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Audio Ripping

 

I really like music. That might seem like a bit of a strange thing to say; after all, who doesn't? But I like it so much, the way a great song can make me feel, that I sometimes want to shout it from the roof tops. And I seem to have pretty good ears-in a technical sense at least, if not tasteful-so I find it all the sweeter when a wonderful song has been recorded well. I hesitate to brand myself an audiophile, since these days the term seems to indicate having a belief in pseudoscience and a massive disposable income. But there's no denying that I love music, and one way I express that love is by striving to reproduce it well. I'm especially fond of improvements to my listening process that come at little or no cost, since at any given time I have little or no money. A perfect example would be the process of ripping and storing music on a computer as changes here can cost nothing.

In light of that, what I'm about to say might come as a bit of a shock. I store all my music as Mp3s. No, I haven't suffered a head injury lately. I have considered the case for them, looked at alternatives, and tested them to the point where I'm satisfied that they are well suited to the task. And if you'll indulge me, I'm happy to tell you why.

Some background for those of you who aren't sure why what I'm saying is controversial; just as JPEG is a lossy image compressor, Mp3 is a lossy audio compressor. That means it selectively throws away tiny pieces of a song that aren't likely to be noticed in order to make the song take up less room. It shrinks a 600 meg CD to well under 100 megs, making it far easier to store and send across the internet. This was especially important when the format was gaining popularity during the turn of the century as the result of the advent of Napster and the like. And it's still important in 2013 if you want to hold a large amount of music on your phone or similar. Despite the convenience, Mp3 is often seen as a terrible audio format that ruins music, which should never be used by anyone if they value their audio collection. Go to any audiophile forum, you'll find tons of ranting about it. All that noise seems to have done little to reduce its popularity, but people often point to this fact as further proof that the general public is a bunch of mouth breathing idiots.

But, while I have of course heard a shocking number of bad Mp3s in my time, once I set out to learn more about the process of making them it became clear to me that the format is capable of much better audio quality than it's given credit for. Setting up the encoder correctly to produce good quality Mp3s can be a daunting task if you don't know a bit about how it works. And it's an ever improving format, still under active development to this day. So I strongly suspect that most of the bad Mp3s floating around on the net were the product of old software, badly configured by the author or the user.

For that reason I've decided to document my work flow for ripping CDs and some of the logic behind it. I hope to save people from having to spend the many hours testing and researching that I went through to get to this point. And, if I'm very lucky, save the world from having to listen to quite so many bad Mp3s. At the end I talk about the tests I performed which lead me to accept Mp3 as a viable format.

Onward!

1. Inspecting CDs

2. Mp3 compression

3. Listening tests

 

Last updated September 30th 2013

Let's kick the beat!