Audio Encoding Project: Software Status Update

Last we heard, I was having problems with the Winamp/FLAC combination for ripping CDs. As it turns out, I was not only unsuccessful in figuring out what the exact issues were, let alone resolving them, but it turns out that the ripping process was not being entirely transparent about non-obvious errors. I discovered upon listening to some of the encoded files that there were occasional errors in the form of digital audio glitches, and, in some cases, truncated (prematurely ending) files. The ripping process did not inform me that there were any problems outside of the major errors that I occasionally encountered (and which prompted me to investigate in the first place). Fortunately, these hidden errors were not too frequent.

Frustrated by these persistent problems with Winamp, I began to look for a better solution. Some Googling and freeware searches later, I discovered dbPowerAMP, a free ripper/converter whose makers claimed to have been frustrated about error-prone rippers in much the same way as I. dbPowerAMP meets all of the specifications that I enumerated at the outset of the project, so I decided to give it a try.

Initial tests were encouraging at first. The program ripped to FLAC quickly and easily. A checksum is computed for each track which is checked against an online database that verifies an error-free rip. Such a distributed error-checking method is useful, but the single point-of-failure inherent in the centralized database is a bit worrying for long-term viability of the solution. I need to verify that there is a fallback in case the database is not accessible, in other words, that there is some means of error-checking or prevention present in the local system. I am also a bit disappointed that this technical metadata is not automatically appended to the file metadata -- I may either suggest this feature to the developers or figure out a way to script it myself.

The problem I ran into, however, was that the FLAC codec did not set the ID3 file metadata. After both my first and second run, the ID3 tags were empty. Later, however, I updated the FLAC codec to a more recent version which seemed to resolve the issue. FreeDB metadata is automatically appended to an ID3 tag, as desired.

The only remaining benefit that the Winamp solution holds over dbPowerAMP is that Winamp had the ability to automatically create a playlist file for the disc; the current solution does not. To compensate for this lost information, I set the filenaming macro to include the track number along with the artist and track name. This way, the directory structure will retain the original order, which will allow me to retroactively generate playlist metadata.

This is the current environment:

dbPowerAMP version 11.5, Windows 2000 SP 4
FLAC codec for dbPowerAMP version 5.3 (using FLAC 1.1.2)

Dell Latitude C600, Pentium III 700 MHz, 512 Mb Ram, 32x DVD/CD combo drive
Seagate 300 Gb USB/Firewire combo external drive

At this very moment, I have completed 8 rips in a row, with only one reported (and properly handled) error. Ripping speed averages 4-5 times realtime which translates to 10-14 minutes per full-length CD. I could probably see significant improvement in speed were I using a faster computer (decreases encoding time) and connecting to the external drive using firewire instead of USB 1.1 (I cannot use both my firewire and network cards at the same time). If we use 10 minutes as a baseline average for encoding, the remaining 750 CDs will take approximately 125 hours (5 24-hour days) of linear effort to encode.

Wish me luck!