files (for perfectionists)
- Listen to the music (that's the easy bit)
Most of this work is done by different software packages, which means that, depending on what application you actually use, the different stages are not always as clear-cut as in the above list.
Anyway, what are the really important points when you convert from CD to MP3/WMA? What should you do or don't do?
- The first issue is the compressed format you will use. There may special cases (eg people who have to support a specific player) but in general this question boils down to one of two main formats: either MP3 or WMA. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, the gory details can be found on a separate page, while the executive summary is here: MP3 is the lingua franca of compressed music, a format every audio player under the sun understands (even the players from Sony and Apple, two notorious oddballs, and also DVD players or car stereos). MP3 is never wrong. WMA, as a Microsoft format, is supported by fewer players (you guessed it: neither Apple nor Sony support WMA, though that may change in the future). On the other hand WMA produces slightly smaller files than MP3, for a given level of sound quality. So people who want the maximum of tracks on their 1/2/4 GB flash players might want to go WMA. People with a large hard disk player (20 GB or more) should probably choose MP3.
- However, even if you have committed yourself to one format, there is software (even freeware) available to convert MP3 to WMA or vice versa. Nowadays these applications not only transcode the audio information, they also copy most tag information. (“tags” are small bits of information tagged (hence the name) to an MP3/WMA file, such as the title of the track, the name of the artist, album etc.).
- The second main issue is the way in which you store the compressed files (let's say MP3) on your hard disk. This is a difficult area with many options and possibilities. I can certainly give you a few hard-won tips and hints, but it really pays to think about and implement a simple, clear and above all consistent structure for this.
- The third point is the tagging of the MP3/WMA files. As already explained, tags contain further information about the current song.They are not essential for listening to the actual music but it's nice to see on the player's display what is currently playing or perhaps when the album was recorded etc. There is also the small matter of being able to navigate the music collection on the player to locate a specific artist or album: this is normally only possible if the MP3/WMA files have correct tag information. As this tagging business is also not as simple as it could be more about that is found on yet another page.
- Last but not least there's the question how to do the actual conversion. Nowadays most players come with usable software which does everything: ripping the CD, encoding the audio stream into MP3 or WMA, downloading the tag information. This is probably the easiest and simplest route for most users. The main advantage here is that all these things happens more or less automatically and without too much user intervention. Quick and easy… well, more or less. The only remaining difficulties concern variable versus constant bitrates and what bitrate to choose in the first place. Alas, this question is a highly subjective matter.
- The obvious disadvantage of using such a package is that the whole process, being simplified and streamlined, doesn't allow for full control of the encoding, tagging and so on and often won't give optimum results. To achieve these, it is necessary to use a bunch of separate applications: one to do the ripping, another for the encoding etc. This is slightly more work to set up, but it gives the user complete control at every stage of the process. Unfortuantely, that's not something for inexperienced users. A concise description of the process (as well as the software) I use myself will give you an idea what to expect and whether this route is at all feasible.
- One other thing that has nothing directly to do with MP3 is the dreaded question of backing up your stuff. Once you have done a few hundreds albums, you'll start to appreciate the enormous amount of work you've put into this. Backing up your precious MP3 files is the only way to make sure that, if your main hard disk ever fails, you still have your stuff safe. I do two things: I burn my whole collection every few months onto a batch of DVDs (these are dirt-cheap here in the UK) and I copy all the files onto an external USB harddrive as soon as I have ripped them. This drive has 80 gigabytes… that should be enough for quite a few more albums. (There is also a copy of the DVDs in a safe place, but I am admittedly paranoid when it comes to backups.)
- Any questions left? If so, don't hesitate to send me an email. You could also visit the contact page and send a request from there.
$updated from: Conversion.htxt Sat 18 Jan 2014 13:14:24 thomasl (By Thomas Lauer)$