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What file type to listen to music?
RadioactiveToy
post May 11 2012, 19:26
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I'm having to start my music library over again so I decided I might as well do it properly - keep everything tagged correctly and at the same bit rate.

I was wondering what type of music you'd recommend (type as in file type/bit rate, not genre). I'll be listening through Audio Technica M50s but hope to one day have a top quality sound system.

Is it worth getting everything in FLAC (and then converting to ALAC)? I'd need space for about 10,000 songs on my computer...(plus I'd like to fit most of them on my 160GB ipod). When heard through a top quality system, is there much difference between FLAC and 320 kbps? what about 320kbps and 260kbps?

I'm also looking to the future...I'm going to be regularly backing up my music collection this time, I don't want to ever have to start over again...so I was thinking I should be getting lossless right? Given the rate of technological advancement, I just have a feeling it's better to have a lossless collection...although I have no justification for why so that's not really a reason until someone with more knowledge can give their input.

Finally, my favourite musician/producer/mixer Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree) is always talking about the degradation of audio and complaining about lossy formats (he has an analogy: lossless - seeing a masterpiece painting in person; lossy - seeing a photocopy of the masterpiece painting...you can still appreciate it, but your "quality of experience is so much lower"). I've got to admit this has influenced me to go for lossless, but after scouring the web I see many people saying lossless = 320kbps in quality.

on my headphones I can very clearly hear the difference between 128 and 320, but no real difference between 320 and FLAC. But if I upgraded, lets say in 5 years time, to a sound system that costs several thousand pounds, would the difference be noticeable? Unfortunately I can't do an ABX test on a top quality sound system.

sorry for the long post.

This post has been edited by RadioactiveToy: May 11 2012, 19:29
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Porcus
post May 11 2012, 19:56
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QUOTE (RadioactiveToy @ May 11 2012, 20:26) *
Is it worth getting everything in FLAC (and then converting to ALAC)? I'd need space for about 10,000 songs on my computer...(plus I'd like to fit most of them on my 160GB ipod). When heard through a top quality system, is there much difference between FLAC and 320 kbps? what about 320kbps and 260kbps?


I'm using FLAC. It is bit-identical to the original, I will never have to transcode from a lossy to another, it has error-checking, and is pretty sure to work. Ten thousand songs will fit on a 500 GB drive (plus an extra for backup).

However, you will only in very exceptional circumstances be able to tell the difference between a lame V0-encoded mp3 and a lossless original, in a controlled experiment. Converting everything that way (or to 256 kbps AAC) will fit it onto your portable apple. But as you need to do the backup maintainance job anyway, you might as well maintain the lossless and think of the iPod as a portable copy.




QUOTE (RadioactiveToy @ May 11 2012, 20:26) *
I'm also looking to the future...I'm going to be regularly backing up my music collection this time, I don't want to ever have to start over again...so I was thinking I should be getting lossless right?


That's what I thought too, and that's why I'm running lossless.



QUOTE (RadioactiveToy @ May 11 2012, 20:26) *
Finally, my favourite musician/producer/mixer Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree) is always talking about the degradation of audio and complaining about lossy formats (he has an analogy: lossless - seeing a masterpiece painting in person; lossy - seeing a photocopy of the masterpiece painting...you can still appreciate it, but your "quality of experience is so much lower"). I've got to admit this has influenced me to go for lossless, but after scouring the web I see many people saying lossless = 320kbps in quality.


So you bought the iPod after hearing Way Out Of Here? wink.gif

Look, there's all sorts of junk-sounding lossy files out on the net (have a go on youtube), working more or less the same way as an nth generation cassette copy back in the 80's. Still, if the lossy transcoding is done only once, then at a certain quality level, the information loss becomes inaudible.


QUOTE (RadioactiveToy @ May 11 2012, 20:26) *
on my headphones I can very clearly hear the difference between 128 and 320, but no real difference between 320 and FLAC. But if I upgraded, lets say in 5 years time, to a sound system that costs several thousand pounds, would the difference be noticeable?


In most cases, no. But then on the other hand, what is the price difference between a 200 GB drive and a 500?


