Personal

The Great Music Ripping Project

I finally ripped all of my CDs into my computer. And now I’m saying goodbye to them.

My Paul McCartney CDs stacked up while I ripped them

I used to listen to my CDs a lot, almost entirely in my car. But in 2013 I bought a used car with a broken in-dash CD player. That wouldn’t do, so I bought and installed a fancy new head unit. It had a USB port on it to connect to a music player. I sucked a bunch of music into my iPhone to try that out — and it was so great that I stuck with it. I’ve hardly used my CDs since.

I was content to keep my CDs, as they’re the original source for my music. But Margaret and I don’t have enough room for all of our stuff since we married and combined two households. It was easy enough to keep just one of our two toasters, but most of the rest has been more challenging to deal with. My CDs are one of those things. I have hundreds of them and they take up a lot of space. (Far less space than the hundreds of vinyl records I owned until I let those go in my mid 30s! I loved my records, but they were always in the way.)

I briefly considered signing up for Spotify and getting my music that way from now on. But I still like the idea of possessing the music I listen to. And what if an artist I like doesn’t release their music on Spotify? Also, I don’t want one more monthly fee.

I’d ripped a healthy portion of my CDs in the past, but not all of them. I’d ripped them at 128kbps, which is adequate for the speakers in my car and for my earpods. But if files on my computer were going to be my new original source, I wanted higher quality rips. I considered using a lossless format, but yikes the disk space that would take, even using a compressed lossless format like FLAC. I decided to rip my CDs as 320kbps MP3s, which is a good compromise between quality and disk space.

I worked on this project little by little at first. During the project my computer started showing signs of its very old age. I bought it new in 2011, with a Core i5 processor, 12 GB of RAM, and a 500 GB hard drive — a well-specified machine for its time. The hard drive failed in 2017, so I replaced it with a 1 TB hard drive. (I have good backups, so it was only a minor disruption.) But in the last year not only was some of the other hardware starting to act flaky, I assume due to old age, but also the latest versions of Photoshop wouldn’t run on the machine as it wasn’t powerful enough. I was stuck with a version from early 2020.

I bought a new computer. It’s a tiny thing, an Intel NUC, 4.5 inches square and 1.5 inches high. Instead of having a minitower under my desk limiting my legroom, this little guy sits on top of my desk out of the way. It has the latest Core i5 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and a 1 TB solid state drive. It’s a great little machine. I hope it’s as long-lived as the one it replaced. As you can see, it’s too small to have an onboard optical drive. But the USB DVD recorder I bought was inexpensive and works fine. Because of my good backups, I was able to install my apps and transfer my files in just a few hours. Photoshop, by the way, is lightning fast on this new machine!

During this time I was offered a great new job, so I gave notice where I was working. I wasn’t very busy during my last days there, so I used some of that time to finish ripping my CDs.

Then it was time to bring all of this music into iTunes, so I could bring it into my iPhone. Holy frijoles what a pain that turned out to be.

I decided to start from scratch, which meant blowing away my existing iTunes library. That’s simple enough: in your Music folder, open the iTunes folder and delete “iTunes Library.itl” and “iTunes Music Library.xml”. Then open the iTunes Music folder and delete everything inside except any files you’re using as ringtones. (Note that this destroys your playlists, too. I was okay with recreating mine from scratch; I had only a few and they weren’t complicated.) Then in iTunes you open the File menu, choose Add Folder to Library, and choose your Music folder. iTunes then brings in all of the music.

Trouble was, iTunes split many of my albums into two or more albums. Turns out iTunes uses MP3 metadata to decide which songs belong to which albums. If on an album the artist is “John Doe” on some tracks but “John Doe and His Band” on the rest, and there’s no value in the Album Artist metadata field, iTunes thinks that these are two albums. Also, some albums’ metadata was simply wrong, like one album where three songs were given the wrong names. This can all be fixed, but it requires tedious editing of the metadata in iTunes. I spent hours fixing it.

Moreover, iTunes couldn’t find cover art for more than half of my albums. Lacking cover art doesn’t affect iTunes’ ability to play the music, but dang it, I like having the cover art! So I copied cover art from Amazon and added it to iTunes one by one.

Also, a handful of albums had duplicated tracks. I had forgotten I owned the CDs and at some point bought the music again through iTunes. Despite blowing away my iTunes library and (I thought) deleting all the files, iTunes was finding those files somewhere. I gave up on trying to find them on my hard drive and just deleted the duplicates from my iTunes library.

Finally I recreated my playlists. I spent as much time getting things right in iTunes as I did ripping the CDs in the first place!

