Best CD-Ripper & Codec

Discussion in 'Headphone & Earphone General Discussion' started by TheNameIsJambo, Jan 25, 2011.

  1. TheNameIsJambo

    TheNameIsJambo New Member

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    NOTE: I have used external links, mostly to Wikipedia, since it's a neutral source or I've referenced information directly from the authors. Also, I have linked to HydrogenAudio's Wiki, since Wikipedia itself doesn't provide such an Audiophile's insight into codecs. HydrogenAudio isn't the be and and end all of information, it's their test scenarios, so it's up to you to believe what lies within their personal Wiki.

    Onto the discussion:
    If you're going to have a great set of headphones, a good amp and a reliable source. You're going to need great quality tracks to pump through them all to achieve your audiophilic nirvana.

    Myself? I've got a mixed collection of high quality MP3s, some lower quality ones too and a few VBRs. I only have a spattering of FLAC files (And Live8 WAV files) of Pink Floyd's entire discography and some/most of Led Zeppelin and a few more brilliant artists. I do enjoy my old-school rock.

    I even have some old AACs/MP4/M4As and I think a good few OGGs on an old redundant hard drive, I'm considering recovering my entire music collection from old hard drives just to roll back some years. I think the old stuff was amassed to around 60GB, a good mix of 128kbps tracks, OGGs.. The whole lot. And my current collection is around 50GB. A lot less tracks though, and a lot less junk.

    Why am I creating this thread? Here's one reason why. I've been asked, "How do you make MP3s.... without downloading them?" That may or may not have been my girlfriend that asked me that, but I've kitted her out with a simple one click 'Import' on iTunes, using a 128kbps VBR-HQ MP3 preset, which is perfect for her, her laptop, her iPhone and her iBuds.

    Whereas that's not so good for me. So I asked myself.. What would be the best way to recreate a CD with minimal quality loss + highest compression. As a blossoming Audiophile myself, I'd like to get into the art seriously.

    Programs that can utilise codecs are powerful tools indeed. I've used dbPoweramp to rip CDs to make my ears bleed with joy, but I have always had trusty old WinAmp and now the new toy, iTunes, for ease-of-use and laziness. I've also looked into some hardcore alternatives EAC (Exact Audio Copy) for one and I've even used LAME at a command-line level.

    Nostalgic moment!
    Back in the day I used to use WinAmp, religiously, and completely swore by it, to store and play back all of my library. Loved it to bits, I still do. It's a lot easier to use and refine [especially when ripping] than iTunes, but I find the interface has aged badly, especially when your music library spirals out of control. iTunes has a way of keeping my music collection together and concise, especially ever since I got my iPod and iPhone I've not really looked back at poor old WinAmp.
    Over

    So enough nostalgic and rambling mush. Onto the audio codecs we can use!

    Just before we get started; those of you who aren't very techno-minded, before you get confused between all these codecs, you can find a very useful Wiki on any of the audio codecs/libraries mentioned below, right here. You can find a quick and painless list of Lossless audio codecs right here and Lossy here. They're inter-Wiki-hyper-linked [Try and say that fast 5 times] for far more detailed explanations and don't worry if it still makes no sense, I'll also Wiki as I go! I'll also refrain from using industry standards such as ISO as they're mostly irrelevant numbers and letters.​

    Lossless
    Here are two of the most popular lossless audio codecs available, in some detail.
    NOTE:I have not included WMA Lossless. Arguably, this may be a good codec, but isn't very flexible; in terms of compression and usability on hardware.​

    • FLAC [Free Lossless Audio Codec]: The self proclaimed king of lossless! How come he's so good? It compresses those massive WAV files down to around 50-60% of their original size while keeping all the quality. How? It uses a lossless data compression algorithm and any compatible desktop media-player decompresses them on-the-fly to provide you with the real 'WAV' experience. Essentially, it's similar to a ZIP/RAR archive, but optimised for audio. Meaning you can always extract the perfectly intact WAV files, if you ever lose your CD.
    • In most cases this codec isn't directly compatible with your iPod/iPhone/Media player. You'd probably need Rockbox or VLC Media Player installed to utilise these files. Readily compatible portable media players are few and far between, but it is possible and lot of people prefer it.
    • ALAC [Apple Lossless Audio Codec]: The iTunes/iPod proprietary lossless encoding library, essentially it's the FLAC for your iPhone/iPod! It's similar in operation to the above, but it is optimised for ARM Processors. Meaning that it will run a lot smoother and unpack those precious sound waves more efficiently on the iDevice. Plus it will more than likely use less battery, as it also doesn't need an App from the App Store to run.

