On the Merits and Caveats of Audio Formats and the Misconstrued Myths of Inferiority

 

SliderSliders on TL Audio VTC (1), Metway Studios by Jeremy Keith is licensed under CC BY 2.0

As audio formats have risen and fallen from favor, there have always been a segment of audiophiles there to fly the flag of their favorite format and to shun the supposed failures of those they oppose.

Truly, each format has its respective merits and caveats. The choice of one format over another is mostly preferential based upon one’s circumstances. The favor for portable digital formats is most often made for convenience, and those listening from their mobile devices while commuting are seldom concerned about the quality of the device’s internal DAC or of the lossy compression which leads other audiophiles to write their congresspersons in fits of anger and audio activism. Pragmatically speaking, (respectable fringe circumstances aside), portable listening environments, given the significant white noise and distraction of passersby, reduce the need for performative excellence in audio signal reproduction as much of the nuanced perfections of a given recording are lost in the chaotic shuffle of human transport.

CDs are a sufficient marriage of quality and convenience for many listeners. They lend an optimum sound quality for properly-mastered and mixed recordings, are a widely-supported format, and can readily be converted to lossless EAC or lossy MP3 for added portability.  They suffer the usual limitations of physical media – entropic decay, limited capacity forcing albums to restrict runtime, and jewel case hinges which are frustratingly breakable. Title availability is often limited to commercially-viable recordings, which may or may not be an issue depending on your genres of interest.

There appears to be a curious consensus that the many of the earliest discs (roughly 1981-1989) are inferior in their sound quality. Listeners often complain that these discs sound “tinny”, “bright”, or “thin”. However, a quick search reveals intriguing opposing views, suggesting that the supposed poor sound quality of early discs may be a myth after all. It is important not to mistake earlier, quietly-mastered CDs as inferior. Podunk from the quartertothree forum offers the following:

“…mastering techniques have changed a lot since the 80’s and early 90’s. The most significant change is the tendency of mastering engineers to apply a lot of compression or hard limiting to final mix, which greatly decreases the dynamic range of a recording but makes it sound really loud and punchy. Recordings from even the early 90’s sound much quieter than modern recordings because of this practice. The advantage to that kind of aggressive compression is that our ears initially percieve loud recordings as sounding generally better, bassier, punchier, etc. Also, a loud recording will reveal fewer of the weaknesses of a cheap cd player/receiver/etc, because you don’t have to turn it up until you start to hear the background noise from your system. The disadvantage to that sort of mastering is that listening to a recording with very little dynamic range is fatiguing, but at first blush, that is probably the #1 reason that a new CD would sound better than an old one: at the same volume level, a new one will sound much louder and punchier.”

Ethan Winer of Music Player Network agrees, stating that some early CDs were poor due to improper mastering, but that these are the exception rather than the norm. During the early days of CDs some engineers directly used …”master tapes meant for vinyl records, with treble added to counter the known high-frequency loss of LPs.” Alan Cross published an article on 10 of the Worst-Sounding CDs of All Time, which includes the terribly hissy My Aim is True by Elvis Costello. But you’ll find that each of the early albums on his list is an example of shoddy production work at the hands of the studio and not limitations of the format or its technology.

Another factor to consider is that early 80s music itself is characteristically bright and tinny, further contributing to the perceived poor sound quality in comparison to post-loudness-war era recordings. Personally, I delight in the sound of early synth-pop albums and their characteristic brightness, and if I elect I can simply adjust the equalization to taste – far better than having to deal with the over-compressed dialed-up-to-eleven victims of the loudness war!

Cassettes rival other formats in two primary regards – their portability, and more importantly, the participatory factor of the mixtape – a cultural phenomenon which permitted the listener to contextualize and identify with their music and to share it with others. Music became far more socially interactive with the birth of the cassette. This also created an environment for DIY home recorded genres like punk and were critical to the development of independent music.  This, of course, continued with the democratization of CD burning technologies some years later.

Even as a devout record collector, it is important to state that the format’s allure is largely fetishist and a placebo effect. Young listeners born in the era of digital music enjoy discovering the retro format as it provides a tactile and real-time listening experience and it gives a (literally) substantial value to music they would otherwise perceive as common, elemental, and as plentiful as air and water. Gatefold artwork is often breathtaking and elegant. Sound quality is dependent on a combination of the source audio, the mastering process, the condition of the disc, and the playback equipment utilized. To various degrees of impact, the selection of tables, tonearms, cartridges, interconnects, preamps, power amps, and speakers each play a role in the resulting sound. However, the nostalgic “warmth” described by many vinyl lovers is simply a distortive property of the medium – a characteristic of playback altering the true audio signal of the artist, producer, and engineer, just as the crackles and pops of a well-worn and well-loved LP add a vitality and character to the music representing its history as a badge of honor, like the scratches and scars on the face of a dedicated soldier.

