More on music storage

Some time ago, I wrote an essay on music storage options (mostly on how bad they are).

We’re at a point today where even a big music library–say, 1,000 CDs–can be easily archived on a single hard drive using high-quality MP3s–say, 192 Kbps encoding. Some people claim this encoding rate is indistinguishable from CDs; others claim it’s barely adequate for listening. Whatever. It sounds good to me. In any case, at this rate, one hour of music is encoded as about 83 MB, meaning that 1,000 CDs (which are usually somewhat under an hour) will fit onto the 160 GB hard drives that are now available (as bare mechanisms) for under $100, with plenty of room to spare.

Purists will argue that lossy encoding is a bad compromise. We don’t need to use lossy encoding–a lossless format called Shorten has been around for years, and Apple’s iTunes now comes with something called “Apple Lossless Encoding.” These can shrink a CD’s data down to a little less than half its original size, meaning about 250 MB for one hour of music. The fact that ALE is built into iTunes means you have a nice interface for dealing with these tracks (as opposed to the more arcane software required to deal with Shorten files), making lossless encoding a practical option. I have no idea if there are converters that recode ALE as Shorten to avoid lock-in.

Anyhow, at that rate, it would take three 160-GB hard drives (and some kind of enclosure) to store a 1,000-CD music collection, but assuming Moore’s Law holds, in a few years, we’ll be back at the $100 mark.

Smaller MP3s still have their uses, though: If you have an in-car MP3 player that reads MP3 CDs, you’ll still need to recode your lossless files to MP3 in order to take advantage of it. If you have a portable MP3 player for jogging, likewise (though if you splash out on an iPod, you won’t need to bother).

2 thoughts on “More on music storage”

  1. Okay, let’s say I dump all my CDs onto as large a hard drive as I can find and that hard drive is installed in a CPU. How do I manage all that music so I can come home, click random play from the entire catalog or radnom play from the blues catalog or search for an artist, and have music in my home? In other words, how do I turn that CPU into the equivalent of a 1,000 disk CD player?

  2. There are actually a lot of options.

    1. There are some special-purpose PCs designed to hook directly into your stereo.

    2. There are a number of components that hook into a home network and connect to your stereo: the Slimp3 player, the Roku Soundbridge, etc.

    3. The Sonos digital music system is a self-contained system that looks really cool (but spendy).

    4. Some folks are loading special software onto X-boxes that allow them to act as media centers; these would also hook into your home network and play music stored on your PC.

    My own plan is to eventually get a Mac mini to use as an entertainment hub.

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