Friday, December 23, 2005

Reasons for Re-Ripping

This issue is not going to go away until consumers educate themselves on what's involved in the "conversion" of the CD's they own to a file format they can play on their iPods or other MP3 players.

That music kids have downloaded off Napster and Kaaza? Pure crap, audio files of quality so poor you can hardly listen to them on a stereo. Most of the audio on file share networks is rarely ever encoded above 128K kilobits per second (kbps), to keep the files size small and manageable for easy dowloading via P2P networks.

Apple claims their AAC format delivers "superior" quality -- which may or may not be true. Much depends on the bit rate you encode the CD in. In my view Apple's AAC file format simply delivers more efficient file compression (of around 25-30% over MP3) definitely NOT superior audio quality.

The reality is that MP3 is an excellent and OPEN audio file format/standard for encoding music. Period. Apple is pumping the AAC format like there's no tomorrow because this technology has a built in encryption scheme that makes AAC music difficult to freely play on various other digital devices -- this is a trade off Apple had to make to keep the music industry happy while they sell music via the iTunes store.

My unsolicited recommendation for anyone encoding their own CD's for playing on an iPod or any other MP3 player device is:

I strongly suggest going into iTunes preferences and setting your encode rates as:
* MP3 format
* 256K (kbps)
* VBR (variable bit rate)
* Best Quality

This recommendation comes after extensive testing I did with a group of friends in Silicon Valley a few years ago. We each took 2 of our favorite songs, encoded them at various bit rates and then compared notes of the audio quality (on highs, lows, dynamic range, etc.) It was literally impossible for us to distinguish between an actual CD and a high quality MP3 encoded at a bit rate of 256K VBR (varialble bit rate).

With the price of hard drives plummeting it's easy to keep your main iTunes library on a cheap external USB 2.0 or Firewire drive in the event you have hunders or thousands of CD's and the main library doesn't fit on your existing internal hard drive. This strategy is a minimum hassle approach and provides "primo" quality for the music you already own.

Link to Digital Media Thoughts.

Now don't even try and get me started on ripping DVD's to the MPEG4 h.264 video file standard... that's a rant for another day.

and this just in via Dave Winer, a link that points out why it's still a good idea to purchase CD's and encode them yourelf, rather than "purchase?" poor quality, encrypted music off the iTunes store.

UPDATE: Mike Arrington of Crunchnotes chimes in with this sage comment.