Ninety percent of ReadyToPlay’s customer’s start with the phrase ‘I’d like to download my CDs to Mp3’. We generally talk them out of MP3 as a starting format and choose instead ‘lossless’ or a full fidelity format. Why? Lossless files are full fidelity versions of the CD, they sound as good as the CD. Mp3 or AAC is a compressed format where fidelity is stripped away in order to reduce the file sizes. Lossless files are about 2.5 times larger than Mp3 but still a typical CD is only 350MB in lossless, 150MB in Mp3. The Lossless files are true archive quality versions of the CD, enabling you to confidently get rid of the CDs. The Apple lossless format will work on ANY apple mobile product (ipods, itunes, ipads etc) except for the ‘Shuffle’.
Bit rates for lossless follow the fidelity of the CD. Bit rates can run from 0 to 1411 for sake of simplicity. Radio is generally 96Kbps, iTunes purchased tracks are 256Kbps, maximum Mp3 is 320kbps and lossless runs between 1000 and 1411kbps. Mp3 clearly strips fidelity from the music files and outside of the small space savings it isn’t what we recommend for a collection rip initially. Mp3 is good when a) you don’t care about fidelity b) you want to stream the files using Airplay or c) you want to take your whole collection with you on a portable device.
Who creates the perception that MP3 is ‘CD quality’? Look no further than the settings in iTunes (under preferences, import settings. Apple iTunes says MP3/AAC bit rates of 128kbps are ‘good’, 160kbps (High) and 192kbps (higher). Clearly with lossless bit rates running up to 1411kbps, this isn’t ‘good’ by ReadyToPlay’s definition. I believe Apple does this so you can rip/compress your files and meet their marketing promise of their portable devices holding X number of songs. Apple has changed its capacity capabilities to strictly the GB of storage per device and has eliminated the song count paradigm as a measurement. If you are going to rip your CDs yourself, remember to change the settings in iTunes so that you are ripping in AAC/Mp3 320 at a minimum or Apple Lossless!
A NAS is simply an appliance (read: box with one or more hard drives) that provide storage for files and serves them over the network in your home. It is connected via Ethernet to your router. Since it is on your network, ANY device that connects to that network can read files or be served files from the NAS. So a single NAS can serve files to PC’s, Mac’s, Sonos, Apple TV and any other device – and it can do it all at the same time! NAS’s are small, can go anywhere and are meant to be on 24X7.
A NAS comes in one drive, two drive and four drive configurations. Obviously, the more drives, the more expensive. When the NAS ships with 2 or 4 drives, it is usually able to be configured in what is called ‘RAID’ mode. There are several flavors of RAID but essentially it copies all the music to the other drives for redundancy and theoretical ‘backup’. So if one of the drives fails, the other will start operating in its place.
RAID DOES NOT MEAN BACKUP! If the NAS gets crushed, dropped, damaged or a power supply fails, then your files and your music is gone. I’ve learned from experience to backup a NAS. I had 2 drives out of 4 total fail. Theoretically, you were supposed to be able to restore all the files by replacing the two failed drives with new ones. However, it did not work and I had to restore all my music from an outside backup (USB drive). All the NAS’s now ship with either Time Capsule/Time Machine backup compatibility (so if you are a Mac household you can add the NAS). If you don’t have Time Machine, then you can hook up a USB drive to the NAS and have its own backup software work to keep everything backed up from the NAS on a daily basis.
Modes of RAID: There is RAID1 which ‘mirrors’ the data from one drive to the next. Thus a two drive, 2TB system ships with (2) 1TB drives and you have only 1TB of available storage, the other drive is a mirror copy. There is RAID5 and other X-Raid technologies that work with 4 drive systems. It spreads the data across 4 drives and when one fails, the RAID technology will rebuild the RAID array. Suffice it can get complicated so best to talk or research to the manufacturers directly about their RAID choices.
Many customers of ReadyToPlay plan to put their digitally ripped music on a PC or Mac in their home. Some plan to use a USB drive connected to their computer to serve the files. Others want to use the internal drives on their PC or Mac to host the files, but they don’t take into account the storage requirements to hold all their CDs digitally (350MB per CD for lossless encoding, 150MB per CD for Mp3 320). So for a 500 CD collection in lossless, you’re talking about 177GB or in Mp3, 75GB!
The primary caveat to answer before you consider storage is: ‘How do you plan to play your digital files in the home?”. There are several alternatives most consider around where you store the music files:
- If you are planning to use a PC or Mac to serve the files to your system then understand
- That PC or Mac has to be ‘on’ all the time
- That you have to have enough storage to put the files on that machine (disc drive space)
- That it is best if it is Ethernet connected to your network
- That this is best implementation for loading iPods or serving music to an Apple TV
- Remember, hanging a USB drive off the PC or Mac will draw more power and have an additional ‘hop’ from USB to PC and then Ethernet to playback device!
- If you answered a ‘no’ to any of the above you should consider a NAS.
Read more about NAS devices in my next blog!
Digital audio has been around awhile now. It seems like it was just yesterday that the first iPod was introduced and with it, the first music download store (2003). So digital music has been mainstream for over 10 years now. Much has changed and what were once constraints are now ‘a given’:
In general, keep the following ‘truisms’ in mind and go for the whole house audio solution that that fits for you. You’ll love it.
