I'm sure I'm not the only person who has started to rip CDs from their classical music collection and pretty soon got disheartened by the banal fashion with which it is treated by most music software. Practically all the software available is based on a paradigm that says there is a Song by an Artist on an Album. It may allow for a Composer as well, but still assumes that all composers write only songs, and not works which contain a number of parts. There should (in theory) be at least two big benefits of ripping your collection: (1) the reduction in shelf space and (2) the ability to quickly locate the music you want. Most software achieves (1) but is not much help as regards (2). In addition, now that the physical CD case is not to hand when the music is playing, you would like to see some information about it. Frequently this is rudimentary. And of course, you don't want to put in too much work to achieve the required result. The information presented here is based on my approach to resolving these problems; an approach which has evolved over time and with which I am now very happy, although I’m sure it will evolve further. At the centre of this is the excellent "Muso" software which, I think uniquely, gives the classical music lover a "CD Insert" view of their albums coupled with powerful searching and linking facilities, plus an ability to play to either Logitech Media Server ("LMS" - formerly Squeezebox Server), iTunes, or Foobar.
WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?
There are five main hurdles to be faced in ripping and streaming classical CDs (some of which also apply to jazz albums) in a way that satisfies the music lover, rather than the casual listener.
- Poor availability of metadata, particularly when the album has a variety of ensembles, conductors, soloists, instruments etc.
- Lack of complete structure: failure to deal with the fact that much classical music has movements as parts of larger works which are not necessarily the same as physical albums.
- A focus on the Artist rather than the Composer (even assuming the latter is displayed/accessible).
- Player information screens usually limited to Song, Artist and Album.
- Lack of integration of sleevenotes into the experience.
This has meant that either the classical music lover has had to settle for a poor compromise or (in many cases, I suspect) just give up. Even very expensive streaming hardware comes with fairly rudimentary tools for getting value from your CD collection. Unless you have plenty of money and pay someone else to rip your collection for you, the investment of time required to do it, given the quality of the resulting experience, does not seem worth it. I decided to go the Logitech Squeezebox Touch route because at the time it seemed a good value DAC with a flexible software solution. Whilst in retrospect I still think this was a good choice, even with the addition of Custom Browse, I became frustrated and disappointed.
Since my early forays into this field, things have improved considerably, but the solutions are not well publicised. The improvement is partly because of the growth in the digital download market for classical music and improving metadata libraries. However, the major development for me was the purchase of the "Muso" software which deals with several of the problems described. Following that, there have been further improvements in the LMS software which help enormously. Although development of LMS was effectively dropped by Logitech, along with its excellent Squeezebox hardware range (particularly the SB Touch, of which I have two), the development has been taken on by some of the original team and a vibrant user community and is open source. Also, you do not need specialised hardware players – an iPhone with iPeng works just as well (if not better) than a SB Touch and if you want a cheap server/player a Raspberry Pi is hard to beat.
The software heart of my system is therefore LMS + Muso.
My hardware is a Pi (server/player), a Windows laptop which runs Muso, 2 Touches and various iThings running iPeng.
To present the music information in the way I want, I have developed an approach to tagging the music, together with some supporting macros, which is all described and provided (free of charge, but use at your own risk) in this website.
To make all this work, my approach in outline is:
- Rip the CDs to FLAC using dBpoweramp CD Ripper. This provides access to the best metadata available on the web, plus artwork. FLAC files are lossless, but compressed to save space, and provide for a limitless number and variety of tags for metadata.
- Review the ripped discs in Mp3tag. I can easily see if tagging errors were made on ripping and correct them. I then run an automatic macro "Classical" action in Mp3tag that optimises the tags for Muso and the player software (in my case LMS and iTunes).
- Import the music to Muso and check it looks right.
- Convert the FLAC files to mp3 using dBpoweramp Batch Converter and import to iTunes (This is optional - I only do it so that I can sync to my iPod/iPhone and have a portable version).
- Browse/search music in Muso and queue it to play via LMS on Squeezebox touch(es), Raspberry Pi and/or iPeng on iOS devices. The music can also be accessed directly via LMS, but the Muso interface is somuch nicer. Often I use VNC on my iPad to access Muso on the laptop, or simply use the Muso Remote interface which has the added benefit of providing easy access to sleevnote pdf files.
This still involves a bit of human review along the way, particularly to fix any shortcomings in the available metadata and the action macro needs to be initiated manually, so a little organisation is required.
Take a look at the Screenshots to see what the result looks like. A simpler approach is also possible which avoids the need to use Mp3tag, but doesn't quite achieve the same result.
If I later spot any errors in my tags, I can either correct these in the Muso database as I see them, or use Mp3tag to correct the underlying music file. The Muso data can be written back to the underlying music files to keep everything consistent.