One important additional characteristic of the vinyl format is that there are tens of thousands of titles issued on LP which will never be made commercially available in a digital format. Thankfully, listeners have risen to this challenge and through online music journals and sites like Archive.org, have come together to digitize worlds of music which would never see the light of day without their efforts. In fact, the very same has been happening in the cassette community, both in the audio and video realms.

MP3 offers the convenience of compression and shareability and was the first widely successful non-physical format. They offered the same flexibility as mix tapes with the added bonus of storage tens of thousands of tracks on a small drive, plus the post-scarcity economic quality of being infinitely replicable at no cost to the user. There was a brief “dark age” of digital music in the early days of Napster with no bitrate standard and file exchange systems based on tracks instead of albums or discographic archives of artists or record labels, but this quickly passed as technology progressed to appease more discerning listeners who demanded standardization of formatting and v0 compression.

Still, some listeners prefer archival quality audio and have no use for single-track exchange networks. This is where archival lossless digital audio factors in. Private FLAC-based trackers offer an incredible value to users with meticulously-structured and uniformly-extracted FLAC+.CUE + .log packages for all available libraries. Complete discographic archives are instantly accessible whether showcasing a single artist or composer or an entire record label or musical theme. Finally, a format had arrived which offered a truly contextual listening experience, complete with catalog numbers and uniform metadata for well-organized archival libraries and with enhanced accessibility.

Best of all, these communities offer vastly larger libraries of content than commercial channels which focus only on licensed recordings. FLAC communities offer artist demos, developmental works in progress, live performances (whether sourced from soundboard or field), and an array of other non-commercial recordings not available to the public at any price.

Streaming services have grown incredibly popular of late, given their convenience and accessibility, though more discerning listeners collectively deride the technology as being painfully inadequate for their own listening needs. The disdain is three-fold.  Firstly, the services are limited to commercial recordings for which they can secure licensing, which instantly reduces the available catalog to a tiny fraction of the world of recorded music. Secondly, inferior lossy compression rates have turned many off from using these services.  Finally and perhaps most importantly, there is the principle behind the service’s greatest flaw – namely that listeners never own any of the music they hear on these services. There have already been instances of titles being remotely deleted from user libraries, hinting at the dangerous potential for media censorship at the hands of the content distributor. The EFF and other open culture organizations caution consumers that collectively relinquishing ownership of creative works is incredibly dangerous for a society.  Fortunately, a percentage of listeners still hold fast to the concept of personal libraries and elect to retain the public’s control of our art.

What is to come of these formats in the years ahead?  Vinyl will retain an audience of collectors who desire a tangible connection to their music and a lust for magnificent artwork. CDs will experience a nostalgic retro-renaissance as all things do approximately 20 years after their era. Cassette culture is already on the rise, albeit a niche, (though the same was said about vinyl just a few years ago). Each format excels in areas which appeal to their respective fan base. It will be interesting to see what transpires with non-physical digital audio. As storage cost continues to plummet, we’ve reached a threshold where compression and storage are non-issues. And as accessibility (in both legal and non-legal forms) continues to become refined and democratized, we may approach a day where every user can possess a personal copy of the Library of Congress, readily accessible for their perusal, research, and literacy. As open culture explains, this has the potential to usher in a new age of artistic enlightenment.

I hope I’m around to see that day.

 

Published in: on July 16, 2016 at 1:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Fall 2015 Megapost: The Playlist Project

This summer brought many changes to The Innerspace Library.  First we started fresh with a Linux OS and finally said “farewell” to Windows.  There was a brief period of limbo as I tested various open source media management software to find the right fit for my collection.  I finally settled down with gmusicbrowser which outperformed Clementine and other major players in its handling of large libraries and in the incredible versatility and customization of its GUI.

This was the very first time since the launch of Winamp 5 (the amusing successor to  Winamp 3) that I’d explored the power of music metadata to organize my library dynamically across multiple data points.  (I’d never really saw the need during my years with MediaMonkey Gold.)

But as the summer drew to a close, I was still irked  that my Subsonic media server lacked the function of genre browsing.  I’d previously sidestepped this issue by generating mammoth genre playlists to serve as my personally-themed radio stations, each with hundreds or even thousands of the finest albums of their respective genre.