But the job is now done. All of my music is synced to my iPhone.

I’m going to keep 20 or so CDs, all special editions, imports, and rarities. My older son wants the rest. If he has the space to store them, he can have them!

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40 thoughts on “The Great Music Ripping Project

  1. OMG…the CD ripping…been there done that. I always was fixated with lossless FLACs until I did some extensive listening and could not really discern a difference. Maybe I ears got older anyway :-)

    I absolutely hated sorting and managing my music files, especially because I listen to regular albums, film scores, classical which all get garbled together with artists and album names…a nightmare. Then how do I access and sync those files from my NAS server, to my notebook, to my speakers, to my phone and how do I make this usable for my not really tech savvy wife? There are solutions if you put in time to manage everything but at some point I thought….my time is more valuable than tinkering around with files and streaming and servers and syncs so I signed up to Spotify.

    A year later I gave away or sold my CDs. I can listen to music with every device, I have a small chromecast audio plugged optically into my active speakers, my wife can even use this setup….I should have done this way earlier.

    • I could easily have gone down the FLAC rabbit hole. But the reality is, none of my playback gear is so good that I could ever tell the difference between a FLAC and a 320-bit MP3.

      My tastes are eclectic, too. I find playlists help manage that.

  2. I went through a similar process probably a decade ago, only with far fewer CDs. The problem is that they are all on an aging desktop and synced to an ipod that I lost a few years ago.

    For more recent mobile listening I subscribed to Spotify for a time and more lately have found plenty of my old albums on YouTube for free. So it has been ages since I touched the stuff on the computer. But there’s a new laptop in a box that I’m trying to find time to set up so I will get to deal with it somehow.

  3. Wow you’re dedicated Jim! I gave up on iTunes years ago. When I first had it on my Mac Book Pro in 2008 it was very simple and a joy to use. Like most Apple stuff. It just got increasingly complicated and bloated and some of the issues you mentioned drove me crazy so I gave it up maybe 5 years back.

    I tried Google Play Music for a while and uploaded previous mp3s I had (from CDs and bought directly) and liked its simplicity and directness.

    Then I tried Spotify and haven’t really looked back. What you pay I think is decent value for the convenience, range of music, and the way it helps you discover new music. My daughter (12) got her first phone last year and she’s uses Spotify increasingly so the Duo plan works great for us.

    I should add I did rip all my CDs as you did (I had about 500 albums) around 2011 when I moved in with my now wife. I somehow lost most of the files, partly via iTunes kind of burying them and fracturing them (the splitting of albums if certain tracks had a guest vocalist etc, like you mentioned). Plus my old iPod classic failing, which had most of the music on too.

    I still have plenty of music as MP3s bit never use them now. I should probably just delete it all.

    In a way it was really refreshing to start from scratch with Spotify and rediscover music I knew and loved from years before plus find new stuff that’s related or similar.

    • I’m not a big iTunes fan, but I have an iPhone and so iTunes is the way I must go. I used Windows Media Player to rip the CDs and have everything in a Music folder, organized by artist and then by album. Then I imported all of that into iTunes. So my original files are exactly where I put them, iTunes’ shenanigans notwithstanding.

      I used to pay for Spotify but gave it up because it’s useless when there’s low or no signal. I just like having possession of my music files so I can listen anywhere I want. Given the rate at which I buy music, it’s less expensive annually for me to just buy what I want rather than to essentially rent it.

      • You know you can download music to your phone with Spotify, you don’t need a continuous network connection. I do this with my favourite music of the moment, so it saves on my data when I’m out and about walking with music. It’s very easy to tap or re-tap an icon to download/remove the music from your phone.

        Very sensible to have your own filing system for your mp3s and not rely on Apple’s often buries and illogical filing within iTunes folders!

  4. Christopher May says:

    Earlier in the pandemic, I signed up for Amazon HD streaming. As much as I dislike sending more money to Jeff Bezos, it’s been a nice companion for working from home. The service offers CD quality sound for all albums (what Amazon calls HD) and higher for many (what they call Ultra HD). I use a DAC and amp from Schiit Audio with a pair of Beyerdynamic DT880 headphones. While I can’t tell much if any difference from the HD and Ultra HD recordings, I can definitely tell the difference between the HD and compressed files from other streaming services. The Schiit stack and DT880s make such a nice companion at home that I basically duplicated the setup at my office now that I’m working there some of the time. I did swap the DT880s for a pair of DT770s, though since the latter is a closed back design and provides a little isolation from a noisy office environment. I do prefer the sound from the semi-open DT880s slightly, though.

