FYI – 6283 CDs is about 260 linear feet of heavy plastic. In the mid-2000s Stereophile Magazine reviewers began to claim, consistently, that a CD copied to a hard drive and played back with a decent DAC sounded better than the original disc. Remember that these are the folks who said that CDs sound better if you paint the edges of the CDs with a green marker, or elevate your interconnects on little wooden trestles. But sometimes they are right. A DAC is a digital to analog converter – probably most people give it little thought, but any gadget that can take a digital file and make sound (which is “analog”) has to have a DAC. Most DACs, like the ones in your smart phone or most computers, are pretty cheap and not equipped to handle high-resolution digital recordings. But the better ones, which now can cost as little as $250 or as much as $25,000, have revolutionized audio music. If you listen through 1” speakers, or worse, you won’t notice the difference. But if you have a decent stereo, you certainly will notice the benefit of a good DAC and high resolution recordings (such as SACD, DSD, or high-definition – sort of like the difference between ordinary TV and high-definition TV). But just ordinary CDs sound better too when you convert them directly to sound from the digital files that are stored on the CD, and skip the CD player.
Back to having too many CDs. Loading CDs into my computer at the rate of 5 per hour, a rate that I cannot sustain for more than an hour or two, my collection would have taken 1256 hours, or about 6 years of 40-hour work weeks. That does not include the “grooming” (the most critical and time-consuming step). iTunes does it for you automatically, but you get what you pay for, which is not very much. Fortunately I met Ari Margolis http://www.goldeneardigital.com 4 years ago. He has a robot that automatically copies CDs at a reasonable price that includes grooming. Fortunately for my sanity, Ari is an excellent musician with a deep knowledge of classical and jazz, and an audiophile (hence “Golden Ear Digital”) – also with a touch of OCD, a necessary job skill for his business. A robot is a cool gadget that picks up each CD from a stack and feeds it into a computer that copies (“rips”) it, and then picks up the CD and puts it back in a stack. I would love to have one, just to watch it work.
Once you are finished with the copying, you have to groom the CDs – the meta-tagging that records the information about the music on the CD is somewhere between unreliable and annoying. Ari is a master at JRiver, an amazing music database program that just keeps getting better. With its flexibility, however, comes complexity, and it takes a while to get to know it – and even then it is the playground of geeks. But if you need it to do something – like print out a pdf of your collection – it can do it. It just takes a bit of trial-and-error and deciphering of inscrutable computer-ese. So what is new?
And then all your music is neatly stored on external hard drives. My collection ended up being a little more than 7 TB, which was an unthinkable amount of storage space until recently. But now it costs less than $500 to buy 8 TB. I prudently backed-up my collection, which had now cost thousands of dollars to transfer to hard drives. I even sent one hard drive to the most trustworthy person Cynthia and I know – her sister Chris. If I told Chris that if her house caught fire the first thing she had to rescue was the hard drive, she would do it. Even better, she lives in Florida, which, unlike California, refuses to have earthquakes.
The hard drive Chris shepherded through TSA inspection (I think they thought Chris might throw it at the pilot and tell him to fly to Malaysia) is now on its way back to California. Three of my four hard drives crashed – two could not be resuscitated. They are officially dead. The third was resuscitated and is contentedly humming next to my computer. With that drive and the one winging its way from Florida, I will be able to put things back together. If I had not been able to do so, I would have lost 2 years of work.
The morals: Backing up is not fun, but you never know when melt-downs occur. And if you do what I did with your CDs, go to The Container Store and buy some big $10 storage units and put the archival CDs under your bed. Never trust a hard drive…