Sunday, June 19, 2005

Yahoo Music Service

I signed up for Yahoo's Music Unlimited service last week. I've found it to be quite nice. I don't often go looking for the deep tracks, so Yahoo's catalog seems pretty big to me. You can't beat the price. $60 for a year of Yahoo is cheaper than 5 CDs! Looking at my collection of 300 disks, I could have bought 60 years of Yahoo music for less!

I don't have an iPod, but I do have an iPAQ with a 1 Gig flash card. I also have an old portable CD player and a CD deck in my car. None of this stuff works with Yahoo's service which relies on the recently created Windows DRM 10 (aka Janus) to protect its music. I don't want to shell out $250 for a new portable music player and I don't want to pay an extra $0.79/song for a burnable copy, so I set off to find a cheaper solution.

To get around DRM, I use Replay Music. This handy tool records everything from your sound card into a WAV file and automatically splits tracks by detecting the silence between songs. It seems to be designed to rip tracks from internet radio services. It attempts to auto-detect the artist/album information for the tracks it captures, but I've never seen that feature actually work nor do I need it.

The trial version of Replay Music is free, but it will only record 25 tracks before it stops and must be restarted. That's no good if you are recording internet radio, but it's perfect if you just want to capture one CD. 25 tracks at a time is all I ever need.

To help [Replay Music][1] accurately split tracks, I created a 4 second WAV of dead silence using Window's Sound Recorder. I insert the blank file between each track to ensure I get good track splitting. You might notice that the Yahoo player actually cross fades between tracks! If you don't insert a pause, Replay Music will never get clean cuts.

So I go to Yahoo, download an entire album with one click, create a playlist with the extra dead space between songs, start Replay Music, play the album, and watch the WAV files get captured. Finally, I burn a standard audio CD from the WAV files using Nero. When I'm done, I have a decent quality, unprotected copy of an entire CD. I then delete the WAV files and move on to the next album.

You'll notice that I don't really care about identifying the tracks because I'm just burning regular old CD's so I don't need metadata about the songs. I just write the album name on the disk using a Sharpie.

Going from WMA->WAV->CD should sound just as good as playing the original WMA file since WAV is a lossless format. You could re-rip the CD but going from WMA->WAV->MP3 will suffer some loss in quality.

The ethical question remains, is this legal? It seems to fall under fair use as far as I'm concerned. I'm making a copy of something I legally obtained for my personal use. I should not be required to purchase a $250 DRM player so I can take the music with me. The artist and the label wouldn't see any of that money. Besides, I already have a portable CD player and I should be able to use it. Some might say that I should destroy my burned CDs when I cancel my subscription. Well, I'll worry about that at the end of the year.

By the way, some people have complaints about the Napster/Yahoo User Interface but it doesn't really matter. You only need to use their software to download the music. After that, you can play everything from Windows Media Player which is pretty decent.

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