    Overall, it’s been a really positive experience. I have access to most of the albums I own plus a huge library of other stuff I never got around to buying or simply didn’t know existed anywhere I go. I’m not a huge fan of the monthly charges but it’s a lot like my Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop subscription. I get enough benefit from the monthly fees that I keep going.

    However, like my misgivings about Adobe, I’m kind of planning for a situation where I might cancel my subscription. That’s why I haven’t ditched my CDs yet. I’m getting close to embarking on a project like you to rip them but I’d want to do it with lossless compression like FLAC. So the project would entail both a lot of time and a lot of storage. The latter is easy enough to fix but the former is a challenge. So the CDs stay around taking up space for now.

    • For a long time I fancied myself an audiophile. Not a top-tier audiophile — more an entry-level audiophile. But the last 20 years have shown me that I’m perfectly happy with the speakers in whatever car I own, and the cheap Philips speakers and subwoofer a friend gave me that I have hooked up to my computer.

      My old NAD 7125 receiver and original Advent speakers are currently attached to my television. That’s the best sounding equipment I own and I hardly ever use it for music!

      So 320-bit MP3s are fine for me.

      Ripping CDs is something that can be done a few at a time. That’s how I intended to do this project, but it borked up my iTunes and so I had to accelerate it,.

  5. Dan Cluley says:

    I just finished building a new desktop for Jen & I, and am in the process of getting all the settings to match the old one. I don’t have to deal with iTunes, but we use Musicbee which involves the same sort of file management minutia. Plus she does audiobooks, which require a whole different set of rules.

    I like the looks of your little machine, unfortunately since I’m doing video editing, mine seem to keep getting bigger.

  6. Andy Umbo says:

    I want to “own” my music as well, so I’ll always keep the CD (and I have tons). BUT, I was visiting a pal at an indie radio station about 20 years ago, and noticed all their files, in cabinets, were CD’s taken out of their jewel cases, and put into sleeves, with a pocket on one side for the booklet, and one on the other for the CD, with an anti-scuff lining. I adopted that immediately! I’m using sleeves from Univenture, called Modified Jewelpak, the same as my pals radio station; available in various quantities from Bags Unlimited. I don’t think all the CD’s in my collect takes as much space as that stack of cases you show it your first photo! The only problem is keeping the CD’s with cardboard cases that are an integral part of the design. They take space.

    I’ll tell you have have enough digital information I have to worry about keeping on multiple hard drives, migrating to different formats, the last thing I want to do is add my music collection to that as well!

    No doubt that digitized files are an easy way to listen to and carry music around. I’m happy my Kia Soul has a USB port on the AV deck, and I can put WAV files on a thumb drive that the system will read and just play in succession! Perfect for putting a few hours on for a trip. I will say, as a “low-medium” level audiophile that used to own reel-to-reel tape machines for my jazz stuff, even to my old ears, MP3 files sound like crap! Even if I store, I always store at the minimum of WAV.

    • Storage is the issue for me. I just can’t keep everything anymore. I have good backups so I’m confident in my choice to digitize and get rid of the physical media.

      I can’t hear the difference between a WAV and a 320-bit MP3, so I’m good!

      • Andy Umbo says:

        I think it’s not the digital compression, I think it’s the audio compression they use in music to boost volume! It also lowers file size. As a jazz guy, modern pop and rock stuff is really audio compressed so that the can drive up the volume. Lot’s of internet info on this if anyone’s interested. When you listen to old vinyl jazz or even first gen CD’s on a set of head phones, you’d be surprised at everything you can hear! Even old “prog rock” on vinyl is stunning compared to Britney Spears.

        • I hate the compression that makes everything loud now. It’s jarring when my music is on shuffle to go from normal stuff recorded before about 20 years ago to a song recorded more recently that seems so much louder.

  7. Just want to mention a free service I use in addition to Spotify. I’ve been using radio paradise.com for years, usually have it on in the background all the time.

    They have iOS and Android apps that let you use the cache manager to fill up your phone with a certain amount of music ( I go with 2 hours) that refills itself when you’re on wifi. Then I just use that when I’m not sure what I want to listen to.

  8. tbm3fan says:

    I guess I’ll be the one on the outside again. One car can play music through an iPod and that is the 91 Mazda with a new radio. Other cars play CDs and cassettes. I have one iPod for the Mazda. I have many cassettes, recorded on Maxell tapes in the 70s and 80s, still in use. I have many CDs bought after the cassette era. Then there are all my vinyl albums going back to my first, a Beatles album, in 1967. I play albums on my vintage Technics direct drive turntable. I play cassettes on my vintage Akai cassette deck. I play the music through one of my 10 vintage stereo receivers using Boston Acoustic speakers. Most of my iPod music came from my CDs with some from iTunes. Everything stays and when I want music in the house it goes through the stereo at the appropriate volume when my wife isn’t around.