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Kohlrabi
post May 11 2012, 20:11
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QUOTE (RadioactiveToy @ May 11 2012, 20:26) *
[...] and at the same bit rate.

Why? Variable Bit Rate (VBR) encoding will yield much smaller files than Constant Bit Rate (CBR) encoding at the same apparent quality. Or, another way to put it, VBR encodes will have a higher quality than CBR encodes at the same target bitrate. LAME can encode MP3 files with VBR by using the -V switch on the command line. A smaller value will lead to higher quality (and larger) files. Take a look for that option in whatever audio converter you use, too.

QUOTE (RadioactiveToy @ May 11 2012, 20:26) *
I was wondering what type of music you'd recommend (type as in file type/bit rate, not genre). [...]
Is it worth getting everything in FLAC (and then converting to ALAC)? When heard through a top quality system, is there much difference between FLAC and 320 kbps?

If you want lossy, MP3 is still a safe choice, since hardware and player support is still best. For lossless I'd recommend either FLAC, or ALAC, if you are a Mac OS user. You could do blind tests on your equipment to determine whether you can routinely hear a difference between FLAC and MP3. But I'd say it's quite safe to go down to LAME -V4 in most cases. Though for archival a higher target bitrate may be nice to have for some additional headroom for difficult to encode files.

QUOTE (RadioactiveToy @ May 11 2012, 20:26) *
I'm also looking to the future...I'm going to be regularly backing up my music collection this time, I don't want to ever have to start over again...so I was thinking I should be getting lossless right?

That's one huge advantage of lossless archival. Your files will always be as good as the original CDs, and you can transcode to any lossy format you like if need be, or listen to the lossless files.

QUOTE (RadioactiveToy @ May 11 2012, 20:26) *
Finally, my favourite musician/producer/mixer Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree) is always talking about the degradation of audio and complaining about lossy formats (he has an analogy: lossless - seeing a masterpiece painting in person; lossy - seeing a photocopy of the masterpiece painting...you can still appreciate it, but your "quality of experience is so much lower").

I like this analogy, it's quite spot on. While a good camera(=encoder) might give a good reproduction of the original, you will have lost some (probably imperceptible) differences in the photograph.

QUOTE (RadioactiveToy @ May 11 2012, 20:26) *
I've got to admit this has influenced me to go for lossless, but after scouring the web I see many people saying lossless = 320kbps in quality.

The 320kbps number is just the upper limit of MP3, there is no reason to use CBR encoding if you want to go lossy, the maximum VBR encoding (-V0) will likely produce files just as good with a much smaller filesize. I never understood the reasoning behind CBR encoding, especially not 320kbps CBR. If one has enough space to waste on CBR, why not go full lossless in the first place?

QUOTE (RadioactiveToy @ May 11 2012, 20:26) *
on my headphones I can very clearly hear the difference between 128 and 320, but no real difference between 320 and FLAC. But if I upgraded, lets say in 5 years time, to a sound system that costs several thousand pounds, would the difference be noticeable?

The price of a system is not the determining factor, to me the most important part is your headphones/speakers! Even most on-board PC audio chips in today's computers are well able to play back CD audio basically transparently. The audio format itself is also just of minor import, as long as the encoding settings are set high enough so that you don't routinely spot artifacts. Of course, lossless encoding will also give you peace of mind concerning that, it will always be as good as the CD. For comparisons you should use VBR encoding with a target bitrate of around 128kbps (-V6 to -V5), it will likely sound much better than 128kbps CBR (see above).


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Ron Jones
post May 11 2012, 20:55
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QUOTE (RadioactiveToy @ May 11 2012, 11:26) *
[Steven Wilson] has an analogy: lossless - seeing a masterpiece painting in person; lossy - seeing a photocopy of the masterpiece painting...you can still appreciate it, but your "quality of experience is so much lower"

I would not let such a viewpoint influence your decision. A properly-encoded lossy file is unlikely to be audibly different to its lossless counterpart. In such cases, the quality of experience is identical. A more appropriate analogy is viewing a masterpiece painting next to an imperceptibly-different knockoff. Such is the aim of (most) lossy audio encoding, and it's a result generally achieved at bit rates lower than you might expect.

