3 Weeks Later: Meet The New Portable Music Player

Wow…that a trip; and I don’t mean that in a good way. It took me the better part of three weeks to get the music “set up” on my phone and finding an appropiate player. But why so long? Do I have that much music? I’ll go over all of that.

I Retire The iPod and Spend Three Weeks Getting My Phone To Do The Same Thing.

“That’s the last time I’m doing this shit…ever.”

So a couple of weeks ago…I wrote about a decision I’d made to retire my aging iPod and switch to doing everything on my smartphone. I had considered picking up another device…but I didn’t for a few reasons. Battery life on phones has gotten better since my first devices years ago; I casually streamed from services on my first phones, but they were always more of a “gimmick” since it drained the already small battery. Not only have batteries gotten larger and device consumption dropped; but USB power banks have become a thing. Storage got cheap, which was another major factor; $68 for a 200GB microSD card was MUCH larger than my previous iPod and approaching the capacity of expensive players. I’d be using not only existing hardware I owned but the hardware I usually already had with me. The $100 I spent for a USB power bank and microSD card was cheaper than I could get a hardware player for and being Android based I would probably have a bit of flexibility in how I did things. Before I go in to the three week “nightmare” that would ensue…let’s get to the nitty gritty. Let’s talk about the setup.

 

 

The smartphone is a LG Stylo 3 Plus from TMobile/MetroPCS (I’m on the Metro side). It’s a “phablet” class device with a Snapdragon 435 chipset, 1.4ghz octo-core A53 processor, Adreno 505 GPU, 2 gigs of ram, and 32-gigs of internal storage on a 5.7″ device with a fullHD screen (remember, it’s a Plus version). Overall I’m relatively happy with the device. I know it’s not a high-end flagship killer; but I can’t justify spending $500+ on a device I’m likely either going to accidentally break or will have to be replaced. It supports the multi-window feature you find on tablets/phablets and in fact does have a simple stylus that stores in the device itself. Running Android 7.0 it does support aptX for higher-quality Bluetooth audio as well as that nifty NFC feature. Fingerprint isn’t important…but is a feature that wasn’t on the previous Stylo 2 Plus. Also different for the Stylo 3 over the Stylo 2 is actual working GPS; the 2’s GPS did not want to work unless you kept torquing screws down on it. On the network side it’s got the usual 2.4/5ghz wifi connectivity as well as support for all the LTE bands TMobile was using at the time of release…meaning the only band it doesn’t support right now is Band 71 for the new 600mhz band. 

Now I’ve got a lot of music….I mean…a lot of music. I’ve got so much music that trying to store it on the internal memory is not going to happen…in fact the only thing I use internal memory for is apps; I try to keep pictures/media and downloads on the external card. Music is no exception…and things to advances in technology I could slap a 200gb card in my device and have more space for tunes than I ever imagined…or at least a far cry from the 30gigs I got from the iPod. I still highly compressed it…as it’d leave me room to fill even more music on or be able to store a ton of photos/videos while on vacation…considering my 32GB card ran out of space last year. I ultimately chose to store most of my music in 80kbps Opus format, with audiophile releases (or stuff I really wanted) getting reconverted to 256kbps. This is somewhat important as I already had an iPod filled with 80kbps of Ogg Vorbis audio, but as I’ll explain…it wasn’t the recoding everything to Opus that was the hangup; in fact it was some of what you’re seeing in the screenshots….album art and tagging.

 

My First Mistakes Started About 20 Years Ago

Now back when I started doing music on my PC, it was close to 20 years ago and it was an entirely different world. The concepts of library management or a database was ultimately a couple of years off. So the natural common-sense thing was to make a folder for each album, copy the files into the folder. It’s the most basic of file organization techniques. This formed the basis of my organization technique for many years; acting much like the digital equivalent of a physical CD collection. When library management did roll along, I largely ignored them. The folder/file system was what I was used to, and my primary playback methods didn’t rely on them for the playback experience I wanted. Even when I picked up an iPod, I tossed Rockbox on it and stuck to its file browser system. I never cared about meta-data or tags. If my stuff had them, it wasn’t because I added them. All I cared about is that the file name had the track number so they’d auto-add in the right order when adding a folder. With Rockbox having the same function, as well as a couple of other things that would form how I want my players to work.

