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FLAC AlbumGain and more general advice, Audiophile FLAC-newbie seeks general & specific encoding tips
post Jan 18 2013, 02:05
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Hi all. Noob here! Having lurked for long enough, thought I'd dive in at the deep end...

(Edit: This became more long-winded than I planned, so if you're impatient skip to the end for numbered questions!)
(And before anyone asks, very little of relevance comes up on Google for "FLAC" and "AlbumGain" but I've read various forums complaining about wildcard support and discussing Replay/Album Gain, but strangely nothing that comes close to explaining what I need to know, so if you know something please don't just tell me to "search the forum" or somesuch, because believe me I have!)

I call myself an audiophile (I'm a classical musician, it comes with the territory) but have only just converted to FLAC having been loyal to MP3 since it went public all those years ago. (I know, I'm a Luddite, so sue me!) Main reason for this epiphany? One test and I discover that my favourite, 7-Zip, on Maximum compression (taking 10min) arc's a ripped album to a 225MB .7z (which really is pretty good), while FLAC on Best compression (taking, ooh, about 45sec) encoded same collection of .wavs to 166MB. Sold. Ch-ching! However (and this is where I need to milk experience from others), there seem to be some shortcomings in the basic CLI FLAC that I'm struggling understand so I can find a work around that doesn't take three programs and five steps to achieve my desired goal.

If you call yourself an audiophile you probably have what them in the Good Ol' U.S. of A. call a "Type A" personality -- I do! Not much point in diligently archiving my CD collection without every possible piece of published information captured in every available Tag (which of course have to be ID3v2 for all those pesky classical track names of 137 French characters). AudioGrabber, with elegant simplicity, beautifully rips every CD and stores the CDDB data in the Wavs for future use. I haven't found any other ripper that does that, so EAC (somewhat more fiddly) only ever gets used for the rare instance of a suspect CD when AudioGrabber tells me the checksums doesn't match. Having captured said data I can re-encode directly from the Wavs whenever I want to experiment with LAME settings. (For those who like collecting survey data: I find that, so long as I use the best (q0) psycho-acoustic model, LAME's VBR at V7 surprisingly makes the best compromise between file-size [for portable devices] and quality that an ear my age can perceive -- I can hear the difference between V7 and, say, V3, through my nice antique Beyer-D cans, but the difference isn't worth the storage cost when I'm not listening to the result in perfect conditions.)

Anyway, obviously I scoured FLAC's options & switches before starting, given that the SourceForge project has no additional doco (it only repeats what FLAC -H reports!) or even a forum (unique among the SourceForge projects I've visited). Bizarrely I discover that: a) FLAC will not process multiple files (not even from a file list, the only use for a list-file being to present a set of Tag data for the specified file); b) FLAC's Tag switch applies to all specified files, effectively meaning one can only encode a single file per hit; c) AlbumGain can only work (logically enough) if all tracks are specified on the CLI, meaning that one can calculate AlbumGain or capture Tag data but not both. This makes it impossible to use FLAC to calculate AlbumGain! I must encode the files, then use another program to calculate ReplayGain in the transcoded MP3s, or perhaps while it transcodes to MP3. (I wonder if the function built in to WinAmp does it with the best efficiency and accuracy, but how would I tell...?)

So here's the crunch: I want to archive my CDs to FLAC rather than Zipped Wavs, to save space but also because I can start using AlbumGain, but absolutely only if I can properly capture all the Tag data!

  1. How do I use FLAC to encode all the Wavs of an album to benefit from AlbumGain while also being able to use the Tag switches correctly?
  2. Which I suppose leads to the rhetorical question of, why will 'they' not fix FLAC to either take wildcard file-specs or be able to process list-files to present file names and tag data? (Probably a discussion for a different thread, and one I'll send to the SourceForge project when I bother to find their contact.)
  3. What step-wise process, or alternate program choice, would you guys employ to rip a CD, archive to FLAC with tags intact and write AlbumGain tags, and transcode to MP3, in as few steps as possible using as few different programs as possible?

Unsurprisingly, my ultimate goal is a one-click automated process like I get from AudioGrabber at the moment, even if I have to write an involved Batch file to pipe the output of one process in to another -- AudioGrabber gives me a perfectly portable hit-and-run solution on USB key, no install required, drop in a CD, glance at the FreeDB data, click <Grab>, remove key & CD (I don't even have to press eject!), leave. Is it too much to ask? Yes, I know, the answer may well be "yes" but I have to ask the question for my own sanity...