You'll need to perform ABX tests against various encoders and bit rates against lossless sources in order to determine what your own personal threshold of audibility is. The wiki has information on ABX testing to get you started. If you'd rather not bother, choose high bit rate MP3 or AAC for iPod compatibility, or choose ALAC if you value 'safety' and the ability to later transcode to a lossy format without adding an additional stage of degradation. If you want iPod compatibility, do not choose FLAC.
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Nessuno
post May 11 2012, 22:32
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QUOTE (Kohlrabi @ May 11 2012, 21:11) *
I never understood the reasoning behind CBR encoding, especially not 320kbps CBR. If one has enough space to waste on CBR, why not go full lossless in the first place?

Sometimes you need to calculate before and with good precision how much space or bandwidth a content will occupy.


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Kohlrabi
post May 11 2012, 22:47
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QUOTE (Nessuno @ May 11 2012, 23:32) *
Sometimes you need to calculate before and with good precision how much space or bandwidth a content will occupy.

I was referring to encoding for personal archival or consumption. Certainly, streaming or mastering for space-restricted media is an issue, but you still have the possibility to at least use ABR.

This post has been edited by Kohlrabi: May 11 2012, 22:49


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db1989
post May 11 2012, 22:57
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QUOTE (RadioactiveToy @ May 11 2012, 20:26) *
[…] I see many people saying lossless = 320kbps in quality.
Statements such as this require contextual definitions of equal and quality: the two formats are likely to be equal in audible quality for a majority of files, but of course lossless is technically superior and has the advantage (among its others) of incurring no risk of ‘generation loss’, of compatibility (assuming at least one decoder still exists, you’re ready to start anew), of relative (hypothetical) quality in the future… etc.

The answer will probably boil down to the usual: archive to lossless, transcode to whatever for your less spacious devices. That “whatever” can be MP3 or AAC, if you want maximal compatibility – with the caveats that the latter might potentially (slightly?) narrow your options of hardware or (even less likely) software, and might (no trollfest, please!) rope you into an Apple-skewed environment that you might not desire –, or even Ogg Vorbis, if you really want to support patent-free/open-source development and don’t mind having to be much more proactive in your search for compatibility.

QUOTE (Kohlrabi @ May 11 2012, 20:11) *
I never understood the reasoning behind CBR encoding, especially not 320kbps CBR. If one has enough space to waste on CBR, why not go full lossless in the first place?
Probably because, even though 320 kbps is probably excessive, it’s still about a third of the size of the average losslessly encoded file. Yes, one might do much better to use a VBR setting that’ll use 320 kbps frames when it has to and only then, and I’m sure some of the popularity of CBR at 320 kbps is due to misconceptions about VBR and its effects – but it’s not as though CBR at 320 kbps is always completely dumb. tongue.gif I grant that the technical side of your argument about quality vs. bitrate is correct, of course, but that doesn’t validate the idea that one might as well jump from 320 kbps to lossless.
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yourlord
post May 11 2012, 23:36
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I rip everything to FLAC format. I listen to them on my local machine and my local network, straight as a FLAC. The only time I have use for any other format is where I want to pack as much of my collection into a fairly limited storage pool, such as loading up my 16GB digital audio player, or loading a 16GB USB flash drive to plug into my car stereo.

Because my collection is FLAC, I have OPTIONS for those scenarios. My car stereo only supports mp3, so when I want to load music on it I simply transcode to mp3 using lame -V2 (~192kbps) when storing on the flash drive. My digital audio player supports OGG Vorbis, so I transcode to -q2 (~96kbps) when I load it up.

Because Vorbis tends to be transparent to me at much lower bitrates than lame, I can store essentially double the music in the same space on my DAP.

If I had ripped to a lossy format to begin with I would be essentially locked into that format forever as transcoding lossy to lossy is almost always audibly bad to me.

The trick here is to be flexible for the future. I don't know what's going to happen in 20 years, but I have the source code to the FLAC libraries and tools and the FLAC format is patent and royalty free, so no matter what comes down the pipe I can always get my raw audio back from FLAC in perfect form..

