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High Fidelity – 2011 – The Digital Rebellion

 

High Fidelity. 

 

Great Movie.

 
But even more importantly many of us could identify directly with the characters in the movie.
 
I have a friend who is a hybrid between Jack Black's character ("Barry") and John Cusack's ("Rob"). He works in a very well known independent record store and has done for many years; Through my formative years he has shaped my musical tastes in many ways by religiously producing excellent mix tapes which formed the majority of my vehicular audio accompaniments at university….
 
 
 
Happy days…..
 
But Tapes are gone now…..and so is Vinyl……CD's will be next. So I have decided to solve the conundrum faced by Rob and Dick about organising your record collection. Chronological? Alphabetical?
 
Autobiographical?
 
None of the above. CD's are dead, baby – its all about lossless FLACs these days.

 

Formats

So Why Lossless FLACS?  
 
  1. You cant scratch them
  2. They never wear out
  3. They never get dusty
  4. You can TAG them (see below!)
  5. You can embed cover art into them
  6. You can carry them in your pocket on your iphone/ipod/rockbox/zune……blah blah
  7. You can make perfect backup copies of the files to another HD in a matter of seconds
  8. You can STREAM them around your home.
  9. You can turn them into a sacrifical car CD in seconds
  10. They are the same quality as the CD / DVDA they were ripped from!
 
Point 4) also solves Rob and Dicks organisation conundrum. 
 
Tag them well….and you can immediately flip between Chronological or Alphabetical! With a little more work, you can add custom tags to each album to enable Autobiographical sorting! And then flip between them at your own whim.
 
 
DISCLAIMER
You dont have to use FLACs. I detail alternatives here:
 
  • ALAC (Apple Lossless – my particular format of choice becasue its compatible with itunes (FLACs are not – at least on PC anyway)
  • APE (Monkey's Audio)
  • WAVPAck
  • OptimFROG
  • Real Audio Lossless
  • Shorten
  • The True Audio Open source [.tta]
  • WMA Lossless
 
But to be honest – while some of these formats may be techncially better (in a betamax way) the only real choice you face is -> ALAC or FLAC (FLAC is vhs, ALAC is Apple VHS).
 

Lossless

 
Don't be confused by my VHS / Betamax analogy – the Quality is not the issue here. All of these formats are totally Lossless.
 
They do not degrade the audio in any way. You can convert from FLAC, into APE, into ALAC, into OptimFrog a thousand times and the audio which comes out the end is IDENTICAL (assuming the transcode worked properly!). It is Lossless. It is the same quality as the optical media is was ripped from. That includes DVD Audio! Flacs and ALACs support 24bit 96Khz too!!!
 
So why VHS / Betamax?
 
Well, functionality changes between formats, most importantly compatibility changes.
 
FLAC
 
FLAC is the most compatible, at the moment. If you don't use Apple products stick with FLAC. It'll play on almost any device which supports lossless media files. It's open source, and most likely to exist in 15 years time (assuming its UGLY logo doesnt send it the same route as the catchily titled (HD-DVD). It is to Lossless, what VHS was to hometaping. (FLAC file extensions are *.flac). It does need an image overhaul.
 
Apple
 
If you use Itunes, then you're best bet is actually using ALAC. It's also going to exist in 15 years time due to Apple-weight, but it won't play natively on a lot of third party mobile devices. If your mobile devices are Apple ones, this doesnt matter. ALAC is stored in an MPEG 4 container file with an extension of *.m4a, but dont be confused becasue apples lossy format (AAC)is also stored in the same container format (*.m4a). The only wayto be sure is to open the M4a file up in itunes, or VLC media player, or foobar with the ALAC decoder installed and check what format it is. You can also usually tell by the filesize. Lossless files are considerably bigger than Lossy files of the same length.
 
Both formats support tagging and embedded cover art.
 
And thats all you need to know. My instructions below stand for both FLAC and ALAC, all you need to do is ignore the final step if you want to stick with FLACs.
 
 

Anality

 
Yes, you still need to be Anal. You still get the fun of managing your record collection details. But its much quicker, and easier to be anal these days.
 
These are my settings, but I think you'll like them. If you don't know if you like them, go with them, because on the most part, they will work for you.
 
 
 

Software

 
Foobar 2000 : Free software available here.
MP3Tag : Free software available here.
DBPowerAmp: If you want to go ALAC you'll also want DBPowerAmp which is not free – get it here.
 
 
If you get the cheap license, you'll only be able to utilise a single core for ALAC encoding. On A quad core CPU that means you'll be transcoding at 25% of full speed. The 38 dollar license is very very fast and also provides you with commercial quality CD ripping functionality.
 
Apple Skinflint
 
There is a free method of using itunes to encode ALAC from within Foobar for free, but it is much slower than DBPowerAmp's custom ALAC encoder solution – if you are tempted by the cheaper version of DBPoweramp then it might also be worth looking at if you are particularly geeky – but it IS a geeky (and slightly complicated solution). It is also not as fully functional as DBPOweramp (you can't embed folder art in the files, which adds a folder art step after importing to itunes). Not recommended unless you are a tight-fisted ubergeek.
 
QAAC is also available for Foobar for free but I found it to be very, very buggy, and crashes a huge amount, in its current implemenation at time of writing. Not recommended _yet_. You can use it with a single core override hack apparently – this fixes the crashes for most people. Either way for 20-odd british nuggets my time is money. I paid the guys.
 
 

1) Folders

Software: None, use your OS. Clever ones among you can automate this with foobar but I do it manually as I collate and rip so no need.
 