But it was this fresh start in the last few weeks that inspired my refinement of those playlists into distinct album libraries which would zero in on a specific moment of music history.  The aim was to bring a semblance of order to the hundred thousand plus tracks in my file library and to give me a set of starting points to really explore the neglected and unplayed folders of my drive.

I’m proud to declare that this evening, the project was a complete success.  I’ve created 100 all-killer-no-filler libraries showcasing each of the largest collections in my catalog.  I found that 68% (9,300 albums) of my music library fell neatly into one of these 100 categories.

The following is an index of these 100 playlists, sorted by number of albums.  This roster effectively summarizes and gives order to what is otherwise an insurmountable archive.  I’m going to enjoy exploring these playlists throughout the fall and into the winter months.

Playlists by Descending Size (in # of Albums)

Playlists with 1000+ Albums
Midnight on Mars: Ambient Worlds – 2,986 Ambient Albums
Hearts of Space: Innerspace Journey – 30 Year Complete 1,069 Broadcast Archive

Playlists with 200-999 Albums
Kelly Watch the Stars – 607 Classic Albums of the Downtempo Genre
Mentalism: Psybient Dreams – 545-Disc Archive of Psybient Electronic Music
Echowaves: Intergalactic Radio – 450 Legendary Krautrock Albums
The Shape of Jazz to Come – 387 Modern Jazz LPs (1959-1979)
Just Gimme Indie Rock!: 379 of the Greatest Indie Rock Albums (1988-2014)
Underworld: Dark & Long – A 35 Year Chronology – 339 Albums from Screen Gemz to Eno & Hyde
Old Time Radio: Dragnet (298 Broadcasts)
Salute to Birdland – 259 Classic Jazz Records (1924-1958)
FAX +49-69450464 Label Archive: The Legacy of Pete Namlook 254 Disc Catalog
We Came to Funk Ya – A 227 Album Funk Odyssey
Ninja Tune: Turn Me Loose – 204 LP Archive of Ninja Tune Records

Playlists with 100-199 Albums
Days of the Lords: 195 Album Archive of Ethereal & New Wave, Gothic Rock, Minimal Wave, Post-Punk, Jangle & Noise Pop (1976-1997)
The KLF: Abandon All Art Now – 189-disc Catalog of the Justified Ancients of MuMu
Shirt Tail Stomp: Swing & The Big Bands – 181 LP and Broadcast Archive
Tangerine Dream: Journey Through a Burning Brain – 178-Disc Chronology of TD & its Side Projects
Old Time Radio: The Adventures of Superman (171 Broadcasts)
Night Lines – 140 Album Archive of Deep House Sessions
Light Patterns – Jazz of Tomorrow – 139 Future Jazz Albums
Heaven or Las Vegas: 30 Years of Dream Pop & Ethereal Wave (134 Album Archive)
Max & Dima: Sapovnela Studio Sessions – 131 Deep House DJ Sets
Nurse with Wound: Walking Like Shadow – 127 Album Discography
Old Time Radio: X Minus One – 122 Broadcasts (1955-1973)
Deutsche Grammophon: 111 Years of DG (111-Disc Box Set)
Lemon Jelly : Going Places – 110-Disc Catalog of All Things Jelly
Miles Davis: The Complete Prestige & Columbia Recordings – 109 LPs released between 1955-2014
Daft Punk: Daftendirekt – 104-LP Chronology
Flea Market Funk – 100-Disc Archive of Funky Soul & Rare Groove
Frank Zappa: Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar – 100-disc Catalog (1966-2006)
RYM’s Top 100 Downtempo & Trip Hop Albums

Playlists with 75-99 Albums
Franz Liszt: Lisztomania! – 97 LP Archive
Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser – 97 LP Discography
Good Looking Records: 94-Disc Archive of LTJ Bukem’s Intelligent D’n’B Label
Franklin Mint: The 100 Greatest Classical Recordings – 88 LP Catalog
Somnium – 87-Album Library of Pure Drone Music
Aphex Twin: We are the Music Makers – 86 Album Chronology of Richard D James
The Electronic Brain: Future Sounds of London & Amorphous Androgynous 86-Disc Complete Chronology
Mike Oldfield: Tricks of the Light – 86 LP Discography (1973-2010)
Jimmy Smith: Jazz Scattin’ – 85 LP Discography
Cinematic Soundscapes – 83-Disc Library of Music for Films
Old Time Radio: CBS Radio Mystery Theater – The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (83-Disc Box Set)
Klaus Schulze: I Sing the Body Electric – 81 LP Discography
Ludwig Van Beethoven: The Bicentennial Collection – 80 LP Complete Works
Old Time Radio: BBC Radio – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (79-Disc Set)
Vangelis: Poem Symphonique – 77 Album Discographic Archive
Old Time Radio: The Shadow – 75 Original Broadcasts (1937-1954)