MP3 is very popular and basically ubiquitous right now.. Will it still be in 20 years? Who knows.. Maybe AAC or Vorbis, or some other new format will have taken the throne as the defacto standard codec by then.. If my whole library is mp3 I would be stuck in that inferior format forever, or forced to suffer the degradation of trancoding between lossy formats, to rerip if I can find the disks, or repurchase my entire library to gain the benefits of that new format.

With FLAC, whatever new whizbang format comes out in 20 or 30 years doesn't matter.. I will still have a perfect original copy from which I can generate new up-to-date files that will play on any hardware, regardless of codec support because I can create a 1st generation transcode to ANYTHING!

This post has been edited by yourlord: May 11 2012, 23:38
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db1989
post May 12 2012, 08:27
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QUOTE (yourlord @ May 11 2012, 23:36) *
The trick here is to be flexible for the future. I don't know what's going to happen in 20 years, but I have the source code to the FLAC libraries and tools and the FLAC format is patent and royalty free, so no matter what comes down the pipe I can always get my raw audio back from FLAC in perfect form.

This an excellent strategy and pretty much an ideal phrasing of what I meant above by “no risk of [loss of] compatibility (assuming at least one decoder still exists, you’re ready to start anew)”. smile.gif
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Nessuno
post May 12 2012, 09:34
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QUOTE (db1989 @ May 12 2012, 09:27) *
(assuming at least one decoder still exists, you’re ready to start anew)”. smile.gif

With a (minor?) caveat: metadata handling.
I understand that for pop music, where the standard artist/album/trackname applies, tagging is done once and forever at ripping time, even automatically by the ripper and normally transcoders handle well this aspect, but that's not always the case (classical for example) and keeping an archival lossless library in sync with the "working" lossy one is generally a royal pain!


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shadowking
post May 12 2012, 10:41
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Some say that one day mp3 is obsolete. I read sometime ago the mp3 will always be supported (backward compatibility) as it is a part of mpeg spec. So in 10 ~ 20 yrs if AAC is the hot thing then mp3 has to be supported as a legacy thing. I mean DVD-video is 15yo and still supported in blu-ray players

Mp3 is apparently very easy to implement and decode so i think most manufacturers will stick to it for a very long time.

If you rip a music collection to say Lame -V4 (150 kbit) that might seem scary on 1st glance. But one can store many thousands albums to play in any device at a very respectable quality - no transcoding, servers, RAID or anything fancy.

This post has been edited by shadowking: May 12 2012, 10:43


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db1989
post May 12 2012, 10:51
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QUOTE (shadowking @ May 12 2012, 10:41) *
Some say that one day mp3 is obsolete. I read sometime ago the mp3 will always be supported (backward compatibility) as it is a part of mpeg spec. So in 10 ~ 20 yrs if AAC is the hot thing then mp3 has to be supported as a legacy thing. I mean DVD-video is 15yo and still supported in blu-ray players

Mp3 is apparently very easy to implement and decode so i think most manufacturers will stick to it for a very long time.
Yeah, I think its long reign will mean that it’ll be supported for a long time, effectively indefinitely as far as we mortals are concerned! This is even more likely than is suggested by your comparison to DVD-Video: that’s a format with physical differences to its successors, whereas MP3 and the rest are simply files whose decoding depends only upon having the right code, something that is readily available and I imagine is also relatively rudimentary in comparison to more modern and future formats.

QUOTE
If you rip a music collection to say Lame -V4 (150 kbit) that might seem scary on 1st glance. But one can store many thousands albums to play in any device at a very respectable quality - no transcoding, servers, RAID or anything fancy.
Yeah, why did I ever rip to -V2, -V0, and iTunes Plus? :S The 16 GB of my current player could be pushed a lot further.
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soundping
post May 12 2012, 17:21
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MP3 Lame 320kbps CBR works for me.
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RadioactiveToy
post May 16 2012, 19:52
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thanks for all the replies...I've decided to rip to Apple Lossless and keep a lossless collection of all my music, while converting it down to 256kbps AAC for my iPod.