It should be  Artist\Album (YEAR)
 
The foobar script would be:
%album artist%\%Album%[' ('%date%')']\
 
Drop all the FLAC songs for each album into the relevant folder – for example: 
 
D:\Foo Fighters\Nothing Left To Lose (1999)
 
Also drop all your cover art and inlay art in here, and indeed anything else – riplogs, whatever. Just pop it all right in there.
 
____________________________________________________________________________________
If the songs arent in FLAC format, the you will need to setup a convert script:
right click one the files in the Foobar Playlist. Choose Convert > …
Output format should be FLAC > Level 5, bitrate should be set to Auto, and dither to Never.
Destination should be set to source track fodler, skip if file already exists, and convert each track toan individual file.
For the name format use:
[%discnumber%.]%tracknumber%. %title%[' ('%artist%' - '%album%')'][' ('%trackartist%')']
Processing should be set to none and other should be set to none.
*** ONLY CONVERT TO FLAC IF THE SOURCE FILES ARE LOSSLESS ***
___________________________________________________________________________________
 
 
 

2) Tagging.

Software: Foobar 2000
 
Essential Tags:
  • Artist (For compilations I recommend you use "Various" or "OST" for soundtracks)
  • Album
  • Date (Just the YEAR is best!)
  • Track
  • Track No
  • (Track artist should also be used if it is a compilation)
  • Disc no if more than one disc in album
  • Disc Total if more than one disc in album
  • Genre
 
Get them right. They are ESSENTIAL. We will automatically rename the files based on these tags – so they MUST BE CORRECT before the rename!!!!
 
Note on Genre's : There are millions of possibilities, but try and keep them simple, make some rules, give yourself a list of 20 maximum and stick to them. Keep them handy to refer to. You can change them at will at any point in the future.
 

3) Cover art.

 
At the very least create a cover.jpg (or folder.jpg) and put it in album folder. Its up to you, but I recommend it to be 500×500 as it will be inserted directly into every audio file (for itunes!). Just big enough to give enough detail to stand the test of time, but small enough not to bloat. If you don't like that then go for 1000×1000. Anything more is silly, but keep the big originals in the same folder for the future. Add anything else you want to this folder, inlays, traybacks, whatever.
 

4) Renaming the files

Software: Foobar 2000
 
Right click on a file in the playlist, and select File Operations > Rename to> and then …
For operation type select "rename".
 
Then paste the following into your Filename Pattern box :
[%discnumber%.]%tracknumber%. %title%[' ('%artist%' - '%album%')'][' ('%trackartist%')']
This script works with multidisc albums, and compilations as well.
 
Type your custom name in the Preset box (something like "Jon's AutoRename".), and hit Save.
 
You can now add your entire audio library into the playlist in foobar, and autorename all of the files in one hit by selecting them all, right clicking and choosing File Operations > Rename To > Jon's Autorename.
 
 
Now your files will all pop up in the correct order in windows Explorer, and they are all very well named. This can be useful in the future, although with proper tagging the filename is less important. Do it anyway! 
 
* Beware the power of this tool after you have imported files into an audio management application like itunes – if you batch rename everything after importing it – you'll end up with the application unable to find the files! *
 

5) Importing cover images

Software: MP3Tag
 
Assuming you have done step 3 properly this will be a pretty quick process  – only a second or two per song.
 
Run the program, then use it to find your music folder (which should now be full of flac files), Select all of your files, find the quick button (the small square buttons below the file menu) for "Actions (quick)". Click it and choose "Insert cover art".
 
When asked use the filename you have created in each album folder ("cover.jpg" or "folder.jpg"), or a combination of the two for those who are more adventurous.
 
This will take some time but will automatically embed the images into the FLAC files. Itunes will like this, as will most music players.
 
 
SO you now have a perfect FLAC archive. Its tagged, its got embedded covers, its all well named, and its all lossless.
 
You can now choose your playback device solution. If you arent using iTunes, step away from the tools – you're done!
 
Otherwise move on to step 6…..
 
 

6) Transcode the lot to ALAC

Software: DBPoweramp
 
Run DBPowerAmp Batch Converter.
This software will keep tags AND embedded media and is much faster than QAAC or ItunesEncode in foobar. Plus it's much more stable, and can auto-verify your transcodes.
 
Find your audio folder and tick the toplevel directory, and ensure your entire folder is going to be processed.
Hit the convert icon.
 
On the window that pops up select converting To > Apple Lossless.
Tick "After encoding Verify Audio".
Output folder can be "Original Folder".
The smarter ones among you will be able to configure it to move problematic items into an "error" subfolder. I'll leave you to find your way for that bit, its dead easy…. (hint > Add button)
 
Hit Convert.
 
IT will go away and do its thing. This bit takes time. Lots of it – around 30 seconds per song depending on your CPU power.
 
Any errors along the will be logged and highlighted for you at the end.
 
Wait…..
 
No errors? Good. Those M4A files are now your verified master files and you can delete the flacs. search the entire folder for *.flac, and delete them. That's it – done.
 
You can literally just add the folder to itunes now – all covers will be correct and tags correct too. You're away!!!
 
Remember to untick "Let itunes manage my files" otherwise it will undo all of your good filenaming. Alternatively you can leave this ticked and let itunes do it for you – its really your choice.
 
This is a totally reversible process so you can put them back into flacs in the future if you really want.
 

Thats it.  Go listen to your top end audio files.

 
In the next installment I will cover ripping tracks from an audio CD, to 99.9999% accuracy. This is not easy to achieve, but it is worth it.
 
See you next time!