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Digital Music Collection – Prelude: Why Digital Music?

June 7, 2007

I found a search phrase like this leading to my blog. Yes, I asked myself, why?

Everyone has his/her own reason to switch to digital music. However, one should bear in mind that CD is already a format of digital music (in fact, with some compromise) . Unless you’re thinking about switching from LP to CD, which was one of sizzling discussions in music communities in the 80’s. The disappearance of LP in the record market already concluded this. Now we’re in the time that the sales of CD have declined for several years, and continues to do so. What does this tell us?

Take my experience as an example. I started my music collection in the early 90s, at the time when the prices of CDs and CD Players were reasonable for the general consumers (note: the price of CD doesn’t change much, despite the inflation, but that of CD player was much higher than now). You could still see few tapes in the corner of the record stores. I never struggled with the switch. I put all my weekly pocket money in buying CDs, even though I had to eat bread and drink milk for a whole week. Nothing could put me off from that (except saving some for the concert). The result was that I build up a collection about 2/5 of our library’s in a short time.

From 1997, I had moved my collections — already gave up counting the number of CDs I had — across Pacific Ocean three times (twice horizontally). At the first time, I even put these CDs in my two large suitcases, wrapped with my clothes as buffer. I couldn’t bear to send them via surface mail. During these moves, several of CD cases were cracked and broken. But that’s OK.

In the golden age of CD, other digital-music format also started to surface. MP3 began to be spread over the internet in 1995, but I never gave it a thought. It wasn’t popular in the classical music community, and the reason was quite simple. A piece of work in classical music is usually much longer than a song in pop music; roughly speaking, excluding operas, 30 min v.s. 3 min. We didn’t like to listen to music by shuffling the moments or song cycles unless we’re playing the guess-the-tune game. At that time, (1) the storing media was more expansive (regarding the hard drives in PC/NB and the storing space in portable music player), and (2) the internet speed was slower (no broadband connection for home users). Not mention that (3) most classical music lovers were very picky about the sound quality (then and now). MP3, or any of its kins, was just not right for classical music.

Things have been changed, as in any other subjects in the history. Excuses (1) and (2) no longer hold, though (3) remains true in classical music community. But there is at least one solution to it: lossless format (not the wave file ripped from CD). Now consider this scenario. Convert your music collection into some lossless files. You can save these image files in a portable 2.5″ external hard drive. For FLAC with compression setting of 5, 1 GB can hold 3 CDs, so a 120GB drive* can store 360 CDs. And this kind of hard drive is light and small enough to put it into your pocket. Moving around is as easy as carrying a book. You can restore the music files back and burn an regular audio CD at any time. I never have to worry about the broken cases or molds appearing in CDs (the label side; yes, no kidding, it’s possible to have molds in CDs, which can make the aluminum coating gone).

Well, as mentioned previously, at least I am tempted to do so for the sake of my music collection. Enough for me to look for the ways to do it, and that’s what I’m going to talk about in Part II.

* Currently a 120GB 2.5″ drive is much cheaper than a 160 GB one, regarding the cost per GB.

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