The CD Collection Challenge!

Back in 2003 I had a collection of about 1000 CDs, all nicely catalogued using the brilliant CatTRAXX system. I was living in a small flat and the clutter and piles of these CDs was driving me + my then partner to distraction. Something had to go.

I decided it was high time to rip all my CDs into mp3 format. Mp3 was the buzz word at the time - everyone was going crazy for downloads. So, it made sense - rip all my CDs and bin the actual discs along with the sleeve notes, jewel case, and inlay cards.

At the time I was working from home, so it was easy to feed CDs into my Redhat 6 Linux server and let GRIP do the rest. The entire process was completed over a few weeks and didn't distract me from my work since changing CDs in the CD drive was a task of a few seconds.

As promised, all the CDs were consigned to the bin, and all new purchases from that point onwards were downloads. And when I say 'purchases', well, I need those inverted commas.

Roll the clock forward the best part of a decade and that brave move in 2003 now looks distinctly foolish. True, I gained myself a lot of space but lost a great deal of audio quality at the same time, and I missed having the sundry paraphernalia around me to peruse. The decade has seen an enormous slump in CD prices, and a burgeoning secondhand market fuelled by the digital recording of CDs. Whilst CDs may not be indestructible, they retain their fidelity much better than vinyl, and punters are more willing to purchase a secondhand disc in the justified belief it will play exactly the same as a brand new item.

I have therefore decided to embark upon a new hobby: Tracking down my old CDs and repurchasing! Living in London, space is, and always will be, at a premium, so that reason for my collection's disposal is still valid. However, the JazzLoft now provide 'gatefold' plastic replacements for jewel cases that save about 70% of the width of a standard jewel case. So all purchased CDs can live in the plastic sleeves and the jewel cases can be jettisoned.

Furthermore, with the fall in the price of disk drives it is now possible to buy 1TB of storage for around £50 - a fact that obsoletes the need for the space-saving mp3 format in the first instance. Any new ripping will be achieved using the FLAC lossless codec. A CD full to the brim with music at 800MB will be saved in FLAC format - without ANY quality loss - in 400MB. This means a 1TB drive can hold at worse case 2500 albums. The added advantage of FLAC over mp3 is a 'cue' file is generated which is effectively a disc index, and means the CD can be accurately recreated byte-by-byte even if the original media is lost or damaged.

It would be way too expensive to simply go out and buy the entire collection again. So, this recollection hobby has been set parameters:

  • No more than £10 to be spent in any one week;
  • No more than £1 to be spent on any one disc purchase in a store
  • No more than £1.27 to be spent on any disc purchased online

The £10 per week constraint measures out to be the cost of about 2.5 pints of lager in London. Since I drink very little (although I am strenuously not teetotal) this is a very good substitution.

The £1 on a disc in a store reflects the lowest price usually available. There are exceptions to this in 'discount bins', but on the whole £1 is a good maximum.

The £1.27 represents the minimum price for a CD online using Amazon Marketplace. This breaks down to 1p for the disc and £1.26 standard rate for the postage. It is not possible to buy cheaper.

So, with these parameters it will be an interesting and challenging hobby scouring the secondhand shops of London! It is very unlikely I will succeed in replacing every single disc since a few are collectors items and fetch a premium, but let's see how far and how many I get.