In reference to this earlier post, I’ve decided to go with the AAC-based .m4a format. As far as the choice of format for the sake of quality goes, after some research and reading of articles comparing music encoding formats, it came down to a really close race between AAC and OGG, both of which beat the hell out MP3. Either one can be played on just about any Mac or Windows PC out there on one failrly popular player app or another. Both had the downside that there aren’t a lot of portable players that play either of them; however, since one of the few portables that plays AAC happens to be the leader in digital music players, the venerable iPod, I determined that there is more likely to be enough consumer demand for other AAC-capable players to drive the introduction of same in the near future. This edge was enough to overcome the slight advantage OGG has in quality, and as for making a cool open-source statement, I realized that if the release of the entire Ragman Archives for free on the Internet was going to make any kind of statement about freedom, it would probably end up being more about the music industry than about the software industry; and that message would probably reach more people with AAC than with OGG.
Also, the upper frequencies that most formats will lose in the encoding (AAC slightly moreso than OGG) probably contain mostly tape hiss anyway ;-)
Add to these considerations the fact that the popular iTunes app does an especially nice job of making the process really really easy on me, which is crucial to me actually getting anything done on it. The quality of rips from CD (in terms of numbers of skips and snappy-poppy noises) is much greater from iTunes than from the app I was using to rip WAVs before. iTunes seems to have a pretty decent encoder too, so I decided to save myself the extra step of first ripping WAVs and then converting them – especially since currently only my Windows installation will read music CDs, while I only have a Linux OGG encoder, so that extra step also involves a reboot.
Unfortunately, iTunes doesn’t give you a lot of encoding options, supporting only one bitrate – and 128kbps at that. But AAC actually sounds pretty darn good at 128kbps.
So I’ve been feeding a big pile of CD-Rs through iTunes lately and thus far every track seems to be coming out perfectly. I’ve started out the wiki with a couple half-assed articles, but I think the progress of the music archives will end up driving the writing side of it for me. No one seems to have showed up to contribute or edit yet, but they will, I hope.