So there you have it. (At last! Sorry... wink.gif ) My plea out in the wild. Anyone willing to throw their experience again it and point me in the right direction (or even give me a complete answer) will receive my great gratitude smile.gif

Thanks for listening

GJE ("Dranok")
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post Jan 18 2013, 08:39
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Metadata standards for WAVs are a little wacky, so that's why you had trouble finding rippers that would tag them. Compressed formats, including lossless ones like FLAC, are all more tag-friendly. As you discovered, there are limitations to the FLAC command-line tool.

I dont think there's any one-step solution for what you want (rip to FLAC+MP3, tag, ReplayGain-scan). Two steps, though...

dbPowerAmp (free for 3 weeks, then $38) will handle your scratched CDs "securely" (with a smart re-reading strategy), will rip to FLAC and MP3 at the same time, and tag with metadata merged from 5 providers. ReplayGain album-gain scanning has to be done in a separate step with the batch converter, I believe.

CUERipper (free) will also do secure rips (not quite as smartly as dbPA) and will rip to FLAC and tag with metadata from your pick of freedb/MusicBrainz/Discogs/CTDB. ReplayGain scanning and conversion to MP3 will have to be done elsewhere, like in foobar2000.

The highly configurable audio player foobar2000 (free) will not do secure rips, but will rip to FLAC (requires flac.exe), tag with metadata from your pick of freedb/MusicBrainz/CD-TEXT, and do a ReplayGain scan at the end. To create the MP3s, you'd then have to drag-drop or otherwise get the FLACs into the playlist window, right-click and choose the converter option to create MP3s. You have to set up the converter once for each format, the first time through, but after that it's just a matter of picking the profile you set up. You don't have to tell it how to use the command-line options for tagging; it does the tagging itself, independently of the encoder.

Exact Audio Copy (free) has secure ripping (roughly the same as CUERipper), and gets metadata from your pick of several sources. But as you discovered, it rips only to untagged WAV, or rips to a temporary WAV and then runs an external encoder on each WAV one at a time. (Well, it also has support for ACM codecs, but they're not worth messing with for FLAC since EAC would only be able to write ID3 tags, which are not ideal for FLAC.) For tagging with an external encoder in EAC, you have to pass all the tagging commands. It works, if properly configured (see our wiki), but it's a pain to get set up right. Then you'd still have to do the MP3 conversion and ReplayGain scan separately, outside of EAC. So it's no better than CUERipper in this regard.

Personally I just use CUERipper and get my tagged FLACs, then load the FLACs into fb2k for ReplayGain-scanning and conversion to lossy. I don't use fb2k's built-in ripper because I need secure ripping (my drive can't even rip clean CDs without error, in burst mode).

This post has been edited by mjb2006: Jan 18 2013, 08:40
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post Jan 18 2013, 19:25
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(Took me all day to find this, someone moved my post but left the original under General Audio, which still says 0 replies. Only just now I discovered that there are more categories off the bottom of the screen under page 1 of the General Audio threads! Might be a good idea if the forum owner actually put an index up front for visitors to know that there are topics within topics huh.gif )
(Oh, shut up and stop whinging already!)
QUOTE (mjb2006 @ Jan 18 2013, 07:39) *
I dont think there's any one-step solution for what you want (rip to FLAC+MP3, tag, ReplayGain-scan). Two steps, though...

dbPowerAmp (free for 3 weeks, then $38) <---snip--->

CUERipper (free) <---snip--->

The highly configurable audio player foobar2000 (free) <---snip--->

Excellent reply! Almost everything I need to know and want to read in one msg. cool.gif
Two steps? I can cope with that, perfectly acceptable for my purposes.
I looked at dbPA some years ago but found it far too cumbersome for a relatively expensive shareware ($25 yes, $38 makes me think "not unless I can't find freeware solutions"). It may have improved since then, but I have strong preference to Open Source s/w on principle. I may well look again now, though, after your review.
The biggest benefit of your reply, however, is that I just may ditch AudioGrabber for CUERipper if it's as useful as you describe! But that may be unnecessary (I don't usually need secure ripping) if I can do everything in FooBar. I didn't realize it did ReplayGain at the end; this sounds like the way to correctly tag the FLACs and still get AlbumGain. Does Foobar capture album art or is that a third step? (I've already found a couple of standalone's that seem to do this well, and the new version of MediaMonkey looks like a good way to go...) While I'm thinking about it, if a .FLAC contains album art, will FB2K properly keep it with all the other tags when xcoding to MP3?

Thanks for your help already smile.gif
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