One Stop Ripping All Your FLAC Audio Needs

Thought I’d throw out a quick post while I was doing some searching for “best practices” in FLAC image extraction of audio CD’s for backup purposes.   Basically follow this guy’s instructions:

http://hiphopiscoolagain.com/jiggafellz-step-by-step-guide-to-secure-cd-ripping-with-exact-audio-copy/

In EAC you’ll click the “Actions > Extract Image + Cue Sheet > Compressed” function using your basic FLAC settings.  Also be sure to enable Accurate Rip and do the automatic detection on all the drive settings.  Save a .log file.  There should be three files upon final output: the FLAC image, the CUE sheet, and the .LOG.  That’s it.  Simple is as simple does.  If you feel like embedding the CUE sheet in the FLAC you can use Foobar2000 to do such, know however that it’s non-standard as far as burning back out.  Apparently it’s always handy to have a separate CUE sheet.  Good to know.

UPDATE: So, two things I realized.  One: XLD (X Lossless Decoder) for OS X does pretty much the same thing as EAC.  However, if you’re still hell bent on using EAC and XP (couldn’t get EAC to go under Darwine) it’s important to know that it won’t easily embed cuesheets (.cue sheets) automatically as XLD does.  Embedded cuesheets do make life a little easier as your playback software can look at either the .cue or the .flac file and see all the tracks from the single disc rip.

To embed a .cue using Foobar2000 right click on the .flac image file select “Utils > Edit cuesheet” a window will pop up, check “Embed cuesheet” and then “Load .cue file” from your extraction directory, click “OK” to save.  Bingo bango.  XLD can do this automatically.  I really cannot say which is better per data integrity, YMMV.  Obviously if you’re running Windows EAC is a “reference” standard.

Album art is another grey area as either the %Album Name%.jpg or simply “cover.jpg” can be used inside the album folder.  Also, what about album dates?  Certainly, we can agree that the album’s original release date is the important date here in metadata, and per genre conventions I tend to trust MusicBrainz.  For a good read I really liked Daniel Stout’s article about simplifying down to 25 main “top level” genres and tagging comments/notes metadata with sub-genres.  The moral here is you should read up as much as you can.  Either EAC or XLD will do fine with rips to backup your audio CDs.  Cover art and sub-genre notes I’m going to have to keep exploring.

Exact Audio Copy

Exact Audio Copy

Darwine you are a fine Wine.

For whatever reason I’d never played around with application compatibility layer software like Wine under OS X. Parallels and VMware are quite overkill for most people’s purposes.  Usually the user may need to run one application in the guest OS and setting up an entire VM and giving 10GB or whatever over to that system, not to mention memory resources, is overkill.  Certainly for developers being able to load/change machine states with VMs and sandbox their development, it makes sense, but for most end-users it’s crazy.

I haven’t checked all the applications I’d like to use, the ones I found myself booting to XP the most were A/V stuff like Foobar2000, MediaMonkey, EAC, etc.  But the good news is that under Leopard Darwine v1.21.1 runs Foobar2000 just fine, a fine Wine if you will (hah).  So that’s exciting.  Codeweavers sells something similar called CrossOver but Darwine is free and I figured since I already had X11 installed it was worth a shot.  Pretty cool stuff.

Darwine

Darwine

Firefly Transcodes FLAC > .WAV for iTunes & Airtunes

So I bit the bullet and ordered a couple of Airport Express base stations so that I can finally listen to music over both ethernet and 802.11n.  A small miracle, the old Dell P3 is able to transcode the FLAC on a USB hard disk drive attached to the Time Capsule (a Samba share via Bonjour in Windows XP mind you) and serve it via Firefly to the iTunes (as uncompressed .WAV with track info) on our Mac laptops.  So now, when I get the Airport Express base stations it should be a matter of selecting both “kitchen” and “living room” in the Airtunes settings and bingo bango, I’m done. Music everywhere.  If I’m ever flush I could use an iPod touch or iPhone to remote control via the mobile interface, however, I’m holding out until they offer 802.11n 5 GHz as a feature.  I don’t understand how Apple could push so hard for 802.11n and then not have it on the products that are supposed to integrate into the “home media system”.  So I think this is it.  It’s the end of the odyssey.  If Z’s in the kitchen with her laptop she can select music from the MP3 library via her iTunes, or if I want to listen to FLAC I select the Firefly Share.  Simple as that, really.

Multiple iTunes libraries under one roof

I’m not sure why I hadn’t found this program before but it’s listed on Apple’s site as a legitimate plugin for iTunes, it’s called “MultiTunes 1.3” it is only OS X 10.3+ compatible.  It exploits the “feature” of iTunes which requires you to choose your library on startup (in OS X hold down “option” in Windows hold down “shift”) MultiTunes allows you to switch libraries from within iTunes on the fly without having to restart the application.

Why would you want to do this?  Well I had another post a while ago about lossless audio and I’m still on the warpath to a better mousetrap.  On the drive up to Vermont in the Mazda 3 (which had an 1/8″ stereo auxiliary input jack we plugged our 2GB Nano into) I realized that iTunes and AAC/Apple Lossless .m4a files are all I want.  LAME encoded .MP3s albeit highly cross compatible, simply didn’t sound as good as the iTunes AAC encoder even at 320kbps.  And I understand we were in an economy car, with an economy car stereo, with a cheap 1/8″ mini cable, but with headphones the difference was clear too, the AAC stuff sounded better.  Shocker, maybe the hardware MP3 decoding on the iPod isn’t optimized.