Is there a way to simultaneously convert FLAC files to ALAC and 256kbps AAC?
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eahm
post May 16 2012, 22:17
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QUOTE (RadioactiveToy @ May 16 2012, 11:52) *
thanks for all the replies...I've decided to rip to Apple Lossless and keep a lossless collection of all my music, while converting it down to 256kbps AAC for my iPod.

Is there a way to simultaneously convert FLAC files to ALAC and 256kbps AAC?

dBpoweramp -> Multi Encoder option.
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smok3
post May 17 2012, 07:57
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QUOTE (Nessuno @ May 12 2012, 10:34) *
With a (minor?) caveat: metadata handling.
I understand that for pop music, where the standard artist/album/trackname applies, tagging is done once and forever at ripping time, even automatically by the ripper and normally transcoders handle well this aspect, but that's not always the case (classical for example) and keeping an archival lossless library in sync with the "working" lossy one is generally a royal pain!


can you provide a small sample(s), 1 second will do with all the "funny" tagging? (i'am just working on metadata traveling scripts for os x)

This post has been edited by smok3: May 17 2012, 07:58


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Nessuno
post May 18 2012, 10:24
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QUOTE (smok3 @ May 17 2012, 08:57) *
QUOTE (Nessuno @ May 12 2012, 10:34) *
With a (minor?) caveat: metadata handling.
keeping an archival lossless library in sync with the "working" lossy one is generally a royal pain!


can you provide a small sample(s), 1 second will do with all the "funny" tagging? (i'am just working on metadata traveling scripts for os x)


I see I was not so clear in my precedent post: it's not a question of "funny" tagging, actually the content of the tag is of no importance. The problem is to keep in sync metadata in two different archives.

This is my situation: I have two different archives, one made of ripped FLAC tracks which I keep offline for archivial and one made of the same tracks converted to AAC for listening. I've made (and still I'm making: unfortunately online metadata dbs are of very poor quality when it comes to classical!) a lot of editing on metadata but only on the AAC files so that if I wanted to start over again from lossless, all this editing work would be lost.

I don't let iTunes import tracks into its own directory, so that the two archives keep the same structure: a directory for every CD I ripped, uniquely named from label catalog number, and a file for every track in the form Track nn.[flac|m4a].

So for example I know that the track "../AAC/Archiv 474 338-2/Track 01.m4a" is the lossy transcoding of "../FLAC/Archiv 474 338-2/Track 01.flac", but metadata editing on the lossy file outdates the ones in its lossless counterpart and I haven't still found an easy way to keep them in sync.

I'm thinking of a shell script, but haven't still found a CLI command on OSX to extract AAC metadata for feeding metaflac.

This post has been edited by Nessuno: May 18 2012, 10:26


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smok3
post May 19 2012, 11:59
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for example: imagine two droplets;

droplet a. extracts metadata from any lossy or lossless file to some sort of textual ini file
droplet b. owerwrites an existing metadata with one found externally with the same name - extension

would that work?


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Nessuno
post May 19 2012, 12:47
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QUOTE (smok3 @ May 19 2012, 12:59) *
would that work?

Perfectly! smile.gif
Provided of course that it would be possible to automate the whole process, maybe with the aid of an Automator action.

This solution woluld be perfect because it will also have the side effect of enabling the creation of an external, rather codec agnostic, meta-database. In my case, another directory tree with a dir for every CD and a text file for every track.


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Nessuno
post May 22 2012, 22:49
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QUOTE (smok3 @ May 19 2012, 12:59) *
droplet a. extracts metadata from any lossy or lossless file to some sort of textual ini file
droplet b. owerwrites an existing metadata with one found externally with the same name - extension

Stealing this idea, I've just written a little applescript to extract some meaningful metadata from every track contained in an iTunes user playlist named "Tag Export" and write a plain text file with the same name of the original track file and a .tags extension, made of TAGNAME=VALUE lines (suitable to use for example with metaflac --import-tags-from=FILE). It asks for a starting directory and recreates the same two level directory structure "CD/Track" I use to archive my files, but it shouldn't be too difficult to modify for nesting at n levels. It can be used periodically because it rewrites already saved files from same track at same position.

