The Computer Audiophile CD ripping strategy and methodology article has been one of the most popular writings on the site to date. Some readers have implemented the methodology exactly how it was written while others have put their own spin on it by changing file formats and the number of file copies. Other readers are still searching for a less time consuming way to rip their music collections. Over the last few weeks I've been using a CD ripping approach that's likely to satisfy those who want to get the job done but don't have a couple months of free time to rip 3000 CDs. The approach consists of an automated ripping robot in combination with Get Digital Data's Encode Center and GD3 Tagger software and its GD3 database. The experience was actually enjoyable from beginning to end. I'm willing to bet few if any readers have ever enjoyed ripping CDs.
Let Me Load The Robot First
Throughout the years we've all had our excuses for not coming when called. I can imagine a couple decades ago when kids were called to dinner from the playground they would say, "Give me one more at bat" or "We have one inning left in the game." The most comical excuse from my childhood was, "Wait 'till I die." A reference to playing video games that could not be put on hold for foolish things like eating or going to bed. Now audiophiles have an additional excuse although it will only delay the inevitable for a few minutes at best. "Let me load the robot first." I've used that phrase numerous times lately while using the automated robot sent to me by Get Digital Data. I frequently uttered the phrase before going out to dinner or leaving the house for any length of time. Great satisfaction can be had when arriving home to a batch of one hundred CDs sitting in the Completed pile on top of a ripping robot. For those of us used to the manual disc-by-disc ripping method this automation feels like we're cheating the system.
Get Digital Data (GD3) is the company that supplied me with the robot, the software, and initial database access. (Note: I purchased additional access during the review.) GD3 is not a hardware company although one can purchase hardware / software packages from GD3. The heart of the company is its software and GD3 database. The software is used to rip CDs and tag CDs with metadata. The GD3 database is what supplies the software with all the information about each CD ripped. The database is unique compared to others frequently used during the ripping process. GD3 qualifies every entry into the database ensuring accuracy of the text and album art. Unlike other CD databases, users do not have access to directly feed the GD3 database with their own CD metadata.
A major reason GD3's software and database are so successful is that GD3 also offers a CD ripping service. Its own ripping service uses its software and database heavily day-in day-out. This provides incredible information to GD3 about ease of use and stability of the application, and increases the number and accuracy of entries in the GD3 database. I can't help but think of the much talked about TV commercials where a gentleman touts, “I’m not only the President, but I’m also a client."
The Robot, The Software, The Database
The formula I used for this review consisted of the following hardware and software.
Primera Technology's Composer Pro two drive CD and DVD duplicator.
This is a dual drive CD/DVD ripping robot. It uses highly sought after Plextor drives that are no longer available. According to Doug Strachota of Get Digital Data these Plextors are as good as it gets. The robot I received was well warn-in and had likely seen better days. As a testament to the Plextor drives and the build quality of the Primera robot I did not have a single hardware issue while ripping 1600 discs during the review. The robot I used did not come with a printer as that is used to create printed discs. The speed of each rip was somewhat unpredictable just as it would be for any computer ripping a CD. The key factor in ripping speed is the condition of the CD itself. No ripper worth its weight will rip a damaged disc in the same amount of time as a pristine disc. The Primera Composer Pro robot requires one FieWire port and one Serial port on the ripping computer running Windows. Other operating systems are not supported at this time. The Serial port requirement, for command and control communication, is a bit of a hassle. I haven't had a Serial port on any of my PCs since the early 2000s. I picked up a simple USB to Serial converter and the problem was solved. During the review I connected the robot to my Mac Pro running Windows XP with more memory, CPU power, and drive space than I could use. Other GD3 supported robots can be located at the following page on the GD3 site. GD3 Supported Robots
Direct links to robot information:
Encode Center v2.0 ($199)
Encode Center is GD3's software application for ripping CDs. Encode Center is a dedicated ripping application that does absolutely nothing but rip discs. There is something to be said about purpose built applications, just like purpose built audio components. Often the jack of all trades is the master of none. Users of Encode Center don't have to worry about a ton of configurations options and downloading CODECS. Setting up EC to work with the Primera robot was as simple as selecting the Composer Pro in a list of supported devices. No additional software to install or convoluted configuration trial and error. EC supports MP3, WAV, and FLAC. That's it. If readers need more CODECs EC isn't the program for them. This is one area GD3 needs to improve upon. Support for a few more formats is a trivial matter and would open up EC as an option for almost every computer audiophile. The software interface displays some nice information while the robot is ripping discs. In addition to the standard Album and Artist data there are columns for Disc Number (number of discs ripped), Ripping Status (percent complete for each