As I found out a week into what I thought was going to be a simple project…that unless I got Rockbox to work on my phone (which I tried and failed), I was going to have to give in and adopt library management. But my first step was creating the files I’d keep on the phone, which is what I thought would be the time-consuming part.

I have a lot of music, I don’t even try to keep track anymore. It’s “more than I could listen to”, though I’ve listened to most of it over the years as I acquired it; and if I can carry it, I like to have it with me. When I did the first collection for my original iPod setup, it took a couple of days to encode all the music from it’s lossless sources; and my collection was less than half the size it is now! Most of that was waiting for my single core CPU to encode at a much slower speed than things run now; because my collection was double the size by 2010 when I loaded the second iPod up and encoded in less than a day. But I also kept that “somewhat updated” over those eight years; changing formats and an even larger collection had the potential to be the thing I talk about being a pain in the butt. I was proven wrong for the most part; the first 10k tracks from the first batch took about an hour to sort through and 5 to encode. Yes, I’d do several more batch encodes that would take multiple hours; but the time I spent on converting was way less than what I’d wind up getting myself in to. Copying everything to the microSD card was something I expected to be a chore, and if I did it through the phone it would have been; but I copied to it externally and the first 30 gigs moved over in about 45 minutes.

So pretty early on with the batch of files I had narrowed down to just two players that even supported .opus files; VLC and Foobar2k. VLC is, well, VLC. It’s pretty utilitarian. I could have probably made it work the way I wanted, but it was probably going to be a pain in the butt. So I started playing with Foobar2k, and I was pretty happy at first. It gives me a folder/file browser so I can use it just like I did Rockbox. But I couldn’t find an easy way to add recursive folders in to a playlist, giving me the ability to randomize playback while jumping to in-order playback on demand. It did scan and create a library without me asking, and I quickly found that most of the features I wanted could be done that way. So I started out by doing a very quick scan for things that had no information and quickly trying to “auto-tag” the basics…title, artist, album, track number. This actually made things worse. Capitalization counted, so I’d have multiple artists; sometimes albums would be split due to this..or an extra space at the end. And, as I found out, due to lack of “Album Artist” tag…I had compilations being split among 20 different artists. It was liteally everything I had feared about library management. It was also during this time that I got kind of tired of staring at the largely empty playback window. A few of my selections already had some form of album art embedded, and I have to admit I liked the look.

So I loaded the collection in to MP3Tag and started “cleaning house”. I made sure artists were spelled/capitalized properly throughout, I made sure album tags matched for each album, I added proper album art for each release, and I added an appropriate “Album Artist” tag to everything, punching in “Various” for any compilations. It took the better part of two days since I often made sure I was matching release information properly, and Discogs deauthed me about 15 different times. I had gotten somewhat efficient clicking through and minimalizing my interaction. Of course, when I loaded it all back on the phone I found a ton of stuff I missed. I also figured out I could probably make use of the “DiscNumber” field and clean up my album browsing a bit. So, back to the computer for another few hours of looking for more mistakes, finding more art I missed, and redoing tags for anything with a multiple-disc format.

But mind you this is only an initial batch of conversions. I’m not only still encoding stuff I missed the first go around and things I “put off”, but I’d also made the decision after listening to some of the stuff that I would use a higher bitrate on stuff. Of course, all these additional encodes and recodes are going to require the same amount of work in regards to tagging; so I’m at a point now where I feel like this project will never end. So I picked a point and said that was enough encoding for now. I had more than enough stuff than I needed to test and my ultimate goal was to just have everything ready by my June vacation. Putting additional encoding on hold and thinking I had “perfected” my tags, I started playing with the actual player; getting to play with the “shuffle all” features for tracks and albums; and I was happy to discover I could “shuffle all albums” and mimic my “everything” playback I’d grown used to on Rockbox.

