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CD ripping, digital music, music streaming, iPod / iTunes / Sonos - various thoughts, suggestions, ideas, odd ramblings ….

iPod to PC / Mac Music Recovery

Even this late in the iPod lifecycle we're getting a couple of calls a week in the same vein. "Can you get music off my iPod and onto my computer?"

There are still people who, for whatever reason, have music on an iPod that isn't on their current computer. Often it's due to that hard drive failing, sometimes people move to a new PC and forget to take their iTunes library with them. They're left with an iPod Classic stuffed with tracks and a new PC / Mac with no music. Can we get their music back?

Let's be clear what isn't a problem - purchased music. If you log into your iTunes account on the new computer you can re-download tracks you purchased from iTunes Music Store. The issue lies with the music you've ripped from your purchased CDs. Can those tracks be recovered?

As we often say to clients - all things are possible. If you do a Google search you'll find several pages with guaranteed, surefire, undoubted methods to backup from an iPod to a computer. Indeed, in the early days of our CD ripping service, we did this pretty often. We even purchased software for our Macs and PCs that allowed us to do this. At the heart of any of these approaches is an intervention to stop the automatic sync of device and computer. Once that has even begun, in that fraction of a second, if you can't grab the music player an turn it into a vanilla flavoured external storage device, you're screwed. You don't get two chances. Zap, it's all gone.

Today it's much more difficult than it was fifteen years ago. The whole process is so much faster. Of course we have our own iPods to practice with and we speak from experience. We know that it goes wrong too often. Of course we're speaking from a commercial perspective, we're no longer confident that we can take on the risk of it not working. So we're happy if you want to say it can be done, it's just we're not doing it any more.

iPod to PC / Mac Music Recovery

Even this late in the iPod lifecycle we're getting a couple of calls a week in the same vein. "Can you get music off my iPod and onto my computer?"

There are still people who, for whatever reason, have music on an iPod that isn't on their current computer. Often it's due to that hard drive failing, sometimes people move to a new PC and forget to take their iTunes library with them. They're left with an iPod Classic stuffed with tracks and a new PC / Mac with no music. Can we get their music back?

Let's be clear what isn't a problem - purchased music. If you log into your iTunes account on the new computer you can re-download tracks you purchased from iTunes Music Store. The issue lies with the music you've ripped from your purchased CDs. Can those tracks be recovered?

As we often say to clients - all things are possible. If you do a Google search you'll find several pages with guaranteed, surefire, undoubted methods to backup from an iPod to a computer. Indeed, in the early days of our CD ripping service, we did this pretty often. We even purchased software for our Macs and PCs that allowed us to do this. At the heart of any of these approaches is an intervention to stop the automatic sync of device and computer. Once that has even begun, in that fraction of a second, if you can't grab the music player an turn it into a vanilla flavoured external storage device, you're screwed. You don't get two chances. Zap, it's all gone.

Today it's much more difficult than it was fifteen years ago. The whole process is so much faster. Of course we have our own iPods to practice with and we speak from experience. We know that it goes wrong too often. Of course we're speaking from a commercial perspective, we're no longer confident that we can take on the risk of it not working. So we're happy if you want to say it can be done, it's just we're not doing it any more.

When Dreams Become Nightmares

We make mistakes. OK, I admit it. Of course we do everything we can to avoid them but I have to put my hand up and say yes, from time to time, we get something wrong. It burns inside when we get a complaint and I try to swallow hurt pride and say sorry, then put it right.

When a complaint came from a repeat customer that hurts all the more. We ripped the CDs in the normal way and returned his 300 CDs plus his digital files on a hard drive. He rang a few days later to ask a point on file structures and I asked if he was enjoying his expanded digital music library. He was kind enough to say yes, but …

So I asked what’s the but?

Well, the Mozart compilation has two discs missing. Hmm … how did that happen. Thankfully he wasn't too upset but I appreciate how annoying that kind of glitch might be. Naturally it set my mind racing on how that might be. Before we get to the cause of that here’s another issue we faced from another client’s CD collection we ripped this week.

It’s Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius. Something I can take or leave but undoubtedly one of the major works of an English classical composer. Pretty bit of cover art too but sadly the otherwise comprehensive album notes don’t say who created the image. You’ll also see it’s a two CD set. The discs cover other composers works too but the headline piece is split over the two CDs.

Except it’s not. Looking through the output files in iTunes it was easy to see the second discs didn’t show up. To correct this I put CD 2 into the drive. I should explain how ripping software works. When the CD is recognised iTunes measures some vital statistics - overall length (in time), number of tracks, length of each track. This creates a digital fingerprint and it’s that which is matched against CDDB in the case of iTunes or GD3 when we’re using our robot rippers. On the basis of that match Apple or whoever then supplies the metadata - album name, track details, artists, composer and so on. Not whatever Decca has printed on the front of the disc.

In this case Disc 1 is disc one, and so is Disc 2. A screw up by Decca. So much for German attention to detail, Otto on the night shift was asleep when these went into the printer. Unfortunately this Dream turns into a nightmare as we don’t have a true copy here from which can can substitute the errant tracks.

Going back to the first clients issue he kindly agreed to put the two “missing” discs into his computer and yes, you guessed. Our digital fingerprints had spotted these discs as being from another two albums. Other than slotting them into the set they client had purchased the discs had been ripped, the metadata was correct in all respects except album names. He was able to enjoy the sound albeit wrongly labeled.

I’ll take that one - could do better, We’ll be paying more attention in future. And you lot on the night shift, wake up at the back.