- Music downloads/purchases are now ‘encryption free’ and with cloud technologies, music is available almost everywhere and on any device.
- Whole house audio does not mean that you have to settle for any loss of fidelity from the CD quality you were used to with a dedicated CD player.
- Disc drive storage for higher fidelity ‘lossless’ versions of your music is not as large as you think, it’s cheap and easy to implement, so don’t sweat storage.
- Controlling your music system is as simple as downloading an application to devices you ALREADY USE each day (smart phones like iPhone, Android, Apple’s iTouch & iPad etc.). So control of your whole house library is easy and relatively inexpensive.
- Existing speaker systems can be utilized with digital technology and new speaker pairs for ‘additional zones’ are inexpensive, portable and can be wireless.
- You don’t need expensive remodeling or wiring into a vertical rack in the basement anymore. Distributed wireless audio is the new paradigm and can be leveraged around existing house constraints like hard walls. If your home installer is trying to sell you a big rack for audio, make sure it’s doing more than just audio like TV, video, energy control etc.
- It has never been cheaper or easier to implement digital music in your home. Just go for it – you and your family will love it and wonder how you ever did without it.
For whole house audio options and professional CD conversion services, visit www.readytoplay.com now!
Wi-fi is always touted as the solution to all your problems. The good news is that for those of us who have split level homes, brick or steel reinforced construction and other heavy infrastructure, wireless will cut costs instead of pulling wire through impossible walls. By wire, I mean ethernet wiring from device to device to connect your network together. However, with heavy construction you may encounter wireless issues. As you may know, wireless communication sends packets of data (music or otherwise) – wirelessly through the air from a signal source to a receiver. Anything that breaks up this signal will cause devices to not work properly. Lack of connectivity will impact the ability of your home audio system to do the same. SO before you go any further with whole house audio, make sure you consider the realities of your home and plan for necessary wi-fi repeaters or boosters. But as with all things wi-fi: if you can wire devices directly to your network, do so, it will operate as advertised all the time.
When should you always ‘go wired’? For example, if your router is in the basement and you have 2 floors above that – and you can’t figure out why your network connection is failing on the 3rd floor. Or you’ve got your router placed behind a brick wall and can’t receive data a mere 6 feet away on the other side of the wall. Hard walls, height and distance contribute to wireless issues.
Deciding on how you want to use your music to be in your home and combining that with the realities of the house situation will lead you to choose the right products. Visit Ready To Play to see what products are available for your home audio.
Form Follows Function in Whole House Audio Systems
Your home layout, technical infrastructure and existing audio or media systems have a big impact on the products you will choose for your whole house audio system. Let’s start first with house configuration.
The configuration of your home is a big consideration. I’ll provide more details in future specific blogs for each scenario, but generally:
If you have a smaller house, a wireless music implementation from Apple or single zone/speaker combo from Sonos will do the trick.
If you share a dedicated entertainment center/family room with a TV, then Apple TV is a great bet if you also use iTunes.
Many audiophiles invest in a dedicated listening room. If this is you, then you most definitely want your digital system to interface with a digital audio converter (or DAC) and then feed audio to the stereo system. More on that in another post.
If your house has a lot of rooms or areas to play music (family room, back yard, living room, kitchen, master bedroom) then you have multiple “zones” and you’ll want a multi-zone system like Sonos, Savant, or Control 4. Each implement their systems using either wired or wireless technology. Understand the wi-fi capabilities given your house configuration and decide if a wired or wireless implementation is the answer.
Convert CDS to MP3 or digital technology with ReadyToPlay.com – We rip CDs to Lossless format and are the best CD Conversion service on the web!
When clients first call ReadyToPlay most start with “I want to get my music ripped” or “I want to put my music on an iPod”. This is a starting point and converting CDs to lossless format is a service that ReadyToPlay provides, but we always steer customers into a bigger discussion about how to use digital music on portable devices (which is a given) AND in the home. So the question now becomes: “How do I play digital music in my home?”
Deploying digital music in your home depends on your home and your vision for music in your home. Everyone should start with the following considerations when deciding to take digital music throughout the house:
- How large is your house? Do you have multi-story, multi room house or are you in a two bedroom apartment in New York City? This translates into the difference between a multi-zone installation or a single zone installation.
- If you have a ‘larger house’ is it built of brick, split level, on a beach or hillside? Why does this matter? Because we all know that certain architectures and constructions have an easier or harder time transmitting wi-fi signals consistently throughout the home.
- Do you have a dedicated listening room to play your music? If so, you are what I’d call an audiophile, and have a different level of expectation in terms of sound quality and stereo implementation than your average listener.
- Do you share music with a TV in one room as the primary ‘entertainment center’? This would lead us to how can I see and play my music in conjunction with the TV.
- Do you already have a whole house audio system? If so, do you have touch panels in each room or a programmed tablet to control or a central rack for AV equipment? If so, then you need to discuss how digital products will compliment or replace existing installations.
As you can see, it is a given that you can get your music on a portable device like an iPod but for the whole home, it takes a bit more thought on what to do. Converting CDs to MP3 format is the first step to enjoying digital and lossless music, knowing how to seamlessly play digital music throughout your home is the next step; See part two in this series for what happens next once you’ve thought about your house configuration.