My boyfriend and I are audiophiles, and between us we probably have over 1,500 CDs. We do not own a house yet, which prevents us from installing a ton of custom-made shelving on our walls. We can’t find any pre-made solutions that hold more than 350 cds. Any creative suggestions?
At the time, we responded with advice suited to a general audience. We did however, promise a future post better suited to the needs of serious audiophiles. To that end, I shall now geek-out.
The best way to eliminate the clutter of 1,500 CDs is to eliminate the need to have the CDs at hand. For that reason, we’re still standing by our general advice of ripping your physical media before putting it into some kind of long-term storage. It is important to note, however, that the particular needs of audiophiles present a few challenges that need to be addressed.
While the heathens may be content to use 128 or 160 kilobit per second lossy MP3 or AAC compression, you obviously understand that approach won’t cut it in terms of quality. You’ll definitely want to use a lossless codec when ripping your media. Doing so will preserve the full quality of the CD recording while saving considerable space. Who cares if you only get 2:1 compression instead of 10:1 compression? Hard drive space is cheap these days–at least cheaper than your unobtainium-plated interconnects sheathed in endangered panda skin for optimum voodoo-shielding.
The iPod doesn’t support FLAC, which might dictate the use of ALAC. A number of network media players, such as the Squeezebox from Slim Devices, support both formats. This means the choice is really up to you. I manage my music through iTunes and own an iPod, so I favor ALAC.
Full CD sound quality does comes at a cost. ALAC or FLAC files will require more storage space than MP3s. As an audiophile, you probably also have a larger-than-average music collection. To get around this problem, I use an Infrant ReadyNAS to store my media. It’s basically a low-level server with four SATA bays and a RAID controller. The most practical and cost-efficient route is to buy a diskless model and add SATA drives as you need them. You can also buy a unit already outfitted with drives if you prefer.
Going the ReadyNAS route has a number of advantages:
- You get the redundancy of RAID. If a single drive in the unit fails (and multiple drives are present) you shouldn’t lose your data.
- The NAS is on your network, so you can actually put it in another room so you don’t have to hear the spinning hard drives. Putting the unit outside of your listening room will basically make it a quieter solution than the quietest CD transport available.
- You can access the media from multiple computers and devices in the house.
- The ReadyNAS consistently receives better reviews than other home NAS products, like the Buffalo TeraStation.
The final step is integrating some kind of network music player into your sound system. If you’ve been using optical outputs on your CD transport until now, you can basically just replace the CD transport with a network music player with an optical output. The AppleTV is a decent solution if you have a TV present and want to use the onscreen menus to browse your music collection. Don’t be alarmed by how inexpensive the unit is. As an audiophile you’ve probably spent more than $299 on little wooden blocks to keep your speaker wire off the floor, but if you’ll be using optical outputs along with another (presumably higher quality) DAC, it really doesn’t matter.
If you don’t have a television in your listening room but you have an good external DAC, you should consider the Squeezebox from Slim Devices. It has a sexy fluorescent vacuum display for song selection.
If you want a network music player with a good onboard DAC, you should consider the Transporter (also by Slim Devices). It is a component-sized unit that features the AK4396 “Miracle DAC.” Stereophile gave this device a stellar review in their February issue.
You’ll still have to make a decision about what to do with your physical media. A number of good suggestions were mentioned in last week’s post. I store all my media along with the jewel boxes in corrugated plastic boxes from Bags Unlimited. Each one holds 100 CDs and they’re sturdy enough to stack.