It's my very first attempt with this scripting language, so it's rather basic, nothing more than a proof of concept. Anyway it seems to work and if someone finds it useful, feel free to use and alter it at your will and peril. Of course it's provided "as is", no warranty whatsoever and all the usual stuff for free code.

CODE

tell application "Finder"
set baseFolder to (choose folder with prompt "Select output folder:") as string
end tell
set totalTracks to 0
set CR to ASCII character 10
tell application "iTunes"
repeat with currTrack in tracks of user playlist "Tag Export"
set tagList to "ALBUM=" & album of currTrack & CR
set tagList to tagList & "COMPOSER=" & composer of currTrack & CR
set tagList to tagList & "TITLE=" & name of currTrack & CR
set tagList to tagList & "ARTIST=" & artist of currTrack & CR
set tagList to tagList & "ALBUMARTIST=" & album artist of currTrack & CR
set tagList to tagList & "GROUPING=" & grouping of currTrack & CR
set tagList to tagList & "COMPILATION=" & compilation of currTrack & CR
set tagList to tagList & "GENRE=" & genre of currTrack & CR
set tagList to tagList & "YEAR=" & year of currTrack & CR
set tagList to tagList & "TRACKNUMBER=" & track number of currTrack & CR
set tagList to tagList & "TRACKTOTAL=" & track count of currTrack & CR
set tagList to tagList & "DISCNUMBER=" & disc number of currTrack & CR
set tagList to tagList & "DISCTOTAL=" & disc count of currTrack & CR
set tagList to tagList & "COMMENT=" & comment of currTrack & CR
set stDel to AppleScript's text item delimiters
try
set AppleScript's text item delimiters to ":"
set pathLevels to the text items of (location of currTrack as string)
set discFolder to item ((count of pathLevels) - 1) of pathLevels
set trackFile to last item of pathLevels
set AppleScript's text item delimiters to "."
set trackName to the first item of (text items of trackFile)
set AppleScript's text item delimiters to stDel
on error
set AppleScript's text item delimiters to stDel
end try
set discFolder to item ((count of pathLevels) - 1) of pathLevels
set fullPath to baseFolder & discFolder
tell application "Finder"
if not (exists folder fullPath) then
make new folder at baseFolder with properties {name:discFolder}
end if
set outFileName to fullPath & ":" & trackName & ".tags"
if exists file outFileName then
delete file outFileName
end if
set fileRefr to (a reference to (open for access outFileName with write permission))
write tagList to fileRefr
close access fileRefr
end tell
set totalTracks to totalTracks + 1
end repeat
display dialog (totalTracks as string) & " files written" buttons {"OK"} default button 1
end tell


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smok3
post May 23 2012, 08:08
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cool, i will eventually come to my droplet idea, time is an issue....


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Porcus
post May 23 2012, 11:50
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QUOTE (db1989 @ May 12 2012, 11:51) *
QUOTE (shadowking @ May 12 2012, 10:41) *
Some say that one day mp3 is obsolete. I read sometime ago the mp3 will always be supported (backward compatibility) as it is a part of mpeg spec. So in 10 ~ 20 yrs if AAC is the hot thing then mp3 has to be supported as a legacy thing. I mean DVD-video is 15yo and still supported in blu-ray players

Mp3 is apparently very easy to implement and decode so i think most manufacturers will stick to it for a very long time.
Yeah, I think its long reign will mean that it’ll be supported for a long time, effectively indefinitely as far as we mortals are concerned! This is even more likely than is suggested by your comparison to DVD-Video: that’s a format with physical differences to its successors, whereas MP3 and the rest are simply files whose decoding depends only upon having the right code, something that is readily available and I imagine is also relatively rudimentary in comparison to more modern and future formats.


Suppose for the sake of the argument that, say, Apple, manages to outfox the mp3 format totally in fifteen years, and you will find that the portable players cease to support it. Then of course you might be screwed if a different lossy format is enforced, but not if there is a lossless alternative you can convert to. In fifteen years' time, storing mp3's as converted to (say) ALAC, will cost chickens**t money of storage.


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