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 dot life Monday, 23 December, 2002, 11:28 GMT
Farewell beloved CDs
Paul Rubens
Having all your music collection in your pocket - it's an idea thousands of Christmas shoppers will have fallen for. But is it all it's cracked up to be?
MP3 jukeboxes are sure to be popular gifts this Christmas. Little larger than a pack of cigarettes, these electronic boxes can store hundreds of hours of music in digital form.

What could be better, for the music aficionado, than to have an entire music collection instantly available at all times?

But one can't help thinking that reducing a music collection to gigabytes of compressed data on a memory chip is rather missing the point. That's because, quite simply, there is much more to a music collection than just music.

Apple's iPod
Pity the CDs
A collection is a physical thing - something to be displayed and admired, organised, dusted and handled with care.

People furnish their houses with shelves of records, tapes and CDs, and each cover is a miniature work of art in itself.

The size, breadth and age of a music collection says as much about a person as the clothes they wear or the car they drive. Different parts of a collection are snapshots of the owner as he or she moves through life. Looking at someone's music collection you see a personal history.

Remember you're a Womble

And just as everyone has a few embarrassing incidents in their past, everyone has a few embarrassing recordings in their music collection.

The problem with digitising all your music and storing it on an MP3 jukebox is that it encourages you to relive your past. Not only are the embarrassing records best left in their sleeves, but, it turns out, so are many of the other recordings.

People keep old music recordings in the same way that they keep books they have enjoyed. Few people re-read books - and if they do the books inevitably disappoint.

The sad fact is that if you digitise and listen to the old recordings you own, you're sure to find that many of them are rubbish - or certainly not as good as you remembered them.

CD collection
Collect for the day
Once you realise this, your cherished music collection that you've been carting around in cardboard boxes for countless years becomes worthless - a burden that you can't bring yourself to throw away yet you know you don't want.

If you do decide to take the plunge and transfer your collection to an MP3 jukebox, you'll have your work cut out for several months.

Left your mark

Turning CD tracks into MP3 files for storage is relatively straightforward since they are already stored in digital form, but converting vinyl records and tapes is quite another matter. Once you've recorded the music onto a computer hard disk it's usual to "clean" the tracks to remove the hiss, pops and scratches, enhancing the sound to near-CD quality.

Say what you like about old fashioned CDs, records and cassettes, but it's very difficult to lose them all

But is this really an enhancement? If you've got a record that has become scratched and worn by many hours of playing, you have in some way left your mark on the record.

Like a well worn pair of boots or a favourite armchair, it becomes unmistakeably yours. So the absence of a familiar scratch in the middle of a well loved track can be quite disorienting - as if your trusty boots have been thrown away and replaced with a pair which is new but not yet broken in.

Of course you can transfer your old recordings on to an MP3 player with scratches, hiss and all, but this also sounds wrong. The extraneous noise should be generated by a needle on vinyl or magnetic tape passing over playback head - not perfectly accurate digital recordings of these background sounds.

There's one final drawback to the MP3 jukebox, and that's that it simply offers the user too much music.

Anyone who has ever been on a long trip will understand the excitement of carefully having to choose a handful of recordings, knowing that these and only these will be your constant travelling companions for the hours or even months to come. How much less exciting to simply dump your whole collection into a tiny digital device, knowing that for every special moment you'll be able to pick the perfect soundtrack.


Of course for the all-electronic music fan who only downloads MP3 music files from the internet and who has never bought a recording on a physical medium, an MP3 jukebox appears to be the perfect handy storage device.

But along with good sound reproduction, vast capacity and light weight, one of the great virtues of the MP3 jukebox is its portability.

Yet portability also means loseability, and one of the great traumas of the modern age is losing an entire music collection.

Say what you like about old fashioned CDs, records and cassettes, but it's very difficult to lose them all.

When was the last time you heard of someone taking ten cardboard boxes of vinyl to the pub with them and leaving them on the seat on the night bus on the way home?

Ever lost your entire music collection? Would you like to? Let us know using the form below.

