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PC Audio - Digital Files

Thoughts on the Ripping, Upsampling, & PC Setu...
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As a practical example, I got a couple of CDs in last week--one new from Israel and one used from Amazon for $0.01 + $3.99 shipping. :-)

Tracks 5, 6, and 7 from the new CD ripped with errors using my blu-ray drive. I tried again, but same result. Swapped for an older DVD drive and they ripped successfully with checksums that match the AccurateRip database.

For the penny used CD, all tracks ripped except for the last one. I tried multiple passes with both drives, but no luck. Frustrating, but could not complain much for the price. I later discovered that the last track was apparently mangled by one of the goofy copy protection schemes that some CDs from the 90's used. I enabled AnyDVD (http://slysoft.com/) and the last track ripped perfectly with no errors.

If I had used JRiver or other software without AcurateRip, I might never have known that these four tracks had issues. They mostly sounded ok before making them perfect, but why go to the trouble without knowing for certain that rips are a perfect match to what was on the original discs? Now that I know, I can add them to a box and lock them up in my storage room, confident that I'm hearing exactly what the artist and mastering engineers intended.
First, great work by Dennis and team to put together the program! Sure wish I could have been there to help in some way.

I don't take anything away from what he said, but I'd like to share a few additional thoughts that some folks may find helpful.

First, I've found that even if you do everything that is listed on page 12 of the "Digital File Creation Info" document, "Optimizing Computer and House Electrical Circuit for best rips", you can still get bad rips...or at best you have no way to know for sure that your rips are 100% perfect. Software that integrates with the AcurateRip (http://www.accuraterip.com/) database helps to ensure that your rips are perfect, or at least lets you know when they are not so that you can do something about it (eg., try a different drive, disc, etc.). This guide does a thorough job of describing how to setup dBpoweramp for virtually 100% accurate and verifiable rips: http://dbpoweramp.com/cd-ripper-setup-guide.htm

Chris Connaker of ComputerAudiophile.com goes into quite a bit more detail on methodology in http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content/309-computer-audiophile-cd-ripping-strategy-and-methodology/. The basic idea is to maintain an archival perfect copy of your media that is bit-for-bit identical to your original media (eg, you could burn tracks back to a blank CD-R, rip the CD-R, and have identical results). You may optionally maintain one or more copies of your library that are optimized for playback on your various devices--for example, SSRC upsampled to 24-bit, 96 kHz for the big rig and high bitrate mp3 for mobile devices. Your current DAC may sound best with 24-bit, 96 kHz PCM, but a few years from now, you may own a DAC that works better with DXD or DSD256. As long as you have the original content from your discs, you can perform these conversions from the source rather than a generation or two removed. Also, keep in mind that the conversion software you used five years ago will likely not be as good as the software you'll be using five years from now. Maintain a master archive, and you'll always be able to create the best possible sounding derivative copy of your library using the latest tools with output tailored for your current playback hardware.

For those using JRiver Media Center configured to playback from RAM, there's no longer any advantage to using uncompressed audio files (WAV or AIFF). JRiver uncompresses FLAC, ALAC, and other compressed formats into raw PCM in RAM before beginning playback. The effect is that any difference in sound between WAV and FLAC is eliminated (It's exactly the same data after lossless decompression) and playback starts sooner because losslessly compressed files take less time to load.

Finally, most environmental issues can be mitigated via AccurateRip verification. Software that supports AccurateRip is listed here: http://www.accuraterip.com/software.htm. However, if you have maintained a an un-upsampled archive of your library but did not use AccurateRip software at the time you performed your rips, you can use verification software like PerfectTunes (https://www.dbpoweramp.com/perfecttunes.htm) to identify tracks with errors that need to be re-ripped.

In summary, do try SSRC upsampling, but don't delete your original 16-bit, 44.1 kHz FLACs--keep them in case you need different formats or obtain better conversion software later. Use software that integrates with the AccurateRip database so that you'll know for sure that you have good rips. Consider using FLAC since it has the best support for metadata and album art (important for navigating large music libraries).

Hope this helps. Cheers.

-- David
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