How To Rip Your Music (Part 2) Page 2

Taking It Higher
What about high-rez music downloads? Services such as Chesky's and Linn's offer downloads of both CD- and "better-than-CD"-quality music files. They're not cheap, and you probably won't find Pink's latest hit single, but these kinds of sites are growing in number. Both the Chesky and Linn sites are best known for their "high-rez" music files - most originated from the 2-channel DSD masters for SACD productions - and here FLAC seems the most popular choice, yielding files with sample rates up to 192 kHz and 24-bit encoding. I'll leave aside the debates as to whether this stuff is audibly better than "Redbook" CD audio at its best; obviously, I believe it is.

To rip your CDs (or SACDs) to FLAC, you'll need an encoder other than iTunes; any source of shareware/freeware applications for Macs or PCs, such as, will offer several options. I generally use the highly flexible Mac application Max, but it has no particular sonic advantage I'm aware of.

Playing back your files is the last piece of the puzzle. You can play standard-rez directly from Mac/PC iTunes (or other software players) via a simple audio cable or by way of an external digital-to-analog converter. Or you can stream files via a home network (wired or wireless) to a compatible DVD/Blu-ray player or A/V receiver - but this is a topic deserving of its own column. Of course, syncing files to an iPod/iPhone, Zune, or other portable, which is then docked with or jacked into the "big system," is the commonest solution, but usually not the highest-fidelity one.

To play high-rez files, you have a couple options, none involving iTunes or iPods since Apple's world still excludes FLAC. (Beyond my scope here are the pieces of commercial software, such as Pure Music, that let iTunes control higher-rez source files.) You can copy them onto a thumb drive and plug that into the USB port of a FLAC-compatible receiver or preamp, more of which reach the market each month. (There are even some FLAC-compatible Blu-ray players in the pipeline.) Or you can stream the files to network-capable models over a home network, just as above, using any of a number of software "music servers" (I use Twonky Media), either on the computer or a free standing networked disk drive/server, to dole out the bits and provide the on-TV-screen user interface.

Of course, there's a great deal more to each of these topics. You'll find oceans of info - some of it sensible, some otherwise - on the Web.