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Living Without Audio CDs

By Patrick Nelson TechNewsWorld ECT News Network
Sep 13, 2012 5:00 AM PT

During a recent apartment move, I became aware of how much stuff I had that was redundant. It was with great pleasure that I was able to dump a lot of it rather than paying guys to move it all across town -- again.

Living Without Audio CDs

Books and CDs were the principal weighty items I got rid of, along with a svelte cherry laminate IKEA CD rack that my girlfriend told me made my pad look old-fashioned. Horrified, I threw it out too.

I no longer needed my books, due to a tablet-based Web -- and I could ditch my CDs with the availability of streaming services, software downloads, hard drives and cloud-based storage.

Here's how you too can get rid of your CDs and thus avoid scorn.

Step 1: Choosing Your Storage

Choose network-attached storage (NAS) or cloud-based storage.


NAS devices are physical media solutions that contain one or more hard drives. They hard-wire to the router and are dedicated to media playback streaming, so are a more robust solution than just using your laptop or PC.

NAS devices also provide the processing for streaming audio to connected devices, so don't tie up your laptop chips.

NAS options to consider are primarily capacity- and interface-related. More specified terabytes allow for greater capacity. A Gigabit Internet port allows for the highest streaming speeds.

Base NAS devices cost a little more than a hundred dollars, but there are no further running costs.


Cloud solutions can run a hundred dollars per year for 200 GB of music files, or from free to US$25 a year for imported songs.

Some music-specific cloud services like Amazon Cloud Player and iTunes Match scan your hard drive and match your hard-drive containing songs with what they have on file.

They then only store your files if they don't have existing matches. This results in cost savings, which they pass on to you.

Cloud Player allows Web streaming, whereas iTunes Match doesn't. Both support 10 devices, although Amazon Cloud supports non-iOS devices.

Small amounts of storage, usually 5 GB or less, are free from multiple vendors.

Tip: Your rights to ownership of music differ depending on technology. For example, under the Apple iTunes purchasing license, your ownership expires on death. If you hold the actual CD, you can assign ownership to someone else on death.

Step 2: Playing the Music

Select an audio system.

Sonos and Linn DS are stream- and network-friendly add-ons or substitutes for your stereo. Sonos lets you use your existing speakers and subwoofer.

Be aware that storage (hard drive) included within a music system can introduce noise, so read up on reviews before buying.

Music system options to look for include on-board Internet radio; streaming services like Spotify and Napster; and custom radio stations like Pandora's jukebox-like service. Look for included iTunes if you use it.

Look for DLNA certification. DLNA, or Digital Living Network Alliance, is a common certification used to ensure compatibility standards.

Tip: Streaming services can also be a substitute for CD ownership, cloud or NAS storage. Streaming services like Spotify charge a monthly fee that allows you to download or stream music. You are effectively renting the music.

Step 3: Ripping the CDs

Digitizing CDs into files that can be streamed or played via hard drive is called "ripping."

Choose between sending your CDs out to be ripped or doing it yourself. Ripping is time-consuming, so unless you are expecting to be snowed in, send them out.

Professional ripping services will mail you the box and spindles for loading the CDs. They will then arrange collection and perform the conversion. They'll deliver the files on hard drive and return the CDs.

If you're hunkered down for the winter with nothing to do -- or broke -- you can download free and paid software to rip CDs yourself. Look for "Free CD Rippers" in a web-based search.

Step 4: Lossless or Compressed?

Choose lossless for highest quality and compressed for smaller file size. The price of hard-drive storage is low enough now that there's no reason you should skimp on quality in a hard-drive based system.

Technically there's nothing to stop you ripping two versions -- a fat uncompressed version to use at home, and a stripped-down, thinner-sounding version for smartphone or tablet.

Lossless formats include open source FLAC. Lossy formats include Vorbis, MP3 and Apple-championed AAC.

According to ripping service Ripcaster, a hundred CDs in lossless FLAC uses 43.3 GB. A hundred CDs in commonly used, lossy 128 bitrate MP3 uses 7.3 GB.

Audiophiles can argue about file formats until the cows come home, but generally the higher the bitrate, the better the sound quality. Bitrates range from 64 to 320.

Tip: Copyright statutes come into play when ripping music and are different throughout the world. Many jurisdictions do not allow making any copies of copyrighted media at all, even if it's solely for your own use.

Want to Ask a Tech Question?

Is there a piece of tech you'd like to know how to operate properly? Is there a gadget that's got you confounded? Please send your tech questions to me, and I'll try to answer as many as possible in this column.

And use the Talkback feature below to add your comments!

Patrick Nelson has been a professional writer since 1992. He was editor and publisher of the music industry trade publication Producer Report and has written for a number of technology blogs. Nelson studied design at Hornsey Art School and wrote the cult-classic novel Sprawlism. His introduction to technology was as a nomadic talent scout in the eighties, where regular scrabbling around under hotel room beds was necessary to connect modems with alligator clips to hotel telephone wiring to get a fax out. He tasted down and dirty technology, and never looked back.

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