Playlists with 50-74 Albums
Sun Ra: Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy – 74-Disc Catalog (1957-1994)
John Cage: A Chance Operation – 73 LP Discography
2manyDJS – This is Radio Soulwax: 72 Mashup Sessions
Brian Eno: Strange Overtones – 70 LP Discography (1972-2015)
Peter Gabriel: Here Comes the Flood – 68-Disc Catalog (1977-2010)
Ornette Coleman: Change of the Century – 66 LP Discography
Prayer for the Paranoid: 66 Albums from a Decade of Shoegaze (1993-2003)
Muslimgauze: The Broken Radio of Istanbul Station – 63 Album Discography
The Piano Has Been Drinking: The Complete Recordings of Tom Waits – 63 LPs (1973-2011)
Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers: Just Coolin’ – 62 Album Discography
Karlheinz Stockhausen: Kontakte – 61 LP Archive
Old Time Radio: The Complete Sherlock Holmes Audiobooks (Unabridged 60-Disc Set)
Philip Glass: Glasspieces – 60 LP Discography of Operas, Symphonies, Sonatas and Scores
Cornelius: Out of Phase – 60 Album Discography
Spacemind: Wonderland Syndrome – 60 Psybient DJ sets
Cafe del Mar: Step into the Sunshine – 59-Disc Archive of the Sounds of Ibiza
Throbbing Gristle: 555 Jazz Funk Greats – 56 Album Discography
DJ Food – Solid Steel – 55 LPs of Classic Jazz Breaks
Herbie Hancock: One FInger Snap – 52 Album Discography
Ash Ra Tempel & Manuel Gottsching: Deep Distance – A 40 Year, 50 LP Chronology
Houdini’s Musical Box: Early Experimental Electronic Music (1940-1976) – 50 LP Archive
Porcupine Tree: Synesthesia – 50 Album Discography (1983-2013)

Playlists with 10-24 Albums
From Murmur to Monster: 21 Key Albums of the Jangle Pop Era (1983-1994)
Old Time Radio: Orson Welles Mercury Theater 1938 (20 Program Broadcasts)
Philips Prospective 21e siecle Label 18-LP Archive (1956-1972)
RYM: Round Midnight – 18 of the Highest-Rated Cool Jazz Records
Deutsche Grammophon Avant Garde: 17-LP Complete Recordings (1967-1971)
Braindance: A 15-LP IDM Chronology of Warp Records
The Plastikman Arkives: 1993-2010 (14-Disc Box Set)
Jellyroll Radio – Ragtime, Dixieland & Bluegrass Standards (13-Disc Catalog)
Claude Debussy – 12-Disc Complete Piano and Orchestral Works
Kompakt Records: Cirrus Minor – 12 Years of Ambient Music (2001-2013)

The Challenge: Best Strategies for Navigating the Waters of a Large Media Library

In recent weeks I’ve found my listening habits growing stagnant as my artist and label discographies are slowly exhausted.  The challenge for users with large media libraries is the task of finding yet-unexplored territories and developing strategies to facilitate the charting of those new waters.

One of the caveats of my otherwise-stellar media server software is that there is no way to browse by genre.  I realized this evening that queuing a chronology of albums from a given genre would be a wonderful way to explore new sounds within my library so I went to work straight away and by nightfall the project was a success.

A few initial discoveries – classics of soul jazz

serveimage (1)

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Using the genre text cloud feature in gmusicbrowser I constructed .m3u playlists of several intriguing but unfamiliar genres within my collection.  Each list  contained 10,000 to 17,000 of the tracks best-representative of the genre based upon RYM data and discographic libraries from the genre’s most prominent artists and composers.

I ended up splitting the Jazz list into two subsets – early jazz recordings from 1924-1958 and modern jazz recordings from 1959-1979.  This will help make the listening experience more uniform and will be an easier load on my mobile devices when spooling the lists.

With the task completed, I’m now ready to queue up thousands of hours of quality content from an array of genres I’d only explored superficially when I first acquired the recordings.  I’m looking forward to new discoveries and to the wonderful soundtrack it will provide for my days at the office!

