This is the location of the podServe blog posts published up to June 2015.

Welcome to the podServe blog, a selection of tips, tricks, comments and various other ramblings on the topic of CD ripping, digital music, streaming and all the things that go right and wrong in being entertained.

Buffalo Link Station Duo

I'm looking at a Buffalo Link Station Duo 4.0 Tb dual drive with RAID, web access, built-in media server and "enhanced performance". We've become good friends, we've spent a lot of time together, a lot of time. Too much time. Let me tell you the whole story before I return this glorious red box back to its owner, our client.

We ripped over 800 CDs, almost exclusively classical. The drive is to provide a home for the music and serve music to a new Sonos music system. Nothing too challenging there, except that the unit arrived several days into the ripping. We've worked with Buffalo drives before and they're very good, as is this unit, even after the week we've had. We rip using recent Windows and Apple systems, all of which support long file names; and with classical music track names can be very long (and in Italian though that doesn't matter in this instance). Pop songs tend to be snappy (She Loves You - The Beatles) while operatic tracks are long and folder names incorporate performer, conductor and orchestra. No problem for NTFS and HFS drives.

We've been asked to rip into both FLAC and MP3, so believe me, we have a lot of data to transfer. The MP3s were just over 100 Gb, the FLAC files much bigger.

So when the ripping part was completed I hooked up the Buffalo to our network and installed the driver software that comes with the unit. After a couple of glitches (I'll put that down to me) the Buffalo popped up on my Mac's finder window. I copied the MP3s from the locally connected drive onto the Shared folder on the Buffalo. Wait a while, off it goes. I went to bed - yes, it's that long a job so I generally schedule this kind of thing over night. At 19:00 it was going OK.

Next morning, disaster. Whole list of file errors and the NAS had gone offline. I put this down to the router in the office losing its internet connection, and thus its IP address pool, which caused the Mac to stop seeing the Buffalo.

Tried again that night. Next morning, same failure. Decided I should delete the files that had been copied across. That in itself takes a while, but its bearable. Decided to try again that night, instead connecting the local USB drive into a Vista machine rather than the Mac. As I closed up the office files were flying over the network like magic. Next morning, the file transfer was still running, so it wasn't until nearly lunchtime that I saw there were errors in the transfer.

That night I thought I'd clear down the errant MP3s and then try with the FLAC files, from the Windows box. All looked OK so shut up shop. I slept with my fingers crossed.

Opened office next morning, there was an error message. This time I was given a hint that the file name was unsupported, along with a mighty list of the files that had not copied over. OK, mass delete, head scratch time. I looked in the supplied PDF and saw nothing to suggest that a drag & drop copy shouldn't work, but I found another site (not an official Buffalo page I think) which suggested this particular box runs a version of Unix which cannot support long file names. The explanation of the issue certainly fitted my problem.

So, Mr Buffalo, what do you do with 12,000+ files - all with very long names - and it's a four day Jubilee bank Holiday weekend? You can't edit those names down to 12, 20 or however many characters. Instead, I had a brainwave.

Thankfully we work from source files (AIFF) in circumstances where clients require alternative file formats. So I loaded all the original files (held on three USB drives attached to our Pogoplug) and from there, imported them into iTunes. I used iTunes to convert from AIFF into MP3, but pointed the output files at a folder on the Buffalo Link Station Duo. Writing the files under the Link station operating system produced files the drive was happy with. Did the same (or similar, for FLAC - we don't use iTunes for that as it doesn't handle FLAC) and that worked too.

Trouble is each conversion run took in excess of 28 hours, which is why this box is going back to the client very, very late.

MP5? Apple Less-than-lossless?

A few weeks ago rumours appeared suggesting Apple may be about to release a new music file format, one that would make music sound better. Well, suggestions are that this will see the light of day at an imminent product launch Apple have scheduled. Also, over the weekend I noticed the company behind the maths that made MP3 possible had launched a new way of making sound better on mobile phones.

An idle thought - MP4 is taken for movie files - so maybe this will be MP5? From Apple's perspective a new format, now, will cause a headache for them and their users. Generally better sound means more hard drive space. This won't help Apple directly as they buy in drives and it will put more pressure on the ageing iPod Classic, more than due an upgrade. Bigger files would be a major ouch for iPhone users too.

If I were Apple, why? Well someone is going to do it so it might as well be you. It would head off an interloper gaining traction within iTunes, it would keep the iPod / iPhone / iPad ahead of the game. maybe it would give Apple a toe hold in non IOS areas too. However they'd probably have to re-encode their entire iTunes Music Store library to keep their Music Match function operable and that's no small task.

I think it would be a positive move, one we'd jump on and would be appreciated by our clients. Better sound, what's not to like?

CD Ripping Service Enhancements

Hard to believe at times that we've been ripping CDs for seven years. Wow.

At the start we made a decision to focus on the Apple iPod, indeed that's mainly why the first CD ripping offering was podserve. As we grew our market became defined as iPod owners in or around London.

But we got people ringing us from all over the UK asking if we could collect / return to Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol etc as well as places I'd never heard of. Almost as many clients as we had in London. So I had a bright idea. Another CD ripping service was born - MP3 by mail. I wanted to avoid confusion between the two services, which was one of the reasons we opted for an MP3 focused second identity.

OK, that was a bit petty. Sure we can rip MP3s faster (hence cheaper) but that was the main reason. There then followed two years of ear bashing from folk who simply want AAC files, or maybe Apple Lossless. Now we've relented and from today MP3 by mail offers AAC and Apple Lossless alongside MP3 music ripping.

Data Grooming Upgraded

I don't often get excited about computer software, but our new Data Grooming software is really exciting (well for me anyway).

The features list is greatly improved so in turn our clients get a better service. First, we've increased the list of classical composers in the database. Previously we'd found 40 pretty adequate but we've got many more now. I'll be surprised if we find any names to be added to the list.

Handling artist names is also much better. We can now remove one of the most annoying features of modern music - tha apparently endless use of 'featuring', 'feat.' and so on. It can increase the number of performers in a collection and make it hard to find the track you want via the Artist route. Well, say that annoyance goodbye.

Handling Disc 1 etc is more thorough, adding artist name to 'Best of' and 'Greatest Hits' works just as well, and is a little faster.

There's a facility to correct the inappropriate use of capital letters though I've yet to get to grips with the detail of how that works.

Anyway, enough for now, I'm off to play with our new toy. Any data you'd like us to groom for you?

AAC 1 - MP3 0

Looking at the small print in the recent Apple / EMI announcment about DRM free music it seems that the music file of choice will be Apple's AAC, and not the previously universal MP3. Why?

Well, recently Microsoft got hit by a massive lawsuit alleging copyright infringement over the technical rights to the MP3 codec. Perhaps neither Apple nor EMI fancied being hit in the same way.

Maybe EMI saw this as another way of controlling the distribution of their tracks. Maybe the thinking was MP3 is synonymous with those evil file sharing pirates, so AAC could be 'safer' in that respect.

I originally thought this was a simple marketing ploy to enable Apple to market their products (ie iTunes Music Store tracks) to Zune and the users of other MP3 players. It's more than that, each MP3 manufacturer will come under pressure to release firmware updates to support AAC on their players. users will have to find the upgrade, download it, apply it to their machine - how many will just not bother and buy a new iPod instead?

At a sweep Apple and EMI may have changed the drift of digital music. Where once MP3 was seen as the universal standard that accolade could fall to AAC.
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