    • I let my albums go in about 2003. Sometimes I miss being able to have the vinyl experience, but for the most part I’m just glad not to have to move those heavy things around from house to house anymore.

      My stereo gear is all vintage – a 1986 NAD receiver and a pair of original Advent speakers.

      • tbm3fan says:

        The receiver currently in use right now is a 1968 Pioneer as most of my receivers are before 1980 except for my 1991 Denon. I consider 1980, or bit later, as to when manufacturers slowly started to cheapen their product much like car manufacturers do over time to a model.

        • Andy Umbo says:

          Late 1970’s Kenwood receiver for me…first gen digital station pre-sets, so the wall power dies, and no stations! Before flash memory!

          I have to say, I prefer the “standard” audio component past. I always tell people audio using a computer is good example of the maturation process gone wrong! “Get rid of your CD player”, my friends said, “…you can play CD’s on your lap-top!” Until your lap-top started appearing without CD slots and drawers because it was a defunct storage medium!

          Ditto for radio. You can stream radio all over the country and world! So now, there’s no local jazz station with a local flavor! And, I have to run it on a computer, AND I have to have a decent internet connection, too expensive in my town, that costs 5 times the cost of my radio, monthly! I do not like “pay per use” vs. pay once, use forever, like CD’s and vinyl. We also have a hell of a library system where I live, so tons of jazz CD’s to borrow; of course, you could burn those!

  9. This takes me back to the days of likewise in high school! Sorting through metadata, finding album art that looked decent on an iPod video, all of it. I hated it but felt a strong sense of accomplishment when I was done. It took forever for an Easter egg, G3 iMac to rip an actual disc.

    These days, I’ve got a pair of 5” KRK powered studio monitors running through a cheap Mackie mixer via a stereo interface. The speakers in my (2016) iMac are pretty horrible, like in any flat panel design. When I switched over from an aging Windows laptop I didn’t bother moving my music. Most of the time I’ll listen to an album on YouTube, though like you I appreciate owning my music. One of these days I’ll move it all over.

    My Civic has an aux Jack that I never bought a cord for, along with a hardwired usb dongle thing in the console that reads my phone like a flash drive. So streaming is out while I’m out on the prowl.

    I was recently given a box of CDs that were abandoned at a rental property my stepbrother owns. A few (Megadeth, Ace of Base, the Cure, Oasis, and Slayer) made it into the car.

  10. I went through the CD ripping process 4 years ago. It took a few hours a day for couple of weeks. I have a digitizing turntable and used it to load LPs. I only have about 50 LPs because I stopped buying them in favor of CDs in 1989.

    I thought I had plenty of music, but lm still discovering cool jazz from the 50s and some modern stuff.
    I am keeping all the physical media, but have the CDs in storage sleeves, and dumped the cases.

  11. Yup – I discovered iTunes years ago and while the software is not as elegant as it once was I have remained with a stable version that works well on my 2007 Dell Vostro laptop that is still chugging away happily running Windows 10.
    I like to own my music rather than paying rent, and when I get a new CD it immediately gets ripped to iTunes and then put away in a cupboard. (We have lots of cupboard space). My music library is about 60,000 tunes, and it is kept on a WD Mycloud hard drive, and backed up onto two portable hard drives reasonably regularly.
    My iPod classic takes care of music in the car, I stream to a Marantz system at home, and if I am anywhere else I can access online from the Mycloud drive. Another player I have played with is Media Monkey, a good choice if you want to avoid iTunes. My vinyl collection is growing again, but rather than digitizing the vinyl I just enjoy the experience of playing them on the turntable I still have from 1982!
    Boy have things changed since I was given my first vinyl record by my Grandmother 50 years ago…..

  12. Michael says:

    “I considered using a lossless format, but yikes the disk space that would take, even using a compressed lossless format like FLAC.”
    Seriously?!?!? I would wager a good amount that your photos would take more storage space, and storage is dirt cheap today anyway. I know probably half of mine are some lossy format instead of FLAC, but I have over 18K songs that take only 255 GB. One advantage of lossless is you can convert into any format you need in the future without having to transcode and lose data.

    Did the copyright laws change? I was not aware you could keep a a copy now without the original.

