I recently decided that going forward I will have two sets of digital music files: One set for listening on my portable music players, and one for listening on my networked home stereo. Oh, and of course I’m going to hang on to my CD collection, too.
Some people might argue that having three sets of audio files (plus backups of the ripped files) is overkill. They would probably be correct, but I don’t care. You see, hard-drive storage space is cheap, and I have some perfectly geek-worthy reasons for expanding my audio collection. The number one reason: Because I can.
My Music, Twice
My logic is simple. When you’re on the move, lower-bit-rate audio is just fine. If I’m at the gym, pulling weeds in the yard, or riding the train, my music need not be pristine (though I won’t settle for poor-quality sound, either). However, when I sit down in front of my home stereo to listen to music streamed through my network-connected Squeezebox, from Slim Devices, I intend to really listen. And it had better sound good.
That’s why I’ve never been a big spender at Apple iTunes or any other online à la carte music store. It forces you to accept its digital rights management (DRM) scheme, and you have to settle for its low bit rates. Yes, Apple’s 128-kilobits-per-second AAC files sound better than MP3s at the same bit rate, but they’re still not true CD quality.
Don’t get me wrong, I love online music. I’m a big fan of the Rhapsody music service, which lets me pay $10 a month to try out all the new music I want (it even works with my Squeezebox). But when it comes time to buy music, I still purchase CDs. They give me the luxury of being able to choose the quality of my rips, typically there’s no DRM, and CDs act as the ultimate real-world backup file.
The music I plan to set aside for my portable players (currently a first-generation 4GB iPod Nano and a 5.5-generation 80GB iPod) consists of my current 33GB collection of 5260 audio tracks. About 99.5 percent of these files are MP3 files that I’ve ripped at 192 kbps from my CD collection. The rest are a smattering of impulse iTunes purchases and Audible.com audio books.
My second collection of tunes will eventually include most–but not all–of the same songs from my first collection. Instead of upping the MP3 bit rate, however, I’m going to rip them using FLAC, the Free Lossless Audio Codec.