The first batch of playlists are as follows:

  • Hot on the One – A Funk Odyssey
  • Ambient Worlds
  • Anatomy of a Murder: Film Noir Soundtracks
  • Beatless Space – Pure Drone
  • Beautiful Noise – 90s Dream Pop
  • Friday Nights – Intelligent Drum & Bass
  • 30 Years of Music from the Hearts of Space
  • Ninja Tune – The First 150 Albums
  • Psybient Dreams
  • Cinematic Soundscapes – Music for Films
  • The Chill Out Room – Downtempo Classics
  • The Imaginarium – Early Gypsy Jazz
  • The World of Jazz (1924-1958)
  • The World of Jazz (1959-1979)

Time to start listening!

Published in: on August 20, 2015 at 9:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
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gmusicbrowser – An Ideal Solution for Large Library Management in a Linux Environment

The final task in my transition to a Linux environment was to customize a powerful music library manager and player to work for my needs.

The most intriguing contender was gmusicbrowser – a robust utility with impressive handling for libraries in excess of 100,000 tracks, and best of all – a fully-customizable interface.

This evening I came upon a magnificent library of gmusicbrowser interface layouts from vsido.org with an accompanying step-by-step installation guide. After about 30 minutes of perusing the 40-odd layouts bundled in the collection I came upon one which wowed me. A few minor tweaks later and I found myself with a large library manager and player with an incredibly powerful interface which permits me to fully-indulge my metadata fetishism.

Have a look – this is better than anything I had Windows-side! Highly recommended for Linux users with archival collections!

Screenshot from 2015-08-15 21:39:44

(Click/Tap to enlarge for it’s full glory)

Published in: on August 15, 2015 at 10:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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And in the end…

After a brief discussion with a friend today comparing and contrasting the merits of print vs eBooks, I began to re-examine my obsession with record collecting (and with materialism of any form).  I’ve been grappling with both sides of the collectibility coin for years, but the end of a calendar year seems a fitting time to look back and reflect on exactly what I’m doing and at what cost.

My purchasing of printed books has become more selective and refined in the past year (as it has for much of the public with eBook sales still on the rise.)  Statistia.com forcasts that ePub sales will exceed those of printed books by 2017.  This has been my most active year ever for book purchases – the same year I built myself a virtually-departmentalized library of eBooks.

eBooks vs Print Chart

Similarly, my vinyl purchasing has become specialized as well.  2014 has been Innerspace’s most-active for both digital and vinyl acquisitions, with each directly inspiring activity in the other.

107 LPs (accounting for each of the discs in multi-disc box sets) were purchased in the last 5 months alone, making the second half of 2014 our busiest purchasing period in the history of the Innerspace Library.  Actual spending for album acquisition in 2014 (purchases between Jan 13 and Nov 26) totaled $1,140.30, including all spending for overseas shipping and other courier services, with a mean monthly expenditure of $103 for the 11 months of activity.  The vast majority of these purchases were special-edition, limited releases, and original-pressings of milestones from my favorite genres.

Comparatively, 4,138 of my digital album folders were added or modified in 2014, (though this number includes folders in which tag maintenance or restructuring occurred during the last calendar year.)  The increase in digital album “consumption” had a direct impact on my vinyl-ordering activity.

But increasingly, the reasons I’ve used to justify my LP purchases are being eroded by the changing landscape of the FLAC community.

And so I thought I’d take each head-on.

beethoven-with-headphones
CLAIM 1: Vinyl often features better mastering and production quality than their digital counterparts

The genres I collect, particularly avant-garde, modern classical, ambient, and experimental electronic music have an audiophile fan base dedicated to the digital preservation of these recordings.  Where once fans had to rely on pirate remastering work by Purple Chick and Dr. Ebbetts (among other legendary engineers), the democratization of recording technology has made home-archiving inexpensive and easy without having to chase down shiny black discs.

And for albums previously only available on wax, we have claim #2.

okeh1007side-bsleeve

CLAIM 2: You can’t find these recordings anywhere else

Thanks to archival technology, there has developed a large and well-networked community of collectors eager to share their rare vinyl recordings with the rest of the world.  The community has evolved to the point where vinyl-only issued and limited-press recordings are now readily available in the form of community-generated digital lossless archives.  While commercial networks like Spotify offer only a tiny fraction of these recordings (I think there are six) due to their limited commercial interest and costly rights negotiation, actual fans of the music have stepped up to the plate and made the albums available where a commercial market has not.