When my house was broken into last month a burglar helped himself to over 380 CDs of mine going back over 12 years. Since then I have taken to storing music on MP3 because I can easily replicate, distribute and maintain my purchases.
Marc Kinsellage, France

The really scary thing about this article isn't so much the new medium in itself, but the speed by which affordable capacity is dropping. Within the next five to 10 years (he predicted conservatively) affordable hard drives will be available which will be capable of storing every piece of music EVER RECORDED. The sort of record collection which was once the domain of major record libraries will be within reach of everybody. With the option of leaving the player on a random setting and playing forever, who will need music radio?
Bob Massey , Essex

Having lost one collection during a divorce, I'm most certainly not going to part with my new collection. I can put most tunes or songs down not only to a particular year but the month in my life that it became a memory - either a good or a bad one. My new collection is a mixture of both!
Dave, Sheffield

I disagree with the comments about not coming back to songs from the past. I frequently listen to CDs which I bought ages ago. OK, some of them are intensely cringeworthy, but it's the memories that matter - songs that played when I had my first kiss - songs that played when I had my first break-up... Oh, and I re-read books all the time too - I must have gone through my entire bookshelf three or four times. They don't inevitably disappoint.
John Vinall, England

The author lauds having a collection, and not being able to lose it - and that you could lose an entire record collection by leaving it on the "night bus" I've got a very happy medium of CDs, vinyl, and an iPod. Now I can listen to whatever music takes my fancy when I'm out, in the same way I can with my record collection when I'm sat at home. I'm not going to lose my iPod, and my entire record collection with it. For 400 you would have to be very careless to manage this!
Chris, UK

I have my suspicions that there are many people who would agree with the author... but suspect many more would disagree. Especially once they've experienced the joy of true 'random play' from the whole of their CD collection while doing the housework on a Sunday morning. Since moving to MP3 storage I now listen to music (often by accident) that I haven't listened to for years - and enjoy it thoroughly, usually! And I still have all the CD's on the bookshelves too - although I doubt for much longer if I'm really honest!
Chris Keeble, UK

Current copyright laws give you right to make reasonable use of music you have purchased (i.e. backing it up), but this right may be taken from us, so if the record industry gets their way, you could be in trouble for listening to your iPod!
Stu, UK

I love my Archos Jukebox MP3 player but I still keep my vinyl, cassettes and CDs. MP3 is just yet another format that increases the number of ways we can enjoy music. What I really don't understand is why DVD players seem so popular when all video will be available in a future version of MP3 within a much shorter time than anyone expects.
James Perry, England

From an environmental point of view MP3 collections are far superior. No more plastic CD covers, 8 page paper-inlays and the CD itself. Using less plastic and paper can only be a good thing. As CDs replaced vinyl, MP3's are replacing CDs.
Bob, Canada

There are two types of music: music that gets boring but is kept for sentimental reasons, and music which for you is so powerful and relevant that you never tire of playing it now and again, year in year out.
Adrian, UK

As a (vinyl) DJ, producer and collector of music I have spent some time working with MP3s and can honestly say that I will never convert my collection to MP3 or ever compile collections of MP3s as the quality - due to the compression - of the audio just isn't good enough for repeated listens. MP3 format tracks are very handy as a temporary way of storing tracks - most MP3s I have are simply as 'samplers' of a track that if I like will then buy in the full vinyl or cd version. MP3 is, unfortunately, being too readily championed as the format to end all formats and it just isn't up to the job. What's more it promotes piracy of music much more due to its easy to use/downloadable nature.
Simon Heighes, England

I was about to pour scorn on the idea that people would be willing to dump their music collections in favour of something more convenient, but then I remembered how vinyl records dissapeared from nearly all the shops and nearly every living room - almost overnight.
Howard, England

Has the author never felt his stomach lurch at the sound of a beloved tape being chewed up in the tape deck, or the annoyance of going away & realising that the album he really wanted to listen to was still on the shelf at home? I have got a Jukebox and it is without doubt brilliant, especilly on random mode as it gives you the chance to listen to music you had forgotten about. I won't be getting rid of my CDs, tapes, & vinyl but I'll be able to appreciate them for a lot longer!
Andrea, England

For Dave who lost his entire collection during divorce, I'm afraid mp3s aren't the answer - you still only have a single licence to each piece of magic, so while you can make digital copies for convenience while married, when it comes to divorce only one of the partners can keep each track so you could be required to delete all your copies!
Bernard, UK

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