I think it's time for me to address my home music situation the right way.
I bought a couple of new CDs last night (Panic at the Disco's A Fever You Can't Sweat Out, which was disappointingly radio-pop-ish -- I think I listened to the wrong tracks in the store -- and the new Belle and Sebastian The Life Pursuit, which is great even though they're developing a much lusher sound than Dear Catastrophe Waitress), and I realized while struggling to get them to play that there are huge chunks of my CD collection which never get played anymore. Ever since the DVD player died I've just been playing CDs in the Playstation, which suffers in sound quality and means I have to turn on the TV to see what track I'm on. The end result: I don't bother with CDs.
But I don't have a very good setup for not bothering with CDs, either. I used to run the otto audio jukebox on a little computer, but it was difficult to maintain. Now I'm playing mp3s with the SlimServer software used as the backend of the Squeezebox mp3 stereo component thingy, with an mplayer instance just reading constantly from its mp3 stream.
It's a great piece of software, but the audio chain isn't great: since I'm playing through mplayer, I have to use mp3, or else it transcodes. And in order to do anything I have to use a Web browser. Even then, it's playing through the onboard soundcard of that little PC. On top of that, the CDs I have ripped are inconsistently ripped -- most are from LAME's "fast standard" encoding but there's a chunk of old rips at 128k. On the other hand, the rest of the signal chain is OK, although my receiver's a bit on the old side (and, incidentally, has no digital input).
So I'm thinking of using part of my tax refund to solve that problem by getting the Squeezebox hardware to go with the SlimServer. The Squeezebox accepts a raw PCM or FLAC stream so there's no transcoding issues, talks over wireless or wired ethernet, has a respectable DAC, and gets me a big, bright display and a remote control, for $300. I can't think of a much easier solution at the front end than that. I know that some people on my friends list have these things. What do you think of them?
The problem then becomes the backend. Right now the mp3s are on our all-purpose file server, a 500MHz Athlon with a pair of mirrored 200GB PATA drives. That should be plenty of room for mp3s of what I've got now (~900 albums, 63MB average size, so ~2000 albums), but if I'm going to jump completely on the bandwagon I'm not sure if I should be planning on using FLAC instead, which means ~400MB/album plus the mp3s (since we'll still want to put music on our ipods). At that point I'm only going to get 300 albums on the existing disk, and I'd need another 600GB of raw disk to fit the rest. Will I regret not ripping to FLAC, given that I'm keeping the CDs, or do you think high-quality (lame's fast-standard preset) mp3 will be sufficient?
(Which makes me wonder if I really need to RAID-1 the disks together. That's important for a lot of the stuff on there like old tax records and home directories, but not so much for mp3s, since I'll still have the CDs. On the other hand, for the price of doubling storage, not having to re-rip a thousand CDs is probably worth it. And the hassle of software raid 5 is never worth it.)
Any other advice for moving to online music storage?