"Armand De Brignac" Champagne Party at the VIP Room

CLAIM 3: Supporting the artist

This is a moot argument in my specialized case and in the case of those like me.  99% of the albums I buy are used records pressed forty years ago.  The used market has little to no impact on composers and artists, (with a few special exceptions like that of Rodriguez).  One exempt title which comes to mind is Thom Yorke’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes LP.  Yorke made headlines when …Boxes became the first album ever to be sold through a commercial torrent channel, demonstrating the viability of the sharing medium.  I saw my purchase of the deluxe LP as a contribution to a cause I supported.  But those two exceptions aside, I don’t think Ludwig or Karlheinz need my money that badly.

audiophile-main
CLAIM 4: It’s all about the experience

The experience is one of the outstanding merits of vinyl albums with which digital music cannot compete.  Selecting the album, removing it from its artful gatefold cover, dropping the needle, and so many other elements of the vinyl experience remind us of the value of music in an age of digital gluttony.  The experience is what still motivates me to purchase records, but with greater selectivity than before.

REAL FRIENDS HELP YOU MOVE RECORDS

With the erosion of the above arguments in vinyl’s favor, the reasons against collecting grow larger than ever.

REASON 1: They weigh a ton.

Ask anyone who’s been generous enough to help me move.  Collecting records requires the dedication of space and the enlistment of an army should you ever need to relocate them.  I know it’s part of vinyl’s charm – they are Objets d’art, but they’re admittedly a burden at the same time.

REASON 2: The stuff I’m after costs a fortune.

That $100 a month is over a grand at the end of the year that I could put toward living more comfortably and taking care of my beautiful partner.  I’m grateful that I am able to accommodate the limited disposable income I have for a fulfilling hobby and as a means of social interaction, but greater selectivity may yield a greater reward in the end.  Contrariwise, the only available digital resource for these vinyl-ripped and rare recordings is the file sharing community, which is 100% free.  And there isn’t much that can compare with free.

REASON 3: Accessibility and Organization

What I love most about our Digital Library is that it is meticulously organized and instantly indexable by multiple points of metadata.  With just a few clicks I can export charts and visualizations of library data for my annual reports.  And with 100% of the content on my home server, I can access any track wherever I go.  My unlimited data plan grants me uninhibited access to my content in FLAC without needing to transcode to stay below a corporate-determined threshold of data.  I take several TB of content to work each day, enjoy it on the walk there and back, and DJ my office for the 8 hours in between.

(Oh yes… and 13,000+ albums don’t take up any real estate on the shelf.)

And so…

Moving forward into the new year, I’m going to significantly pull the reins on my vinyl-buying impulses.  I might attempt to quantify my purchasing decisions with a 3-question qualifier before buying (as I’ve a fondness for doing things mathematically.)  There will still be incredible albums here, and there is no reason I can’t talk about a FLAC vinyl-rip and throw up a shot of the LP… (it’ll be our little secret.)

I welcome your thoughts.  Please feel free to share your support for or against this notion.  And I’ll see you in the new year.

Moving to the Cloud

The time has come my friends.  On Jan 13th, 2011 I replaced my text-based Excel record  database with an OrangeCD visual db.  After 3.5 years of extracting data from web-based services, publishing quarterly reports and backing up to an external disk every month, I’ve finally smartened-up and made the move to the cloud.

When I first made the transition from text to a visual db, I thoroughly tested and evaluated each of the prominent softwares of the time.  True to form, I went through the same process with the three biggest online systems this week before setting my catalog free.

FIRST UP – RateYourMusic.com.

Your RYM profile consists of an avatar, a brief profile description, and your top 5-10 favorite composers/artists.  Supported formats are limited to CD, LP, and cassette.  The service does not appear to support official releases of electronic files.

RYM - Collection

RYM – Collection View

RYM permits users to add pressings missing from the db, with a simple preset interface for labels, artists, etc.  The site has a strict upload policy stating that album art images must be from your personal copies, (understandable for reasons of copyright but a frustrating complication just the same.)  Artist pages are accompanied by a profile and a sidebar of related user-generated lists.

RYM - List Browse

RYM – List Browse

RYM - Chart Browse

RYM – Chart Browse

The real power of the site is not collection management, but user-constructed lists and user-sourced album rankings for any search term, artist or genre you enter.  And surprisingly, RYM is not just for music.  The list tools have categories for books, films, games, and more.

User lists are a breeze and are fun to build.  To try this feature out I created a list of films inspired by the writings of Philip K Dick.

https://rateyourmusic.com/list/innerspaceboy/philip_k_dick_inspired_filmography/

At present, RYM includes just under 1 million artists and 2.8 million releases.  Building an RYM collection of my top 300 LPs took 3 evenings (roughly 100 titles per night) plus a handful of manual submissions for rare albums not already in the RYM database.

THE NEXT CONTENDER – MyRecordList.com

MyRecordList recently premiered on the scene boasting that it could provide analytics that discogs.com could not.  I was intrigued so I gave it a try.

