Using iTunes To Control Your Audiophile Music Collection

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OK, I admit it - I still own a lot of Compact Discs. Yes, I have a good number of SACDs, DVD-Audio and other discs on the shelves but CDs take up the vast majority of space in my media storage area mostly because most of the music that I listen to never was released in a high resolution format. Trust me, I would have re-bought my collection if the pony-tailed, Boomer sellout, know-it-alls at the major labels could figure out how to sell me a $20, copy protected 24/192 stereo file on a Blu-ray. Hell, I don't even need a ton of supplemental materials. I just want to pay more for better sound - just as I pay more for better picture and sound with movies on Blu-ray. With that rant out of the way - managing your music on a server of some sort has become the new-school way for tech-savvy audiophiles to enjoy their music. But before you buy the hype at your local stereo store (assuming you still have one in your area) there are some things you need to know about managing your music collection so that you do it right from the start.

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Ripping and Re-ripping Music
I first ripped my collection of music, which might have been over 2,000 Compact Discs, about six years ago. This was in an era when hard drive space wasn't as plentiful and was far more expensive. iPods, to this day still a modern marvel for overall musical portability, could barely hold any music compared to today's iPhones, iPod Touches and especially the new Apple iPad. At the time and considering the market conditions - I didn't rip my music for my computer and iPod in full AIFF (CD-level) resolution. The process of ripping the music was time consuming, to say the least, as it took me most of a summer to cart in my CDs from home and rip them between writing articles and making ad sales calls. The end product was pretty impressive with a highly organized folder of music, organized by artist as well as subcategories for certain genres and beyond. This folder worked really well for me for a long time as it provided a personal, quirky and downright flush playlist of music that covers damn near every genre I care about.

Then recently I got an AppleTV for my theater and everything changed.

During the period of time after my first ripping I had my whole collection additionally ripped on a ReQuest Music server which fed a pretty simple Crestron home automation system. There were many advantages to this setup at the time including the fact that the ReQuest server had multiple variable output zones for different parts of the house and the ReQuest could hold nearly all of my CD collection ripped at full resolution. The re-ripping of my music took easily three months to get it all into the ReQuest because I couldn't use my Mac to rip CDs - I needed to use the drive in the unit which often took 15 minutes per disc to rip. Moreover, back in the day - connecting an external Firewire hard drive to a ReQuest was just not possible; thus all of the music in lower resolution was stuck on my computer using iTunes. The CD stuff was on my ReQuest, which I could use at home or even stream over the Internet if I wanted. Where I ran into issues with the ReQuest was with Meta data. Band names like Yes were spelled "Yes" and "YES" thus leaving 90215 under one spelling and Tales of Topographic Oceans under another. Jimi Hendrix was listed with spellings like "Jimi Hendrix," "Jimmy Hendrix" and "The Jimi Hendrix Experience." Don't even get me started on how Prince was organized because - respectfully - it wasn't. The online interface was needed to make playlists, but it was cumbersome to use, thus I got stuck listening to the same playlists over and over again, with no Internet Radio and beyond. "PC convergence," as they like to call it at the Consumer Electronics Tradeshow, had made it to my system - but I didn't want a PC - I wanted a Mac.

Here's the rub. While low res files sound "OK" (audiophiles can flame me below if you must) on computer speakers and ear pod headphones - they sound like a screeching nightmare on an audiophile system. My AppleTV running into a Classe SSP-800 preamp with Mark Levinson No. 436 monoblocks into Revel Salon2s connected with Transparent Audio sounded like - respectfully - crap. Unlistenable crap. Is controlling AppleTV slick? Absolutely. Is listening to Abacab in 1/5 Compact Disc resolution worthy of such a system? Absolutely not, thus I reverted back to spooling up my trusty CDs in my Classe transport because the idea of re-ripping my music again was so burdensome that I couldn't indulge it at this stage.

Then the iPad came out.

Holy crap. For $499, you can get a bigger-than-my-$4,500-Crestron-touch-pannel remote that can be a book reader, surf the Internet, play Frogger and Ms. Pac Man, control my lights, track my stocks, check my fantasy hockey scores and oh yeah - it can completely control my music, movies and photos. I had to have one and as soon as it came out I started looking at how to use it for a simple home automation control. I will admit to you that I haven't had the time to get to that level; however the iPad inspired me to take on the ultimate challenge of re-ripping my music because I was going to need it for every location in my house that has an AppleTV, including my living room, my gym and of course my theater room.

From re-ripping my music, I have come up with some observations that might help you, assuming you will ever try to take on such an ambitious project. Here are some thoughts, tips and advice based on frequently asked Apple iTunes and music collection questions:

Continue reading about how to control your audiophile music with iTunes on Page 2.

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