Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My path to PC audio playback

Around 2001, I started thinking about putting our music collection on a computer hard drive and using PC software to browse our collection and play music. I had to wait until hard drives got large enough and cheap enough. Finally, in fall of 2005, I felt that my plans were feasible.

I had worked for 20 years writing computer software (including audio and video device drivers) so I had a good understanding of the underlying technologies. I didn't know enough about the choices available for soundcards, DACs and software.

I started by researching tools: software for ripping CDs, tagging the resulting music files and playing those music files. I had a good idea about what I wanted to do and how the software needed to work. At that time, about 60% of our CD collection was classical music and another 15% was broadway musicals and showtunes albums. Being able to browse by Composer as well as as Performer was essential. Having a separate tag for a Work Name was also essential. Finding the tools that fit my needs wasn't easy but I felt it was necessary. I didn't want to accept a clumsy dis-functional solution because a software developer had not thought about my needs.

Once I had some alternatives in mind for each kind of tool, I experimented with a subset of our CD collection. That subset varied from 30 to 100 Cds.

I tried very hard to find a way to use iTunes but found it wanting. I rejected lots of other music player programs as being inadequate for classical music. Then I found J. River Media Center. (MC) It had the features I needed to rip, tag, organize, browse and play classical music.

I chose the lossless Flac format so that my music files had the same audio data as our CDs.

I started ripping my CD collection about 3 years ago. Ripping nearly 2000 CDs was a long, grinding task. I worked on it for about four months. I knew why the effort was worthwhile to me so I persevered. I continue to find small erors and inconsistencies in the tags but there have been no significant problems. Keeping up with our hundreds of CD purchases since then has been a very manageable task.

After our CD collection was in transferred to a library of music files, I selected a subset of those files, made MP3 copies and copied them to an iPod. It is a permanent collection of the music we like best. We use that iPod to make music available in our cars.

Having our music collection in a well organized PC based library has been a success. It is easier to select and play music now, so we listen to more music. The MC database remembers what we own so we frequently discover music we had forgotten. We can listen in our home office, in our library (room) and in our living room and dining room. I conceived this project and I feel a sense of accomplishment now that it is implemented.

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