After signing up on the site I clicked the link to import a CSV.  I tried exporting raw text from rateyourmusic.com and with a little tweaking (artist columns needed to be merged from FIRSTNAME LASTNAME to a single column), and some quick column re-assignment I successfully constructed  an importable CSV.  The resulting set only contained artist, title, format and year values, so I clicked the big red “DELETE ALL” button and started again – this time from MyRecordList’s preferred import method – Discogs.com.

MyRecordList Collection

MyRecordList Collection

While Discogs lacks support for importing CSVs, its export feature is solid.  MyRecordList wisely incorporated a direct “Import from Discogs” feature so the upload was seamless.  However the result was a clunkily-constructed and sluggish visual interface with a few display variables and absolutely no support for album cover syncing. There is an “automated” lookup tool to find album art, but the process is manual and handles only one album at a time, each prompting the user for input.

But on to the analytics that the site so boldly advertised.  Clicking the large “Your Stats” button I was presented with an over-simplified summary of my test-library, again consisting of my top 300 LPs.

MyRecordList Stats

MyRecordList Stats

None of the tables could be viewed as charts or graphs, and the only infographic the site offered was a pie chart of my library’s formats.

This was thoroughly disappointing, though hardly unexpected.  Any of these metrics are easily determinable from within the discogs.com site, simply by exporting a CSV into Excel or a similar application.

Discogs offers far more information, sorting functions, a community forum, up-to-the-minute sales history, archival organizational standards, and has already established itself as the premier marketplace for used and new vinyl, so there is little reason to look to another site for more, (excepting, of course, contacting labels directly for upcoming releases.)

Simply put, myrecordlist.com is clunky, slow and offers nothing that can’t be achived quicker and more easily on already-established mainstays like discogs.  And I quickly grew tired of seeing their loading screen every time I navigated to another page or view.

MyRecordList Constant Loading Screen

You’ll be seeing a lot of this.

But there was a clear upside to the experiment – rebuilding my database on discogs.com – something I’d been meaning to do for several years.  And building the test library of 300 LPs was easier on Discogs than on the two previous sites.  I completed the task in just 3 hours (three times faster than with the RYM interface.)

 The clear winner – Discogs.com

Discogs contains data for 3.3 million artists – more than three times that of RYM, and has approximately 5 million releases. And unlike the other two sites, Discogs supports 23 languages for worldwide accessibility.

Discogs - Collection - Text w Statistics

Discogs – Collection – Text View w Statistics

For those still clinging to their locally-hosted databases – consider the following advantages of Discogs:

– Eliminates the hassle of local backups to external drives and the paranoia of data loss.

– Offers the same album information you would otherwise have retrieved online for your locally-stored catalog

– Exports easily to a CSV should you require it

– Share your collection with users on the largest and most popular music cataloging site on the web

– Features an active discussion forum

– Discussion groups based on any topic you can imagine (or start your own.)

– High regulatory standards of organization

Discogs - Groups

Discogs – Groups

And lastly, Discogs supports more audio formats that you can dream of.  Sure, they have over 3 million standard 33 1/3 LPs, 1.6 million CDs, and about a million 7” singles, but they also have shellac, flexi-disc, acetate, FLAC, floppy disk, memory stick, Betamax, Edison disc, Ambisonic, Selectavision and one – (count ‘em… ONE) entry for a Bulgarian limited edition 2-track stereo 30 ips RMG Studio Master reel-to-reel.

After 3.5 years of creating extra work for myself, I’ve now embraced the future of music database management.

 

The 100 Greatest Recordings of All Time

Last week I saw a post from redditor bsparks who found The Franklin Mint’s 100 Greatest Recordings of All Time at his local Half Price Books at a great price.  He evidently lugged home all 100 discs (nearly 150 pounds of wax) and spent the next year taking them in, one disc at a time.

Franklin Mint - 100 Greatest Recordings of All Time (Cover)

If there’s one thing at which The Mint excels, it is deluxe packaging.  bsparks kindly offers a gallery exploring the collection in great detail.

From the official text:

The 100 Greatest Recordings of all time from the Franklin Mint has been called the ultimate private library of fine recorded music. Every recording was selected by a distinguished panel of music authorities (Martin Bookspan, Schuyler G. Chapin, Franco Ferrara, Irving Kolodin, William Mann, R. Gallois Montbrun, Marcel Prawy, Andre Previn, William Schuman and H. H. Stuckenschmidt).

