Playing Your Tunes

How many of us have large CD collections and want to better manage the way we listen and carry them? What are our entertainment options?
Those of us with a CD large CD collection need a better way to manage the way we listen and carry our music. Sure you can just listen to the radio, but I feel that these days the stations are just pumping out too much stuff I don’t care for in heavy rotations, even given the large variety of stations in the Northeast US. Frankly, if you’re buying a lot of pop stuff that you really aren’t interested in within a few weeks, you deserve what you get. Besides there’s always EBay and if you bought it in the first place, there must be someone else who will get sucked into buying it from you.

I tend to be very conservative about what CDs I buy in that an album definitely has to have more than one song that I’ve liked. Still I’ve gathered maybe a few hundred CDs of stuff that I really like and would like to listen to in a nice rotation. Once you are talking about having a choice of more than maybe 10 CDs n your person, things have gotten out of control. Working with a contraining medium like the CD, however, gives you no opportunity for advanced features like playing all albums of an artist or shuffling songs from many CDs. What can you do?

Enter the MP3 player. I’ve had an MP3 player since the Rio PMP300 days when I won one from a website contest. The Rio PMP300 is similar to the current Rio One player, but required the use of a parallel port rather than today’s friendlier USB port. In those days 32MB was the norm for onboard memory and an expansion slot for a SmartMedia card allowed you to add another 32MB. With the price of SmartMedia back then I was not interested in investing money into bumping up the space. This only allowed me room for a few songs recorded at low quality (64kps). This quickly got boring. Routinely uploading songs into the unit was a horribly slow process that detered me from using it as much as I could have.

Years later, when SmartMedia was cheaper I got a 32MB card for kicks and increased the available space in my Rio PMP300. The problem was that the barries between the two storage spaces meant that some song or another would not fit on the player.

A couple of years ago, I acquired an Audiotron 100. This unit hooked to an ethernet port and the RCA or optical connections of your stereo. The unit reads files over the 10MB/s ethernet link from a Windows share, dramatically increasing the space available for songs. I now have a 100GB partition shared from Linux via Samba that I rip all my CDs onto for home listening. In the case that I am in another room of the house, I can probably get away with playing the music over a nearby computer with Microsoft Media Player 9, but this isn’t always an option. To cover all rooms I would have to invest in a whole-house audio system, and that can be very pricy. One gets used to having these features when listening to music, though, so how can I do the same when I am not at home?

To show how common this need for music management has become, this past Christmas my brother and I got my daughter an RCA Lyra RD1071A with 128MB built in memory and an available SD card expansion slot. (I have since replaced this with an RCA Lyra RD1072 which has 256Mb memory [$60] and to which I added a 512MB SD card [$40] to get her the same storage capacity as the IPod Shuffle, but with an LDC screen and at a cheaper price.) I sprung for a 256MB card on sale for $79 at Circuit City to boost the storage space. Given the 384MB space, she was able to fit all her albums onto one player. Needless to say, I am jealous. How can I do the same?

The latest advancement in MP3 players is the addition of a hard drive. The first company that I heard of that added a hard drive was Archos which used a 1.9” laptop drive in its bulky Jukebox MP3 line. Apple has its feature rich iPod, which has inspired a slew of similar devices from many manufacturers. Ideally, I want to listen to my collection in the car while driving, so an FM transmitter module may also be necessary – I have a Belkin TuneCastII (model F8V3080). I was to get one of these at about 40GB, but the asking price is still very steep. Apple has also come out with a “mini” version of the player, giving you 4GB of space, but the price is far from 1/10 of the larger player. For $50 more you can get more than 3x the space with the 15GB iPod. Rumor is that Microsoft is coming out with a competing hard drive music system, but with their history of expensive PDAs and tablet PCs, I am not holding my breath for this to be any cheaper. The Dell Digital Jukebox is more sanely priced, but suffers from the same “unremovable battery” issue that plagues the iPod. For a little less money, you can get the Archos 20GB Gmini or RCA’s 40GB Lyra Jukebox. For just a little more money, the 40GB Creative Zen has a removable rechargable battery and the same features. It’s possible that may be the player I’ve been looking for! Now to find a way to rip my Pac-Man Fever vinyl. (http://www.bucknergarcia.com/)

Is MP3 the only answer? MP3 lacks the quality of 5.1 digital sound played on DVDs. Other solutions such as Ogg Vorbis are supported by the open-source community, but will nevere be supported for these players because of the lack of DRM. As a person who has never illegally downloaded music, I feel hampered in my purchasing options because of the misbehavior of other music enthusiasts. The day is coming when it will be difficult to have your music in all the places you want it, and the quality of albums has been much lower of late. It will be interesting to see where the technology goes in the near future as these players get more and more powerful.

And, of course, I went right out and got a Creative Zen 40GB. I’m starting to load the music now. A couple of months ago the 160GB Western Digital drive in my server died. That drive hosted this site and also served to hold my MP3 collection. Luckily I had just gotten the drive the previous month and still had the three old 8GB drives it was replacing on hand. Now that I’ve reconstructed everything, and having gone through a move, I was unable to find the drives holding my music, so I’m going through the ripping process all over again. It’s been a busy couple of days so far, but I’m about 1/4 the way through it. The software I’m using is RipCd.pl from Obsequium which is actually just a script frontend for cdparanoia and lame. I’ve synced part of it with the Creative Zen, and I’m not really fond of the Mediasource management software bundled with the player. I would have instead preferred accessing the player as a drive letter.

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One thought on “Playing Your Tunes

  1. How many of us have large CD collections and want to better manage the way we listen and carry them? What are our entertainment options?
    Those of us with a CD large CD collection need a better way to manage the way we listen and carry our music. Sure you can just listen to the radio, but I feel that these days the stations are just pumping out too much stuff I don’t care for in heavy rotations, even given the large variety of stations in the Northeast US. Frankly, if you’re buying a lot of pop stuff that you really aren’t interested in within a few weeks, you deserve what you get. Besides there’s always EBay and if you bought it in the first place, there must be someone else who will get sucked into buying it from you.

    I tend to be very conservative about what CDs I buy in that an album definitely has to have more than one song that I’ve liked. Still I’ve gathered maybe a few hundred CDs of stuff that I really like and would like to listen to in a nice rotation. Once you are talking about having a choice of more than maybe 10 CDs n your person, things have gotten out of control. Working with a contraining medium like the CD, however, gives you no opportunity for advanced features like playing all albums of an artist or shuffling songs from many CDs. What can you do?

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