My early career in Free Software has been spent working on multimedia software, among other reasons because I always liked music, particularly when working on something. Back in the early 2000s we didn’t have Spotify or other streaming services, at best we had Internet radios, and the quality of the sound from those radios was quite low.
A lot of people, me included, ended up pirating music that would be otherwise hard to come by, such as Japanese music, and strived for high quality rips, in lossless formats such as FLAC and ALAC. Depending on how you look at it, you may think that this was just affectation, similar to the modern audiophiles insisting for gold-plated cables and the like, but I do not believe that’s the case.
You see, the first problem is that back then, the quality of the encoding (and decoding) software mattered. You could tell the difference between a mp3 file being decoded with mpg123 versus MAD, and that’s without going into the whole mess that Vorbis encoding has always been. Better encoding and decoding also used more CPU (and that generally happened on the same computer you were working on, rather than on a dedicated smart speaker), so generally it was a matter of choosing a good encoding with the specifics you had in mind.
In my experience, decoding a lossless stream took less CPU than decoding a high-bitrate mp3 or AAC file, which meant I preferred using those where possible. In addition, I honestly could hear (at least at the time, it was a long time ago) the difference between a song encoded in AAC-LC and AAC-HE, the latter being the much more common encoding nowadays.
What this means is that there’s a significant difference in trade-offs between what we used to do some fifteen years ago, and what is being done today. And that is without bringing in the fact that for the most part nowadays we play most music through devices that are not designed for the lossless reproduction in the first place.
Why am I bringing this up? Well, I have had discussions some time ago about the usefulness of lossless encodings in 2022. We all got used to streaming to smart speakers, or listen through cheap (or not so cheap) headphones, and so the quality added by FLAC is not particularly important.
At the same time, most music is available to stream, so the usage of CDs themselves is a bit of an affectation. Between me and my wife, we own a number of CDs, actually. Some of them just because they are mementos (autographed, collectors’ editions), and a few because they are minor artists that didn’t survive into the streaming era. Listening to them is a bit of a chore.
To solve this, a couple of years ago I went looking for a CD player that would be able to connect to the A/V receiver over an SPDIF connection, optical or coaxial. Optimally, I wanted a “changer” that would allow playing multiple discs in series, since both Blind Guardian and Avantasia have released albums in multiple discs and would be nice to play them in series. Unfortunately the first attempt fell flat: the player started stuttering, apparently from problems with the laser, and despite multiple attempts at cleaning and reassembling it, I failed at resolving it. The second time I settled for a Sony DVD changer, which worked okay, except for the fact that the tray didn’t actually allow putting all five discs at once, you need to load them one at a time.
Both options ended up being pointless with the new receiver, since it does not include an SPDIF input of any kind. I have briefly considered building a device to plug the SPDIF into, and get a network stream out, but then I realize it would be fairly pointless at that point, and the DVD changer now lies unused in a cabinet. I might still play with the SPDIF in the future for the sake of it.
So what am I doing with the CDs? Right now, not much. I have a plan, though: I’m going to make rips of all of them in FLAC for archival, on an external drive. I’m also going to make a high-quality, HE-AAC copy of them to store in a microSD card plugged into the Home Assistant Blue board, which runs the home automation for our flat. Home Assistant makes it very easy to play the music on any compatible receiver, which should include the HT-A7000 DLNA target (and if not, I’m going to add support for it in the renewed Songpal implementation.)
This makes for an exciting opportunity to be able to play music anywhere at any time, while having an actual copy, not requiring any subscription, and not dependent on a third party. It should be the Free Software dream, but I don’t hear much of that nowadays. Let’s see how it will pan out.