The library was first announced on the 100th anniversary of Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph. Each recorded treasure was pressed with a special vinyl formulation that enabled a clear, quiet playing surface on a more rigid LP disk. Every record was pressed in an atmosphere controlled “clean room.” There are 50 library cases. Each library case houses two proof-quality long playing records, with each record resting, fully protected, within its own dust free compartment. The record is firmly supported within the closed compartment in such a way that the grooved playing surface never touches any part of the case. Each library case includes a specially written and illustrated commentary, by a respected music expert. The composers and their works are discussed in detail, and background information is provided on the orchestras, conductors, ensembles, and featured soloists. This is a truly unsurpassed private library of recorded music.”

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As an archivist, I was instantly intrigued by this mammoth set, though the sheer volume of the beast gave me pause.

Thankfully, I found the next best thing on the Web.  Some wonderful, dedicated man or woman took the time to rip all 100 discs to FLAC.  Each of the discs were pre-cleaned with wood glue, played on an Empire 598 Turntable with an ADC XLM MKIII cartridge, powered by Bottlehead Seduction and Bottlehead Foreplay Tube Phono Preamps, and expertly ripped to 24 bit / 96 kHzFLAC using GoldWave.  The tracks were then ClickRepaired and separated, log files were generated, and the final cuts were meticulously organized and tagged into their respective volume folders.

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But perhaps the above-and-beyond effort of the collection was the 672 professional photographs of every center label, every page of each book accompanying each of the 50 volumes, the cross-reference index, the pamphlet and the letter signed by Stanley Walker, Director of the Franklin Mint’s Music Dept.

A standing ovation – this is archival FLAC as it should be!

If you’re not quite up to downloading this 80GB library, there is also a 320VBR available, transcoded from the same source audio at the more manageable size of 17.1GB.

I am going to keep an eye out in the event that an affordable copy of the actual set surfaces within a reasonable distance from my home… because there is no way in hell I’m going pay shipping for this baby.

A Thought Piece on Retiring My Physical Library

I’ve had a humbling revelation, and I’m honored to be able to share it with my audience.

A few days ago, I prepared multiple discographic digital FLAC archives to upload to the finest private tracker on the net.  I posted an inquiry to the moderators of the site – asking if there was any way to preserve the folder structures of the megatorrents I’d created thusly:

– Studio Albums
– Live Albums
– Soundtracks
– Remasters
– Compilations
– Singles
– Solo Projects
(etc)

I had tagged each disc’s %album% and named each corresponding folder with:
[%YEAR%] %TITLE%.  

My core belief was that artists and labels should be experienced in the full context of their discographies.  I’d labored to create resources for those researching the evolution of a composer’s sound and to help listeners track the development of a genre through the chronology of releases on its primary record label.

But the harsh realization came when it was explained to me that the system in place by the tracker with which I’d elected to share my files already had a superior archival method in place.  Namely – all artists’ work is auto-populated in chronological order of release, and sub-categorized by commercial recordings, live recordings, singles, etc.

But more importantly, the site’s torrents grow better with each upload.  Users can choose to download one album or all albums at any bitrate they desire, whether 192CBR, 320VBR, or FLAC.  And as members upload new releases or superior torrents (such as FLAC + .log), the previous entries are automatically replaced.

The site maintains a strict file naming convention and organizational structure, which was the reason I joined their network in the first place.  Shockingly, this realization shattered the labor of love I’d be building for the past five years.

My local archive was old hat.  It was no longer relevant.  The new system already in place is an ever-evolving organism, superior to my method in nearly every way.  I was old and in the way.

Recursively archived torrent systems composed of magnetic links comprise the greatest library of media, literature and human knowledge ever assembled.  The user-constructed collage system of this particular tracker allows members to collaborate and design maps to help new listeners navigate and discover these wonderful recordings.

And perhaps most importantly, this magnificent system will survive long after my modest archive has long been forgotten.

Will I stop collecting records?  Surely not.  Though I will likely be more conscious and selective about which gems I select for my personal archive going forward.  As an independent archivist, I will adapt and re-direct my efforts toward perfect, FLAC + log archives of exceptional and rare recordings.

Please do not misinterpret my words – by no means am I abandoning my life-long affinity for dusty old bookshops and record libraries.  I am only shifting my methods for the sake of practicality and preservation.

My goal has always been to archive for the enlightenment of the generations to come, for the sake of great music that should never be forgotten.  This goal remains unchanged.  It is simply the means to that end which begs revision.

I welcome your thoughts.  Thank you, friends for letting me share.

dusty-library

Published in: on January 26, 2014 at 10:46 am  Leave a Comment  
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