Computer music: the library
I recently spent time with my friend Michael Fremer (the Stereophile reviewer). Mike’s the king of vinyl. His entire basement listening room is filled with albums; thousands and thousands of albums, lining walls, shelves, pressing up against the listening chair, overflowing like a weed that’s taken over.
There’s little room for more in Mike’s home, yet more come and he struggles with where to put them. And he seems to remember what he has and where he stores them. He’s amazing.
I, on the other hand, have trouble remembering what I had for breakfast, let alone what the contents of my music library is and where it is stored. But I have a secret weapon. My entire library is available to me at the touch of a finger on my iPad. Thousands of tracks are there. Tracks I hadn’t thought of in a long time, and I am reminded on a regular basis what this or that album is or when I got it, and I play it by pushing a button.
The advent of digital audio has brought progress in service of the music. Greater dynamic range, lowered noise, and better sound when the system owner has focused their attentions on optimizing playback for that media.
And here’s a side note before I continue. Mike loves to demonstrate the superior sound of vinyl to all that will listen. And what’s fascinating to me is he’s right. At Fremer’s home vinyl rules. In every case, when we compare digital audio to vinyl audio, vinyl wins hands down. If you visit Music Room One, I can demonstrate the exact opposite. So which is right? I think the answer lies in system optimization. I have made every decision in my system in service of optimizing one media, digital. Mike Fremer has done the opposite. And while each of us pays lip service to having maximized media performance of the ‘other format’, the truth is neither of us has really done so.
If we accept the idea of digital audio as our primary source of music, we can enjoy one major aspect of it without regrets for sound quality; library management. Regardless of how you interface with your computer: server, phone, website, or tablet, digital files have the distinct advantage of easy organization that allows normal human beings the pleasure of scrolling through their libraries without leaving their armchairs. While vinyl aficionados are jumping up to stalk their rows of plastic and search their libraries between cuts, those of us with well organized digital libraries have the clear upper upper hand when it comes to selection.
iTunes, the world’s most popular music management program, is the point we will be starting with to understand how we take advantage of all the cool features inherent in a digital audio library.
Today’s takeaway: iTunes, JRiver, Windows media, Sonos, etc., are music management products – spreadsheets with pretty interfaces, used to catalog and organize your music collection.
Whatever else they do/provide, is secondary to this one task.