disc), Position in Spool (discs position in the spool of completed discs), and Jitter Errors. How could any application be complete without addressing jitter. Only kidding of course. This jitter is not to be confused with "traditional" timing error jitter measured in picoseconds. Jitter errors in Encode Center equate to problems with the disc during the ripping process. Encode Center not only lets the user know there was an error(s) it also displays the exact minute and second within a track the error occurred. This is extremely valuable. As I ripped the Dave Matthews Band album Under The Table and Dreaming the number of jitter errors added up and something seem amiss. I was able to look at EC to determine errors were in tracks between number ten and thirty-four. (Back in college I'm sure this disc made a great coaster for a house guest's beverage of choice.) Fortunately I don't care about most of these tracks because all but eleven and thirty-four are blank. DMB actually has a song title #34 and set it as track thirty-four on the disc. As it turns out track eleven had some inconsequential errors easily identifiable down to the second through EC and thirty-four was fine. Without Encode Center's specific "jitter" information I would have been listening to track eleven over and over listening for glitches. Instead I went right to the trouble spot to access the sonic damage. Encode Center does many things right that standard users will soon take for granted. EC labels albums with different colors, check boxes, and questions marks. These notify users of items they may want to look at with additional care. After spot checking quite a few of these marked albums I realized GD3 had 99% of the albums correct. For example some of my Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab discs were correctly identified as such and tagged with the correct MFSL album art. EC notified me there was more than one possible match for the albums only because the standard release of the discs was also in the GD3 database. If GD3 was incorrect I could easily select either release via a drop-down menu and EC would change the metadata. The interface also allows the user to view only errors encountered during the ripping process. This is nice once users are comfortable with EC's ability to get things right and it enables one to peruse through the errors and quickly resolve any issues. After ripping hundreds of discs the list of completed albums gets rather long. Identifying only the potential errors is really nice.
During the review period I did a lengthy comparison of the GD3 solution and dBpweramp. It was really no contest at all. The combination of the Primera Composer Pro robot and the GD3 software blew dBpweramp out of the water. dBp did not successfully rip more than fifty CDs in a row without running into major problems. I frequently had to restart the ripping process with dBp because it could not communicate to the robot well enough. My guess is this has a lot to do with the drivers written for robot-PC command and control rather than the complete application itself. I downloaded the robot software from the dBpoweramp site for this comparison. Nonetheless, I cannot recommend dBp with this robot. I have not tested other robots with dBp so my comments should not be expanded to include anything broader than what I've stated here.
Video of Ripping Robot In Action -> 27.58 MB Download
GD3 Tagger v1
GD3 Tagger is the application that one uses to clean up or adjust any metadata on the ripped discs. While it is possible to make some changes from within Encode Center as the robot is ripping, GD3 Tagger is a much better interface and was specifically built for editing metadata. Again, a purpose built application that masters one task. After opening GD3 Tagger and directing it to the location where Encode Center placed the music all the albums load in one of two user-friendly views. I preferred the folder view as it was easier for me to navigate by artist and album in alphabetical order. Clicking on an album on the left part of the screen displays its metadata on the right side of the screen. This is where the options for data clean up save tremendous amount of time over the course of hundreds of discs. For example combing through my albums I came to some Analogue Productions releases without correct album art. Correct album art is critical to me. It's an easy way to identify what remaster or version of an album I am listening to or am looking for in my library. I clicked the Amz button within GD3 Tagger and was directed to Amazon's website with the correct search criteria already entered. I was able to select the album art with the AP logo in the bottom left corner signifying the Analogue Productions remaster (image). Over time little things like an Amazon button make all the difference. Every audiophile is well aware that getting the metadata correct for Classical Music can be a nightmare. No application is perfect although GD3 does have metadata as good or better than any other service when it comes to CLassical music. In recognition of the difficulty Classical music can raise GD3 Tagger has a built-in Classical Editor feature. This CLassical Editor allows one to view and edit if needed some of the extended tags that JRiver Media Center can use very well. Tags such as Conductor, Composer, Orchestra, Chorus, Soloists are easily viewed via this value added feature. As one can see in the screenshot below a large list of Orchestras, as well as the other tags, is present in the Classical Editor. This allows one to scroll the list and select the correct spelling or appropriate formal name for the metadata. As a bonus the GD3 Tagger has a Freedb button to enable lookups in the Freedb database. I used this button about ten or fifteen times but had absolutely no success in finding missing metadata via Freedb. I'm sure there are albums that Freedb contains and GD3 does not, but I can't verify that statement at this time.
