23 December 2008

Rip Your CDs... For a Weird Price

I’m in Minnesota to visit the fam for the holidays, so I get to read the local paper, the StarTribune.

In today’s paper, Randy Salas talks about digitizing his collection of 2,000 CDs. He used a service called iPodMeister, which takes as payment your actual CDs (!). In return, you get MP3s in various media and even a check. I guess they re-sell your CDs or something.

I can’t imagine giving up my original media (a) at all; or (b) for MP3s! A while back I did an A/B test of CDs with 256kiB/s (variable bit-rate) MP3s, and unfortunately, there really is a sound difference. Even the high bit-rate MP3s suffer noticeable sound loss (surprisingly, in at least one case, in the bass). (Gojira has some great bass playing.) I don’t subscribe to audiophile magical thinking, but the difference was really noticeable on good speakers. iPod earbuds won’t reveal the difference, but decent headphones or decent speakers will.

Lossy compression is dead! Storage is cheap. (When will emusic.com get the frickin’ message?)

Currently on newegg.com, 1TB drives are $120. If you figure roughly 10MB per minute of stereo audio in WAV format — we’ll use base 10 since the drive manufacturers do (Note 1 and Note 2) — you can get 80,000 minutes of music on that drive (figure 20% for filesystem overhead to be safe). At that point, even lossless compression seems like overkill. Granted, you'll need to get two drives (preferably from different manufacturers or at least different production batches), but $240 is a small price to pay for that much storage.

And it’s not economical to buy two 500GB disks, in case you were thinking of saving money: 500GB drives are $100. $240 is the current sweet spot for reliable storage. It so happens that that’s 1TB.

And as for the copyright concerns: you bought it, you own it, and can re-sell it. Whether or not you can keep the MP3s after you sell the original media, I don’t know. Ethically, it “feels” wrong to me; legally, I am told that maybe you can.

In any case, copyright law as it currently stands is on the wrong side of physics and economics (we are nowhere near the limits of information density right now!). Reality is going to keep punching copyright maximalists in the guts for a long time.

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