I have a lot of music in my collection, and some of it is in box sets of varying sizes. With all these box sets, my shelves are full. Since I convert all of my music for iTunes and iPod playback, ripping a large box set calls for certain strategies. Here are the steps I recommend for ripping big sets, and ways to deal with the specific problems they can present.
Do You Need CDs?
Let me start by asking a pertinent question: Did you really need to buy all those CDs? Not that I’m suggesting you shouldn’t buy the music, but in some cases, you can buy downloads instead, already nicely compressed and tagged. For example, Hyperion Records released a 99-CD box set of all of Franz Liszt’s piano music, but the company also released a download version of the set. You’d save money (in this case, it’s £100 less than the CD version), space, and—above all—the time you’d spend ripping the discs. And you can buy them in lossless FLAC format if you prefer, so the quality is the same as it is with the CDs. In addition, the files are perfectly tagged, and contain album art and texts about the works. (Disclaimer: Hyperion recently became a sponsor on my personal website.)
If you convert your music for iTunes and iPod playback, know that ripping a large box set calls for certain strategies.
But buying the download version isn’t always an option. The Grateful Dead’s Europe ’72 set is available only on CD, as is the case with many other box sets (and it’s available in limited quantities, to boot). And in some cases, download versions of box sets may cost more than CDs.
Get Ready to Rip
With a large box set, you need to set aside time for ripping. You may want to do it a few discs at a time, or you may prefer to spend a weekend with your CDs and iTunes and get the job done in one go. Before you start, however, you need to consider a few things.
First, what format and bit rate will you use? If you’re planning to use the same settings that you regularly use, then you don’t need to change anything. But if this box set needs different settings—you want to keep archival copies in lossless format, say—you should change your import settings in iTunes.
If you’re importing large audiobook sets, you should be aware that some special techniques are likely in order.
You should decide on a common way to tag the various discs in your set. For my Grateful Dead set, I have three choices:
> Label each disc with ‘Complete Europe ’72’, and be sure each CD has the correct disc number (1 of 73, and so on).
> Label each disc separately, such as ‘1972-04-08 – Wembley Empire Pool, London, England, Disc 1’, as each disc is part of a concert; in this case, iTunes lists multiple “albums” for each concert.
> Label each concert, with each disc set accordingly: ‘1972-04-08 – Wembley Empire Pool, London, England; Disc 1 of 4’, and so on; in this case, each concert appears as one “album” in iTunes.
I chose the third option, in part because it makes sense to me to group tracks by concert, but also because they’re organized that way in the CD sleeves as well. However, for Hyperion Records’ Franz Schubert: The Complete Songs, I chose to create a single “album” with 37 discs, and a second with three discs (the set includes three CDs of music by Schubert’s friends). This set is presented chronologically, and it makes sense to organize the tracks in this manner. However, I could have tagged them as ‘Schubert: Complete Songs, Disc 1’, and so on, which would make it easier to choose one disc at a time to enjoy rather than picking a starting point somewhere among 800 tracks.
Make sure you know whether the box set is a compilation, and, if it is, use the compilation tag. The compilation tag can be annoying, so try to use it correctly from the start so that you don’t have to change it later for hundreds of tracks.
Add Album Art
We’ve written previously about adding album art to your music in iTunes, and if you’re ripping a box set, you have two choices when adding art. You can either use the same graphic for all the music, which saves a lot of time, and works best with certain box sets where individual discs don’t have distinct sleeves. Or you can assign each disc a different graphic, corresponding to each sleeve. Often, box sets have sleeves that you won’t find via a Google search, so if you choose the latter method, you may need to scan the sleeves yourself.
If you have a lot of discs, you may want to find ways to rip them faster. My current solution is to use a small iTunes library when ripping, as this speeds up the process considerably. I’ve been ripping my Grateful Dead discs on my MacBook Air, with an external SuperDrive, which is nearly as fast as my iMac, since the iTunes library it holds is quite small. I copy the songs to an external hard drive, then to my iMac to add to my full iTunes library.
There also may be reasons why you might want to rip these CDs with something other than iTunes.
Back Up Your Files
It’s always good to be reminded to back up your music files, as well as all the rest of the files on your Mac. When you rip a CD only occasionally, you don’t realize how much time it takes; when you rip, say, 60, 80, or 100 discs, you realize how all that time adds up. So back up your media files and do so regularly.
With all this in mind, you can start ripping even the biggest box sets. You’ll need a bit of patience, but in the end it’s worth it to have all your music accessible in your iTunes library.