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martymax2002
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Music Storage and USB DAC

I am just at the investigation stage of setting up my music storage on my computer I was looking at different ripping programs and was wondering what is the best sounding and easiest to use? I looked at Feurio and Exact Audio Copy. Next I will need a USB DAC. I would like to find one under $1000 dose anyone have any ideas?

struts
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Re: Music Storage and USB DAC

Hey porschecarrera1989, welcome to the forum!

Ripping programs (and media players) are really just format converters that take files in one format and copy them to another place in another format. If the format is uncompressed or compressed but with a 'lossless' encoding scheme ('codec'), i.e. one that doesn't discard any of the musical information, then what you get back when you decode (de-compress) it is exactly what you started with in the first place. No ifs, no buts, it's the same bits (and I should stress that this has been proven repeatedly for all the main contendahs so you can sleep safely). The ripper/player system, assuming it is properly implemented, therefore has no 'sound'. Let me assure you, anyone who says they can 'hear' a difference between lossless codecs, their ripping programs or media players is definitely hallucinating!

Other codecs like the ubiquitous MP3 discard bits of the musical signal that they don't think you'll miss in order to achieve better compression ratios, these are consequently called 'lossy' codecs. This means that all lossy codecs distort the signal and thus degrade the sound to a greater or lesser degree. Some people are more sensitive to this than others, a lot of it depends on 'how' you listen, in other words whether you just want to bop along to the tune or whether you're actually seeking the most faithful re-creation of the original musical event. In the high end it is something of an anathema to throw any information away (if you decide to go that route tell the folks here that you only wanted it for mobile listening otherwise they might tease you) and so you'll find most audiophiles rip to losslessly compressed (or uncompressed like AIFF or WAV) codecs for 'critical' listening.

When it comes to choosing a program to rip with my advice would be to settle on a codec (or codecs) first, based primarily on how you want to use the material. If you might want to replay the material on an iPod for instance, your choice is effectively limited to the Apple codecs. The codec will then dictate your choice of ripping programs and players. See here for a pretty exhaustive list and comparison of lossless codecs which details some of the pros and cons of each.

One parameter that I feel is often overlooked but could be extremely important for some people is the support for metadata (aka 'tags'). This is the information about the music like track name, composer, artist etc., that is stored along with it. ALAC, for instance, has poorer support for the tags relevant to classical music (e.g. 'conductor') than, say, WMA. WAV has very weak tagging support. The tags you store will limit how you are able to manage and select music for playback, as well as the information like album art that can be displayed along with it.

Boiling it all down, for lossless compression the three main alternatives are:

  • FLAC (open): Principal players are foobar2000 and Winamp, principal rippers are the aforementioned plus EAC.
  • WMAL (Microsoft): Principal ripper/player is Windows Media Player.
  • ALAC (Apple): Only ripper is iTunes, principal players are iTunes (iPod) and foobar2000

Fwiw I use iTunes to rip to ALAC on my PC and then foobar2000 and Sonos for replay. This set-up works fine for me.

User-friendliness is a quite subjective quality and so there are no absolutes here. IMHO of the free alternatives iTunes and Windows Media Player have the slickest UIs followed by Winamp. foobar2000 is pretty spartan out-of-the-box (as of version 0.9.4.x, version 0.9.5, currently in beta is way better), but is almost infinitely configurable by the user. Insomniacs knock yourselves out! There are also non-free products like J. River Media Center 12 which have their adherents but which I haven't tried myself.

As far as USB DACs go there are a growing number to choose from, although many are combined with ADCs and aimed at musicians rather than audiophiles and replay SQ sometimes does not appear to be the highest priority. In audiophileland one of the products most often mentioned is the Benchmark DAC-1 USB (review under-way by Stereophile's JA). This has been well reviewed elsewhere and owners, judging by their comments on the various boards, seem to be very happy. Benchmark's active participation on a number of bulletin boards (such as this one) answering questions about the products and soliciting end-user feedback has deservedly won them a very loyal fan base. It is slightly outside your budget at $1275 but you might want to consider stretching to it unless you were looking to come in well under $1000. Benchmark offers a 30-day no quibble return policy which may make that last $275 seem like less of a gamble!

I use a Grace m902 ($1695 I think) which I am very happy with, but which I drive with an M-Audio Audiophile 2496 sound card over S/PDIF. The Grace also has a USB input but I have to confess that I have never tried it. I have so many USB devices connected to my PC that I am sceptical that the USB bus is a safe place to entrust my precious audiophile bits (no offence Elias ;-).