    • You might be right about the storage, but my challenge is I wanted to keep everything including my photographs on my main hard drive so I didn’t have to set up some disk array or something crazy like that. If I were able to hear a difference between the MP3s that I recorded and lossless rips it might’ve changed my decision. As for whether I am legally allowed to keep digital copies of my music without also owning the physical copies, I’m not sure I actually care. I can’t imagine they would come after me – what’s the upside? I’m small potatoes.

      • Michael says:

        Because we’re supposed to obey the laws? Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and all that. No, I’m not fully compliant but also don’t listen to most of what I have, much of which was obtained for my show. I have tried to obtain originals of what I do listen to though.

        Since I prefer to image my main drive for my backup strategy, having all my pics and music on the main drive would be a bad idea so they are on an external drive, which is duplicated. I just copy what I want to my phone’s sdcard and plug one of them into our “server” PC so everyone can map a drive to it if they want. Easy peasy.

        • It’s an interesting situation. Ripping CDs you own to your computer is a legal activity. And selling, giving away, or throwing away CDs you have purchased is also a legal activity. So you have the paradox that combining two legal activities results in an illegal activity. I do get it, it’s about the license, and that license goes with the physical media.

        • Michael says:

          Yes, certainly some muddy waters, and been that way since cassettes at least when making copies of your albums became easy. I’m guessing since the artist only makes money from initial purchase is why you had to retain original source. A person selling an album to someone else did nothing for the artist (and in fact likely hurt their sales) yet stills has a copy (assuming one was made) and now someone else has the recording as well, and that repeats for however many times a single unit is resold. Impossible to regulate unless you ban selling used media I suppose. Enough of this rabbit hole… and now back to our regular programming.

        • Andy Umbo says:

          My understanding of media law (which I had a few college course on back in the late 90’s as a follow up in my management position), is that when you buy anything like music (or a DVD), you are buying it for your personal usage in perpetuity. If you copy it to anything you own and are using, that’s covered under your personal use.

          Theoretically, selling the CD’s to another person, should NOT be legal, altho whole stores exist doing it; because the creative copyright holders are NOT getting a fee from the new owner, someone’s getting a “use” without paying the originator for it.

          And again, theoretically, this means instead of buying another Tommy, by the Who, when I wore my copy out, I should have been able to trade my copy in and pay for another copy by paying the manufacturing and distribution cost only, since I already paid the copyright holder. This is where record companies went wrong, they can’t have it both ways, either your buying the physical item, or your buying the “use” of the creative content. The easy use of digital cloning to perfect copies is what caused them to step up and start the war!

  13. Phew! What a project! It makes me tired to just think about it. I hate the way iTunes handles albums but there’s nothing to be done about that so I just don’t use it anymore. My hat’s off to you for getting that all straightened out!

    I always loved listening to cds in the car and, like you, have a pretty extensive collection. But when I bought my new car in 2019, the Hyundai dealership didn’t have a single car on the lot with a CD player. I think they said I could order one but they no longer came standard.

    It was a sad day.

    • It really is nice for my phone to connect to my car via Bluetooth and then for me to ask Siri to play some album, or one of my playlists on shuffle. I recommend it!

      • Lol. I don’t use Siri either! I’m honestly not sure why I have an Apple product. :)

        I notice more and more that I listen to podcasts in the car – at least I did when I was still driving!

  14. NUC’s are awesome, i see you went with the “thick” one that actually can take two SSD’s, one M.2 and the other standard SATA.. Depending on your priorities (quiet versus performance) you may want to tweak the stock fan curve of the NUC in the UEFI BIOS, as the default lets things get a bit too hot for my liking!

  15. The start had me heartbroken but I see that they’re still in the family and with someone who will enjoy them so I call that a happy ending. Also if anything ever happens to your HD you know where to get them ripped again!

    I don’t even know how many CDs, records, and tapes I own but altogether it’s close to 2000 different albums and I would never get rid of them. I do hope however that there will be someone interested in them after I’m gone. Also I do have to admit that the CDs take up a lot of space that is better reserved for other things. One 160GB iPod Classic holds my entire collection of CDs and it’s such a lifesaver, I’ve owned iPods since 2005. I’ve never liked the way iTunes puts in the track titles and back in the day I don’t even think they were the right order so I always manually input everything, and I think I had to go back and redo it as I lost everything on my computer at least once. Also every time I buy a new CD it’s back to it!

    • I don’t think my son will keep all of those CDs. I’m good with it. I have a backup on an external drive, and soon I will start backing up to the cloud. I can’t remember the last time I listened to one of my CDs. I listen entirely via my computer and my iPhone now.

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