How Old Are Your CD Rips?

I've been trying to get back into music lately, something that's fallen far to the wayside for several years as my listening interests have fallen more and more into talk radio and podcasts. After spinning a few CDs on my home stereo and really enjoying it, I decided to load up my new Windows Phone, complete with built in Zune player, with a bunch of music. 

After listening to a few albums, I was horrified by just how bad my music sounded. I know CDs sound better, but I was shocked at just how significant the difference was.

Then something strange happened. I started playing a rip of one of my newer CDs, a purchase I made last year, and it sounded great - far better than the other digital tracks on my player. So why did this one album sound so much better than the rest?

I've been on board the digital music bandwagon for some time, dabbling with things like recordable MiniDisc far before the iPods and other digital music players hit the scene. As a result, the vast majority of my music collection was ripped nearly 10 years ago. Back then, not only was hard drive space was a concern, forcing me to utilize a lower bit-rate for my rips, but the audio encoders were less advanced than they are today.

Some of my tracks are in 128kbps MP3 format, and others in 128kbps WMA, but the WMA version used was probably WMA7, which isn't nearly as good as the version in use today.

As a result, I've taken on the task of re-ripping my entire music library with today's modern codecs at a higher quality setting. You'll see ridiculous flame wars touting one audio codec's superiority over another, but at the end of the day, whatever codec you use (be MP3, AAC, WMA, etc) will give great results at the better quality end.

MP3 is definitely the most universal choice for player compatibility, but being fairly entrenched in Microsoft's world I ultimately chose WMA as my codec, as its support is nearly as ubiquitous. After doing a few rips into each format, I found WMA 9's variable bit rate 135 to 215kbps setting to be the best balance between great audio quality, disk space use, and compatibility. I could have just as easily chosen MP3 as my format, as 192kbps LAME MP3 rips also sounded great. 

Alternately, I thought about ripping into a lossless format, then encoding into something else on the fly when loading it on to a player. I may do that down the road, but I've got a pretty large CD library and don't want to devote that kind of disc space to music (and ultimately its backup). Down the road I may, particularly as storage continues to get cheaper and cheaper.

As digital savvy consumers, we spend a lot of time upgrading as new software comes along. We upgrade our operating systems, anti-virus software, games, and other applications. How long has it been since your music got an upgrade?


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