    You can find a very helpful comparison of the lossless codecs over at the Hydrogenaudio Knowledgebase

    Lossy
    Before we get started on this here's a little background on lossy encoding:
    Lossy signal compression is based on psychoacoustics. Meaning that it takes advantages of us humans and our ability to hear. It does this by stripping away parts of your music that you wouldn't normally hear and plays the rest at the highest available quality. Each lossy codec/library usually has their own psychoacoustic algorithms and models.
    Two of the most popular mainstream lossy audio formats are as follows:
    NOTE:For anyone that cares about saving space or storage is an big issue, I'll also include potential alternatives to a lower bit rate + higher quality.​
    • LAME: Hailed as the holy grail of MP3 encoding libraries; an open-source library based on the Frauenhofer MP3 technology and V3+ incorporates the gpsycho psychoacoustic model, pinning the future of MP3 on quality.
      LAME is utilised through command line interface and is highly regarded in most audiophile circles. Especially with its two highest encoding bit rates CBR @ -q 0 -b 320 and VBR @ -V0.



    • -q = 0 = Quality @ High
    • -b = Minimum bitrate = 320kbps
    • -V0 = Highest quality VBR encoding. You can even enforce a minimum bitrate (-b) on VBR. Or introduce a maximum bitrate (-B) to keep file size to a minimum

    Here's a more in-depth explanation of how to use LAME here and a HydrogenAudio take on LAME here and a list of software which uses the LAME libraries here. These links are mostly for front-end software, such as, WinAmp Pro or RazorLame.​
    • AAC (Advanced Audio Coding): A mainstream newcomer into the portable multimedia format war. It has high potential to be the successor to MP3 with features such as:
    • LC-AAC/AAC-LC (Low Complexity): Utilises certain technologies to compress sound and achieve better transparency than LAME, especially at lower bit rates E.G. Temporal Noise Shaping and Perceptual Noise Substitution + Many more.
    • HE-AAC[v2] (High Efficiency) - Highly effective at delivering near CD-Quality audio at even lower bit rates than LC, E.G. Shoutcast Streaming + DAB Radio.
    • HD-AAC (MPEG-4 SLS) - Lossless AAC Format. Fraunhofer claims that it can make CDs obsolete!

    Handy programs:
    You can grab a copy of Exact Audio Copy here.

    It's a very versatile piece of kit. A lot of customisation is enabled within it. It relies heavily on a command line interface so if you cannot use CLI then I recommend that you be prepared to learn.

    What do you use?

    Thanks,
    Jamie.

    If I've made any errors or you'd like to include something in this massive rant, just post or PM me.
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2011
  2. Shaun-HiFi

    Shaun-HiFi Administrator Staff Member

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    Excellent summary TheNameIsJambo! It's great to see a member of the forum contributing so much useful information about their setup.

    I personally rip my CDs with Exact Audio Copy (Exact Audio Copy) to FLAC.

    I use Media Monkey to manage my collection, which down converts to 320 Kbps MP3 at the point it gets copied to iPod.
     
  3. TheNameIsJambo

    TheNameIsJambo New Member

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    No problem Shaun. That's what a good community is all about; building + sharing. Plus if someone else reads this and they didn't know about any of those healthy and mainstream alternatives, they do now!

    I'll give EAC a shot, I know it's freeware, which is what I live for these days!

    I've also heard about Media Monkey. I've never used it before though. Is it worth it? I've had a quick look and it looks like a better version of WinAmp, more customisation and easier file conversion.

    Jamie.
     
  4. Shaun-HiFi

    Shaun-HiFi Administrator Staff Member

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    Best CD ripper

    Definitely worth checking EAC out. It can be a little complicated at first, but well worth spending the time to get to know it.

    Media Monkey is really good at handling large music collections. It's able to update tags very fast and has plenty of different ways of accessing your collection. Highly recommended.
     
  5. TheNameIsJambo

    TheNameIsJambo New Member

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    I got EAC last night and started ripping. I love the additional CLI (Wrapped in the GUI, under preferences) aswell so you can customise to your own liking. Those .FLAC files were torn off the CD with ease. There weren't any problems. It helps to have a pristine CD though. I modified the CLI and changed the compression to -8 (--best) to keep the FLAC files to a minimum size compared to the standard -6 (Shaved off a minimum of 300kB to a whopping 1MB in one case). There was no time difference between compression using -6 and -8. I'm very impressed with EAC and FLAC.