When Dreams Become Nightmares

We make mistakes. OK, I admit it. Of course we do everything we can to avoid them but I have to put my hand up and say yes, from time to time, we get something wrong. It burns inside when we get a complaint and I try to swallow hurt pride and say sorry, then put it right.

When a complaint came from a repeat customer that hurts all the more. We ripped the CDs in the normal way and returned his 300 CDs plus his digital files on a hard drive. He rang a few days later to ask a point on file structures and I asked if he was enjoying his expanded digital music library. He was kind enough to say yes, but …

So I asked what’s the but?

Well, the Mozart compilation has two discs missing. Hmm … how did that happen. Thankfully he wasn't too upset but I appreciate how annoying that kind of glitch might be. Naturally it set my mind racing on how that might be. Before we get to the cause of that here’s another issue we faced from another client’s CD collection we ripped this week.

It’s Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius. Something I can take or leave but undoubtedly one of the major works of an English classical composer. Pretty bit of cover art too but sadly the otherwise comprehensive album notes don’t say who created the image. You’ll also see it’s a two CD set. The discs cover other composers works too but the headline piece is split over the two CDs.

Except it’s not. Looking through the output files in iTunes it was easy to see the second discs didn’t show up. To correct this I put CD 2 into the drive. I should explain how ripping software works. When the CD is recognised iTunes measures some vital statistics - overall length (in time), number of tracks, length of each track. This creates a digital fingerprint and it’s that which is matched against CDDB in the case of iTunes or GD3 when we’re using our robot rippers. On the basis of that match Apple or whoever then supplies the metadata - album name, track details, artists, composer and so on. Not whatever Decca has printed on the front of the disc.

In this case Disc 1 is disc one, and so is Disc 2. A screw up by Decca. So much for German attention to detail, Otto on the night shift was asleep when these went into the printer. Unfortunately this Dream turns into a nightmare as we don’t have a true copy here from which can can substitute the errant tracks.

Going back to the first clients issue he kindly agreed to put the two “missing” discs into his computer and yes, you guessed. Our digital fingerprints had spotted these discs as being from another two albums. Other than slotting them into the set they client had purchased the discs had been ripped, the metadata was correct in all respects except album names. He was able to enjoy the sound albeit wrongly labeled.

I’ll take that one - could do better, We’ll be paying more attention in future. And you lot on the night shift, wake up at the back.

Mac - Flac? Flac - Mac? Max? Muck? F.....

I follow other people in and around the digital music arena and most of them are pretty good. Know what they're talking about, good peeps.

So when I read something patently daft it really stuck out, and it came from someone I (previously) respected. It relates to Mac computers and the FLAC music format.

What is it with FLAC? Over the last few years it seems to have gained some kind of cult status. I've had clients contact me asking for their music to be ripped to FLAC "because the guy in the desk next to me says it's the best". OK, we're a service business and the customer is always right .. We can rip to FLAC just as easily as we can rip to Apple Lossless or AAC or MP3. If you want it - FLAC - you can have it. But you have to be warned, and this is where I part ways with the blog post I read.

The gist of the argument was this. Lossless music is the best quality and given how cheap hard drives are, how powerful home networks are, there's no reason why every music lover shouldn't opt for the best. In his view the best being FLAC. So play your FLAC files on your computer in all their glory and if someday you want to move to another music file format simply use music management software to make the conversion.

I have two problems with this. First, FLAC isn't unquestionably the best file format. Recently a BBC radio program talked about "CD quality music" and made it clear that Apple Lossless (ALAC) and MP3 320kbps along with FLAC can be regarded as top sound files. If you look at the various online listening tests you'll find very few people can hear the difference between ALAC, MP3 / 320 and FLAC.

Second, enjoying digital music isn't simply a matter of accessing and playing a file. To get the best from your music you'll want to do many other things - create playlists, edit the metadata, change the album art, load tracks onto a portable player. This is where the blog's position collapses if you're a Mac owner.

The suggested strategy was to use a program called Max, and the implication is that you can play FLAC files, edit FLAC and if need be convert them to another format using Max. here's the problem.

Max doesn't work.

We've been using Macs for over 25 years, and the Mac platform has been at the heart of CD ripping for 14 years. We need to be able to do a raft of music handling tasks, including editing and converting FLAC. We've been running Max since the earliest days. I bet we've tried to handle more music with Max that anyone else in digital music. So when we say this we mean it - Max doesn't work. It crashes, it fails, it just drops away. Why? Well take a look at this, which is taken from the Max download site.

Max Download Page

The last version was released on 29th August, 2009 - seven years ago. In Mac terms that's light years ago, practically everything that underlies the Mac OS has changed in that time. Notice too "not all output formats are tagged with metadata". Just fills you with confidence.

If you're a Mac user and you want high quality lossless music the answer is simple - Apple Lossless. You can play your music, create playlists, edit metadata / album art, sync with iPhones, iPods, iPads to your hearts content. All with iTunes which is free, robust, reliable and supported by Apple. Of course it's current software not something created in computing dark ages.

Should Mac users avoid FLAC at all costs? No, I'm not saying that. There are a few high end audio systems that come with their own music management software that will handle FLAC on Macs and other Apple devices. Your hi-fi supplier can advise you on that and you'll have a great solution. If you own a Sonos system that will happily stream FLAC files from Macs and NAS drives just as happily as with Windows boxes. But you can't use the Sonos Controller to manage more detailed, lower level aspects of your music files.

OK, done. Rant over.

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