So Apple has tweaked iPods and we have to live with it.  I just want to give the iPod and iTunes what it wants (AAC and Apple Lossless files.) Thankfully FLAC to Apple Lossless conversion is pretty straightforward using SBooth MAX or X-LD.  The only hiccup with having multiple libraries as I understand it is that the ratings and play-count numbers don’t cross over to the lossy library, obviously.  I’m not too worried about this.  This is it, I tell myself.  This is all there is.

[Edit: It seems MultiTunes 1.3 is shareware and isn’t really easier than simply holding down the key combination I’ve outlined when starting iTunes, so there.  Oh well, it was a good thought.]

You undoubtedly care nothing about Lossless Audio Servers

I’ve spent more time these past 6-8 months developing a functional web server/daemon/player for playing back lossless audio than I care to admit.  If I were smarter I’d simply use iTunes like the other 5 billion people on the planet with iPods and call it day, except that the audio collection has spiraled out of control and just about everything with Apple and iTunes is proprietary.  The idea started with putting Zoe’s old Dell Inspiron 4000 laptop in the closet (with a screaming Pentium III 900 MHz processor) and I figured “hey that’s more than enough power to act as an audio server/player, right?”  Well, yes and no.

Part I: ripping the collection, which format?  Again, if I had taken the easy road (iTunes) Apple recently added the Apple Lossless Format to the lineup for M4A files.  It’s very similar to FLAC which stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec.  So why use something free and open source?  Well when I’ve ripped 200 CD’s I don’t want to find out that Apple updated QuickTime to some incompatible version or even more likely is that I’ll need to convert my Apple Lossless files to another format, which as it turns out is not so easy (see proprietary).  So to cover my bases I’ve been ripping CD’s to FLAC with Cue Sheets and 320 kbit/s MP3 using the LAME encoder.  My preference is for the awesome Exact Audio Copy (precise German ripping) and have been playing around with MAREO to do multiple command line outputs.

Part II: how slow is that 900MHz Pentium III?  Well, mostly it’s a RAM issue (currently 128MB) running Windows XP.  The cost to upgrade the RAM to 512MB would be nearly $100 for an 8 year old laptop (it’s in the late Winter of its life).  So then what?  Run XP slowly.  What audio player if not iTunes? (because iTunes is a resource hog).  Well originally everyone loved Foobar2000 and it’s mostly free/open and sounded good until version 9.5.3 crapped out and stopped playing FLAC files with embedded cuesheets.  Media Monkey (based on Winamp) is my new sweetheart.  Reasonable overhead, works with ASIO and Kernel Streaming Output plug-ins, similar layout to iTunes and is way better at batch organization and embedding album cover images.

Many will ask why I didn’t simply use SlimServer and buy a Slim Devices Squeezebox 3?  Well, I tried SlimServer and it brought the system to a crawl (likely 512MB is needed).  Also, I have an old Edirol UA-5 (by Roland) external USB-DAC which doesn’t function as a stand alone DAC and the SqueezeBox 3 requires one for optimal sound reproduction.

 Part III: Remote control via the iPhone, BlackBerry & Web Browser.  Right now there are a few simple web servers for Winamp that create a text file for play list control and creates a basic HTML interface for BlackBerry http control.  Signal from Alloy Software, supposedly is the best interface right now for iPhones and iPod Touch remote control.  In theory the ~$200  iPod Touch is the ultimate media center remote.  It’s 802.11g enabled and with Signal the native iPod music interface on the Touch becomes the remote (on a PC it can control iTunes, Winamp, or Windows Media Center).  Slick.  Worst case you turn on your other computer and run VNC or browse using a non-mobile browser.  I expect with the upcoming iPhone 3G 2.0 (and Touch) release Apple has a few tricks up its sleeves similar to the AJAX and Google Code Telekinesis remote control of OS X.  The safebets for a Winamp server are is the low overhead old version of WWWinamp Server (my favorite so far) and the new version currently being developed by Eric Nusbaum requires Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 to run (.NET was something of a pain).

Part IV: No end in sight? I think once all the CDs are ripped and all the MP3s are sorted and presuming the Dell Inspiron doesn’t die on us anytime soon, I’ll be satisfied.  The system sounds good for what it is, thrown together somewhat piecemeal.  The amp is a 1979 Denon PMA-850 and I’m sending the USB-DAC direct bypassing the preamp stage.  The speakers are crazy old Bose 301 Series II of Z’s dad.  It somehow works.  How much of a difference is there between FLAC and 320 kbit/s MP3s?  A little bit.  A tad richer, a bit more textured, bass and highs seem to have “more” umpf and depth.  This really isn’t the system to do a comparison on.  The air conditioners in our courtyard are loud, it’s like 95 degrees out and we have three box window fans.  It’s loud, so you see how it goes.  God bless you if you read all this

FLAC LogoMedia Monkey Media PlayerEdirol UA-5 USB Audio InterfaceDell Inspiron 4000 LaptopLAME MP3 encoderASIO Official Logo