27 October 2007

ALA Web Design Survey 2007 Results

The results from this year's A List Apart Survey of Web Design Professionals are in.

The findings are in an 82 page PDF which makes some interesting reading. You can also get an anonymised version of the 33,000 raw responses if you want to do some number crunching of your own.


20 October 2007

Winamp 5.5 - 10th Anniversary Edition

That's right, 10th Anniversary, the first version of Winamp came out in 1997. Interestingly, on the 6th of August that year, Microsoft bought a $150 million share of the "financially troubled" Apple.

Since I bought my iPod (2004) I've pretty much exclusively used iTunes however, my foray into the world of FLAC has meant that it's not really meeting my requirements any more and I've been looking for a media library application with better format support.

I'll be posting a feature comparison and which one I've decided to go with in the coming weeks but until then I'll just say that I'm impressed with Winamp 5.5 so far. I'm only using the free version however it seems to have come a long way since the last time I used it. Features I'm particularly enjoying are:

  • Album art
  • Advanced SQL query style smart playlist generation
  • iPod support
  • Ripping to FLAC


17 October 2007

Ripping to FLAC with Exact Audio Copy

In a previous post I talked about the convenience of having your CD collection archived to a hard disk. I weighed up the options for a archiving format and decided FLAC met my needs the best.

Anyone who has done and serious ripping on a Windows PC in the past will likely know that there are two big players; CDex and Exact Audio Copy. While EAC is not open source it seems to me to be the more complete solution and in a like for like comparison ripped far faster than CDex without any loss of quality. Mac or Unix users can check out the download page on the FLAC site for the ripping options availabe to them.

Getting it set up

After downloading and installing EAC you'll be presented with the very handy setup wizard which does a lot of the hard work for you. Unfortunately in my case the drive setup parts of the wizard didn't work first time which was down to EAC defaulting to using a third party ASAPI drive interface which i didn't have installed. This is easily fixed after the setup finished by going to:
EAC > EAC Options... > Interface(tab)
and selecting "Native Win32 interface for Win NT/2000/XP". Re-run the wizard again from the EAC menu to configure your drives.

Once you're finished with the wizard it's best to run through the settings it's chosen anyway as in some cases they aren't optimal. Main things to check, from the EAC menu:

EAC Options:

  • Extraction tab
    • Extraction and compression priority
      Setting this to "High" will ensure that EAC is prioritised above other applications when its ripping.

Drive Options:

  • Extraction Method tab
    • Mode
      Ideally you want "Secure".
    • Examine C2 Feature...
      You can use this tool along with a suitably scratched CD to determine whether your drive supports C2. This is worth doing as it will increase the speed of your rips.
  • Drive tab
    • Drive read command
      Hit the "Autodetect read command now" button as the wizard doesn't seem to set this.
  • Offset/Speed tab
    • Allow speed reduction during extraction
      Ideally you want this checked but some drives don't speed up again once they've slowed down.
    • Use AccurateRip with this drive
      You want this checked as it will look up the checksums of your rips against a database of other people's thus ensuring they're accurate.
  • Gap Detection tab
    • Gap/Index retrieval method
      It's worth putting a CD in and running a Detect Gaps once for each one of these options to see which is quickest.
    • Detection accuracy
      Set this to "Secure".

Compression Options:

The configuration wizard should have configured your FLAC settings for you so long as you picked the right option. You can check this in "Compression Options...". If it hasn't then run the wizard again and chose the FLAC option when prompted rather than trying to set the command line and all its parameters yourself.

freedb/Database Options:

  • freedb tab
    • Your e-mail address
      Enter your e-mail address to use freedb.
    • Get active freedb server list
      Hit this to get the list of freedb servers.

Ripping a CD

  1. Put a CD in and select the right drive from the drop-down list, the list of track should appear.
  2. Hit F4 (Action > Detect Gaps) to run the gap detection.
  3. Hit Alt-G (Database > Get CD Information From > Remote freedb) to get the album and track info.
  4. Check the album info is right and if not update it.
  5. Hit Ctrl-A (Edit > Select All) and the Shift-F5 (Action > Copy Selected Tracks > Compressed...) to begin ripping.

After this finishes you get a status log that gives you a quality percentage, AccurateRip confidence and and errors for each track.

Track quality indicates what percentage of the track was ripped first time with no problems. If everything is set up properly and you have a scratch free CD will normally be 99.9% or 100%.

AccurateRip confidence is the number of people in the AccurateRip database who have submitted the same checksum for a particular track as you. The higher the confidence the better however, a low confidence doesn't necessarily mean it is a bad rip, especially if you're ripping a lesser known CD.


Fire up Winamp, have a listen and then kick yourself for ever thinking MP3s sounded good!

01 October 2007

Amazon MP3 downloads

Today's top two MP3 artists on Amazon MP3 are Richard Wagner and Pink Floyd. I find this odd considering that the audiences for these two artists i.e. the classical lot and the prog lot are probably the most demanding when it comes to audio quality.

After it went public beta last week I have to admit I'm very impressed with Amazon's offering; comparing its service to a few others:

StandardPlus WMAMP3
Quality 128kbps256kbps?128kbps256kbps256kbps
DRM YesNoYesYesNoNo
Feist - The Reminder

I'm not sure how many people consider things like quality and DRM when downloading music but one thing they will consider is price and Amazon is the clear leader here. Especially seeing as the album I chose for the comparison is one of the more expensive ones; you can download the whole of Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here for $4.45, that's £2.20!

The fact that Amazon offer DRM-free MP3s means that they will play on pretty much anything. In addition to computers and portable music players, these days you'd be hard pushed to find a CD or DVD player that doesn't play MP3s. The AAC and WMA offerings of the competitors very much limit your choice of player; for example AAC work on iPods, WMA work on Creative Zens but not vice versa. MP3s, however, will work on both.

Amazon already has a massive share of the music retail market so its existing customers are more likely to download from them than go with one of the alternatives. Although they don't offer this yet, something that would seal up the Christmas market would be a "Buy an MP3 player preloaded with albums of your choice" service.

It all seems to stack up in Amazon's favour, I'd wager iTunes are going to see their market share slipping away in the coming months.