Migrating Music

I had mentioned in my last post that I was testing out the possibilities of streaming my music collection throughout my house and elsewhere.  The experiment has been pretty successful and I believe the cat is all the happier for it.  Some of the “phase 2” features I’ve been digging into haven’t been as easy to implement as I would have hoped, but there’s no rush on any of those.  But in the process of learning and applying, I made what could be considered a radical change to my music collection.

In long-ago posts, I’d talked about ripping my CDs to MP3, then re-ripping them in WMA Lossless only to delete it all and keep my MP3s.  Then the light bulb came on and I re-ripped them again to WMA Lossless and have kept that library for years now.  It’s grown to nearly 450GB and has served me well all this time.

Why WMA Lossless?  Well, I was in the Zune ecosystem all that time.  The Zune software was compatible with WMA and it was the only way to get lossless files onto the players.  For many years the open source crows have been squawking, “FLAC! FLAC, FLAC!” and I have been ignoring them.  Because of Zune, of course, but also, all the available FLAC music players sucked.

But finally, Microsoft caved to the pressure and built FLAC support into Windows 10, and the Groove player also now supports FLAC.  I still had my WMA library and was fine with it.  But in reality, I didn’t really use the Zune software much anymore, I just used VLC (which supports FLAC) instead. 

During my experimentation with Plex, I enjoyed a neat little feature that lets you see the current server activity.  That means I can watch the living room TV’s stream and see what song my cat is currently listening to.  Something that caught my attention on that screen was a status that said “Transcoding WMALOSSLESS to AAC”.  This was mildly concerning.  It meant that my media server was spending extra CPU converting my media files to a format the Roku on the TV could handle.  My server is pretty beefy, so like I say, it was only mildly concerning.  However, when I streamed my library to the GF’s Roku on her TV, I experienced some slight dropouts or other minor disruptions in the audio.  I wasn’t sure if this was a bandwidth problem or a conversion problem.  I read up a little on FLAC and it seemed FLAC might be a better choice for efficient decoding and possibly for streaming.

I gave this a little consideration.  If I converted my entire library to FLAC, it’s likely I wouldn’t need to do any transcoding anymore.  I could still play my files with VLC or Groove or Plex – no more Zune devices.  Is there really any downside anymore?  And so, I downloaded a program to batch convert my entire collection to FLAC.  It was about 4 hours of processing time, which actually isn’t too bad.  All the metadata was preserved (and some bad data was exposed along the way).  And I saved about 50GB of drive space, too.  I deleted my old WMA files and replaced them all with FLAC.

Because my collection was all new files, I had to refresh the Plex database, which probably means I’ll have to clean up the artwork again, but that’s fine.  I also need to rebuild the playlists I’d been curating, which is more of a bummer, but hopefully it’s a chance to do it better this time.  I quickly recreated the cat’s playlist and when I streamed it to the TV this morning, the activity monitor in Plex stated “Direct Play”.  No more transcoding – success!

Because I’m generally a contrarian, it hurts just a tiny bit to fall in with the FLAC crowd, because they’ve always been a bit pompous, like “if you’re not using FLAC, you’re an idiot” in the same way Linux people tout the wonders of their chosen OS.  But, the solution is working and I can’t complain about that.  So, now I have an Android phone and a music collection in FLAC.  I suppose the next thing I need to do is start coding in PHP and Angular.JS.

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