    Lets hope I can expand my FLAC collection dramatically. I'm not a stranger to FLAC, but I preferred lossy formats to save space, but I'm wanting to have a pure lossless library and then my MP3/AAC library. I've still not decided on which codec to really go with. Does Media Monkey do on-the-fly conversion to MP3/AAC from the library -> iPod/iPhone? If so, I'll get hold of Media Monkey aswell!

    I'll have to invest in a new HD I already have an 1TB External which houses most of my music + other media, but I think I need a dedicated FLAC drive.
     
  6. TheNameIsJambo

    TheNameIsJambo New Member

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    Here's an example of how complex EAC can be to use. But to me, this looks relatively simple since I'm one of those 'computer' guys. (That almost makes my life sound hollow!)

    So lets say you may want to encode using Nero's AAC Encoder via EAC. So direct WAV -> Nero AAC all in one swoop. There is a two step function, that I will come to in a moment.
    These are instructions for specifically the Nero AAC Encoding Library, this isn't the same as iTunes or any other external encoder that isn't bundled with EAC. You may do independent research on which codecs are better, personally. I haven't looked into the other codecs bundled with EAC E.G. FAAC, et al. Except from LAME.​

    First you'll need the Nero Codec, which is encased in this link.
    Filename = NeroAACCodec-N.N.N.zip (At the time of writing this is 1.5.1)

    1. Extract the Nero.exe files to any directory of your choice; preferably a directory that makes sense such as:
      C:\Program Files\Exact Audio Copy\
    2. Click on the 'EAC' menu and select, 'Compression Options'.
    3. Delete WAV after Compression is enabled.
    4. Add ID3 tag is disabled, as we can do this manually using the CLI.
    5. Ensure that in the 'File Ending' dialog box you have: .mp4 [This is important for meta-tagging!]
    6. Look down to 'User Defined Encoder' and select C:\Windows\System32\cmd.exe
    7. Enter this in the Additional CLI:
    • Maximum quality VBR CLI: /c ""C:\Program Files\Exact Audio Copy\neroaacenc.exe" -q 0.95 -if %s -of %d && "C:\Program Files\Exact Audio Copy\Neroaactag.exe" %d -meta:artist="%a" -meta:album="%g" -meta:track="%n" -meta:title="%t" -meta:genre="%m" -meta:year="%y""
    • -q = Enable VBR & Quality.
      [*]-q 0.05 = ~16 kilobits per second
      [*]-q 0.95 = 380~400 kilobits per second

    • Maximum quality CBR CLI: /c ""C:\Program Files\Exact Audio Copy\neroaacenc.exe" -cbr 320000 -if %s -of %d && "C:\Program Files\Exact Audio Copy\Neroaactag.exe" %d -meta:artist="%a" -meta:album="%g" -meta:track="%n" -meta:title="%t" -meta:genre="%m" -meta:year="%y""

    • You will notice that the -cbr = 320000, that is because Nero is working in bit rate per second rather than kilobits per second.
    • You may include the -lc after 320000 for Low Complexity mode if you wish, and is recommended. You can use AAC-Main if you wish.
    Done! Enjoy using EAC with WAV -> AAC.

    There's also another option that you can use but it's done in two steps:

    1. Rip your audio into WAV or FLAC files using EAC.
    2. Use Nero AAC/AAC+ UI with whatever settings you desire.
      • This program just hooks into the AAC Encoder. So all that gibberish I wrote above is put into a lovely GUI.
      • The only customisation you require is by going into 'Options' and setting where the Nero and FLAC executables live.

    Happy ripping!

    Jamie.
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2011
  7. Shaun-HiFi

    Shaun-HiFi Administrator Staff Member

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    Yes, it does indeed. It takes some additional processing time (the faster the CPU the quicker), but it makes it easy to have a FLAC archive and lossy MP3s on an iPod.
     
  8. TheNameIsJambo

    TheNameIsJambo New Member

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    Small update on my music hoarding:

    MediaMonkey is a dream come true for a serious music collector. I think I now have got an upwards collection of around 100GB of FLAC music. EAC is the best tool around compared to ye olde dbPoweramp, which I've now abandoned like a puppy on the M8.

    I'm using LAME MP3s at -V0. Everything seems to sound perfect. Transparency, at that level of quality is guaranteed. I refuse to sit an ABX test to find out what level of quality I'd need. I'm not that dedicated to saving precious kilo-bytes.

    It's just a shame that MediaMonkey doesn't natively support AAC encoding without their 'Please Buy Me' plugin. I'd probably be able to save a little bit of space, but AAC and MP3 at such high bit-rates (256-320+) are almost, literally, identical.
     
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