I also continued to branch out looking for other players and came across GoneMadMediaPlayer. I pretty much loved it immediately, finding it a bit more intuitive to use and has a few extra nice features Foobar didn’t. It just had one major drawback, it didn’t like my phone very much. I often had the program lock up in strange ways. I could get back to the Android UI…but the program itself was just inaccessible. So I started thinking maybe I had to reduce the quality of some of the artwork. On my intital round of adding art I skipped files that already had art; but some of these were stupid high resolution and were actually larger than the music data itself. I’d also found yet more problems and stuff I missed with the tags. So back into the computer the card went and another couple of hours fixing the mistakes I knew about and reducing the resolution and size of all the artwork. This took almost as long as it did to add it all in the first place. I was starting to feel frustrated and defeated, but I told myself I had to make this work as I’d invested money based on it working.

I still had problems. Never figured out what they were, but it’s something I said I’d play with after I finished the never-ending task of getting my tags right. I still had a ton of stuff left to encode/recode and tag. I decided to try the beta version of Foobar2k which fixed many of the minor stability issues it had; but I was finally at a point I could actually get around to putting the program through its paces. I was down to having less than 5 albums with malformed tags at this point, and what turned out to be only 15 artists with double entries because the tagging database had to append them with a (2) or (7) because of duplicate artist names. I didn’t bother fixing them until I finished the last batch of major encoding and tagging, and by this point, I figured out how to make MP3Tag not only show me which files were affected by this but how to chop off the rightmost 4 characters.

I didn’t get around to doing that until I started doing the last batch of conversion and tags. This was all the higher-bitrate stuff from either high-resolution/audiophile sources..or stuff I just really wanted to have in a higher quality. This was almost a more tedious task than it was time-consuming, mostly due to how I had to convert the SACD stuff; but it still resulted in close to 5000 tracks I had to work with. The only advantage is I already had a set of “specifications” for what had to be done, so I could get it either on the first go-around…or on additional passes when I could run largely automated tasks (like copying artist field to album artist when not a compilation). But I wound up taking more time due to often customizing the album-art to signify it’s not a standard CD release.

So at around 4:30 yesterday afternoon, after trudging through encoding and tagging for almost two more days, I declared myself done. I was 99% sure I had everything I wanted to carry with me encoded, copied, and tagged. I copied it all over and eagerly awaited what should be more accurate library stats. The final count was 16203 tracks in 968 albums, I believe this is close to 38 days of music. Mind you it’s not a number of literal CDs, as multiple-disc sets are combined and counted a single album; with the exception of AM Gold and Sound of the Seventies. That number would be closer to 900 if those were combined as two single box-sets.

I’ve been putting this through it’s paces for about a day and a half now. I haven’t noticed any major errors in my library organization, so I’m pretty confident I got everything that mattered. There are a few things I just couldn’t track down art for, so the number of generic music icons I’m seeing is very light and my now playing screen attractively displays album art. I am a little annoyed I can’t “jump” to the playback marker in a “shuffle album” list, but I can probably bring that up on the dev forum. It seems to handle my massive collection pretty easily…and what little problems I have had with it haven’t been fatal and just a minor annoyance. I do plan on using this for music while driving, so stability is a must.

So, all that tagging..all that encoding..it was a major pain in the ass. But so far it’s been worth it. Sure, I can do a search on my PC and drop the file in my player; but doing so mobile was either practically impossible (like on my Rockboxed iPod) or probably difficult (searching files on a mobile device and using file browser playback). I’m sure the more I play with this….the more I’ll be glad I spent the pain in the butt three weeks editing most of the major tag fields in the files. Most players should be paying attention to all the same tag fields, so switching apps will just incur a library scan.