It is still only the minority of DACs that support USB and so you widen your choice if you remove the USB requirement. This could be done, for example by going for an M-Audio Transit USB (which, forgive me if I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, can be had for under $80 if you shop around). As well as being a USB DAC itself (but let's face it, for $80 don't get your hopes up!) this can be used to convert USB to S/PDIF which enables an almost infinite choice of DACs at all price points. For instance, the transit combined with a 'vanilla' Benchmark DAC-1 weighs in at $1055.

Hope this helps you get you started on your journey. Good luck!

Bruce-in-Philly
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Ripping Heresy?!?! I use Windows. No kidding.

I use Windows Media Player 11 a few reasons:
1 - I just works
2 - I tried many and just was not impressed. Not that they were bad, just that Windows works fine.
3 - Library management with Windows is pretty decent in that it creates folders and organizes them like I want them. I do have to change the names of some such as "The Rolling Stones" to "Rolling Stones, The" but it works
4 - Doesn't tag but creates files names with the sequential track number and stores the album covers in the folders - Foobar, my player, can see these album covers. I don't get composer and other tag-like items but I am okay with this. I would like to have them, but this ripping and library management stuff is still in its nascent stages.
5 - I seem to get accurate rips but can not prove this. You do have to change a setting in Windows and set "Use Error Correction" ON for this to work: within Media Player, go to Tools,Options,Devices - highlight drive - Properties and check appropriate error correction box.

I tried EAC but it was slow and I could not get the library function to work well although others say I can get it to behave like Media Player (I could not so I gave up).

I rip using bit-for-bit WAV files with no compression. Lossless is out for me as I have audiophile desires. I tried Windows lossless compression but was just paranoid

struts
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Re: Ripping Heresy?!?! I use Windows. No kidding.


Quote:
Lossless is out for me as I have audiophile desires.

Hey Bruce,

You mean 'lossy is out for me...', right?

Bruce-in-Philly
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Oops, yep I'm a dope - Lossy is bad. More.... FTP Downloading

I tried A/Bing the Windows Lossless (WAV) and the Windows Lossless compression (WMA) and I think I heard a difference. I suspect I was just being paranoid about screwing around with anything that is not "bit perfect" or maybe there is some other gremlin but.... I know that Lossless Compression really is lossless but I just can't do it. I've been a music lover and an audio nerd since I was 16 and I'm 47 now and still perusing great sound. It is so hard to not see everything in its bit-for-bit format. So I just ripped everything in bit-fo-bit WAV format.

I do have one issue with these larger WAV files in that I have my music accessible to me on the road via an FTP server in my home. I can get to my music storage on my network drives via an old Dell clunker I have set up as an FTP server (I travel extensively for my work). The issue is that WMA lossless files are about 1/2 the size of the bit for bit WAVs and therefore take half as long to download.

So.... I guess I have to trust my intellect and recommend a compressed, lossless format. But what if.......?

struts
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Re: Oops, yep I'm a dope - Lossy is bad. More.... FTP Downloadi

Bruce,

I know your scepticism is 'hard earned' but this might help set your mind at rest:


Quote:

Evidence that conversions really are lossless

To make sure that the audio stored in each lossless format really is the same as the original audio source, I used an uncompressed Wave file of Canon in D major from The Essential Classics Collection. This Wave file was examined using the handy HashTab Shell Extension, and the MD5, SHA1 and CRC-32 hash values for the file were noted down, as was the size of the Wave file in bytes. This Wave file was converted using dBpowerAMP into a FLAC file (using the same compression settings as used in the big comparison above), and the original Wave file was deleted. The FLAC file was converted into a Monkey's Audio file, which was converted into an OptimFROG file, which was converted into a Shorten file, which was converted into a WavPack file. Finally, the WavPack file was converted into an uncompressed Wave file.

The resulting Wave file was exactly the same size as the original Wave file, and the MD5, SHA1 and CRC-32 hash values matched exactly with the original. This is very strong evidence that each of the lossless formats tested preserves the original audio perfectly.

Note that this process only succeeds because Wave does not support meta tags, it only stores the audio in the track. The conversion process above will change meta tags (that describe the track name, year the track was released, etc), so these are not necessarily preserved exactly between lossless formats. This is because not all audio file formats support the same meta tags. However, as far as audio is concerned, these formats really are lossless.

martymax2002
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Re: Music Storage and USB DAC

Thank you all for confusing me LOL. Really thank you all for the great information. I have been using Fuiro for my rip and burn and storage. My system is a VAC tube preamp CLA MKII,Onix amp 150/150, Magnum sig IV interconnects, Snell E-V and Tara labs RSC Air 1 speaker cable ,Onix CD-1 cd player. Next I want to add a tube DAC. to play my collection from my computer.

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