GD3 Online Database.
The GD3 online database is what makes this whole automated ripping process a success. My biggest fear with ripping hundreds of discs was that my metadata would be incorrect or missing. I imagined leaving the house with a one hundred discs spindle loaded and ready to rip. Only to return home with eighty incorrectly ripped CDs because I didn't verify each rip like I would have done disc-by-disc the manual way. Fortunately the GD3 database is rock solid. As I mentioned previously GD3 has complete control over the database entries unlike the other databases used for metadata. The Gracenote database that is used by iTunes contains mostly user submitted content. A quick glance of the Gracenote site leads one to this statement, "Much of the information in the Gracenote Music Recognition Service (originally known as CDDB) was initially submitted by users and there are inconsistencies. If you find a problem with your information using your software application you may be able to fix it. To fix a problem you find, send a copy of the incorrect entry to us from the application." The GD3 service is not totally without user submitted content. However, GD3 has implemented this feature in a vastly different way. GD3 keeps an online personal database for each user that allows one to retrieve CD customizations they have made in the past. For example, I can submit my Analogue Productions remastered albums with correct album art to my own database via the GD3 Tagger and GD3 will store this metadata for me. If I ever have to rip these discs again GD3 will recognize them and supply only me with the customized album art. Using an analogy I liken the GD3 database to Apple and its tightly controlled products that work as designed whereas the other databases are similar to the Linux open platform that have incredible potential but are also prone to errors and can be difficult to work with.
GD3 like any good service does come with a price tag. Users are charged on a per lookup bases. As the robot is ripping CDs Encode Center communicates automatically with GD3 to subtract a single lookup for every CD. Within GD3 Tagger it is possible to use the GD3 database as many times as needed, but the application will prompt the user before retrieving any information from GD3. This can be useful if making slight adjustments to metadata allows GD3 to recognize an album and supply additional information. The prices for GD3 Database lookups is purchased in the following bundles, 200 Lookup Bundle ($ 25), 500 Lookup Bundle ($ 60), 1000 Lookup Bundle ($ 110), 5000 Lookup Bundle ($ 525), 10000 Lookup Bundle ($ 1000). The price per lookup ranges from $0.125 to $0.10 baed on volume purchased.
The Discs, The Tags, The Accuracy
My process for ripping the 1600 CDs during this review was guided somewhat by GD3's own practices.
1. Remove one hundred discs from either cases or sleeves.
2. Load the discs into the correct spindle.
3. Start the robot ripping the spindle of discs.
4. When time permits monitor the rips for errors on the fly and correct if necessary from within Encode Center.
5. Upon spindle completion use the GD3 process called clearing. This consists of matching each ripped disc in the spindle with each ripped disc via GD3 Tagger. All the discs are listed in order within the software so clearing can be done fairly fast.
6. Make any necessary corrections from within GD3 Tagger.
7. Return to step one.
One major test of GD3's accuracy came in the form of Sony Music's twenty-six disc box set Soundtrack For A Century. I own this collection and have always been frustrated with the way it's been tagged when ripping. GD3 and Encode Center ripped and tagged this complete collection perfectly. The titles of the discs are followed by (Disc 1) or (Disc 2) in exactly the same format with the same capitalization throughout. This may seem like a simple task but GD3 has been the only database I've used to succeed ripping and tagging Sony's Soundtrack For A Century.
Overall I really enjoyed using the automated disc ripping robot and Get Digital Data's software and GD3 database. I feel like I cheated the system somehow. I ripped 1600 CDs without any major issues, in a short period of time, without babysitting the process. For the vast majority of Computer Audiophile readers who don't have the time or the will to manually rip their entire collection, an automated robot and GD3 will be a great solution. Readers ready to rip their entire collections should also understand there are no silver bullets. Every robot, application, and database has its pros and cons. Selecting the best ripping solution to match one's needs can be a difficult task knowing the time and monetary investment involved with such an endeavor. I highly recommend spending time with Get Digital Data's products and talking to the people at GD3 personally. There's a lot to like about this solution. GD3 has minimized many of the traditional pitfalls of automated ripping and has made it accessible to everyone interested. My final recommendation: Go get a ripping robot and enjoy the holidays relaxing and ripping CDs in style.
Additional information available from the Get Digital Data website or via more traditional routes.
GD3 Data, LLC
6637 Broadway St.
Indianapolis, IN 46220
toll free: 800-714-4744