Where do I go to download the Wax software?

I am thinking of ripping my collection of CDs, but I am worried about losing everything if a hard disk fails. Am I being irrational?

I have a library of recordings in iTunes/in some other music manager/on a NAS. Why can't I import the recordings into Wax in one simple operation?

Is it possible to use a ripping service to create a Wax music library?

What remote desktop viewers do you recommend?

How much disk space do I need for my collection?

Which encoder should I use?

How do I control Wax from my Crestron/Control 4/other home automation system?

Why not use Spotify, Tidal, or some other streaming service and completely avoid the hassle of ripping a large collection of recordings?

Does Wax support DSD?

Where do I go to download the Wax software?

Wax is a complete system comprising both hardware and software. Integrating the hardware and software makes it possible for us to offer the Wax system to a diverse market comprising music lovers who span a range of technical expertise. For music lovers with the technical expertise to install and configure the software on hardware with suitable capabilities, we may someday offer a software-only product, but we do not today.

I am thinking of ripping my collection of CDs, but I am worried about losing everything if a hard disk fails. Am I being irrational?

No. Hard disks are quite reliable, but they do sometimes fail. You must take precautions to protect your digital collection. The Wax Box contains two hard disk drives (HDDs). The second is used to store a copy of the contents of the sound drive. If the sound drive fails, the contents can be restored to a replacement drive from the backup drive. In addition, I recommend creating at least one other backup to some other device (e.g., your desktop system). You can perform such a backup by accessing the Wax Box over the local network. Ideally, you will store that backup – or a copy of it – at some other site.

There is one other point to consider: CDs do not last forever. You may think that your collection is more secure in its current tangible form, but it is not. CDs degrade because of manufacturing defects and also because of chemical processes such as oxidation (see "Disc rot" in Wikipedia). If you are concerned about preserving your music recordings, you should rip them to a music management system and follow the recommendations above.

I have a library of recordings in iTunes/in some other music manager/on a NAS. Why can't I import the recordings into Wax in one simple operation?

You can, but:

Wax uses a unique cataloging system to provide its special capabilities. The information it needs to file a recording probably does not exist in your current library. For example, Wax allows you to use different metadata tags to describe a recording according to its genre. Therefore, it has to know what genre you want to assign it to before it knows what metadata tags to use. Even if there is a genre tag assigned to the recording in your library, what happens if that genre does not exist in your Wax database? And what happens if the value for one of the metadata tags in the genre is not available in one of the ID3 tags? For example, suppose you want a recording to be assigned to the genre Show. Then you probably want to describe each recording using three metadata tags: title, composer, and lyricist. Is the name of the lyricist in your current database?

Despite these obstacles, Wax can transfer your legacy collection in one operation. Here is how Wax does it: Wax cannot automatically put your recordings in the proper genre because only you can decide what that is. Instead, it creates a genre (called "Bulk import" by default) in which it puts all the recordings. The Bulk import genre has subgenres determined by the genre tag in the tracks for each legacy recording. The Bulk import genre uses only two tags, the same two tags that your legacy collection uses: album title and artist. Importing your collection using this facility allows you to access your legacy collection from Wax immediately without ripping or downloading everything again. To take full advantage of Wax, you are free to edit the metadata and move the recordings to the appropriate genres at your own pace – or not at all. It's up to you.

Is it possible to use a ripping service to create a Wax music library?

As above, the answer is "Yes, but...". Ripping services tag sound files using the ID3 standard. You can perform a bulk import of the library that they create, but the library will not take full advantage of Wax, as discussed above. However, all recordings will be playable immediately, so you can start enjoying your collection and make changes (by adding metadata or moving recordings to different genres, for example) as the mood strikes you. To perform the bulk import, just connect the disk drive that you get from the ripping service to the Wax Box, navigate to the folder at the top of the hierarchy, and then run the wax-transfer command (see the section in the appendix to the user manual called "Bulk transfer" for more information).

What remote desktop viewers do you recommend?

We have not done an exhaustive survey of available applications, but here are our current favorites:

  • Android: iTap mobile RDP ($15)
  • iOS: Jump Desktop ($15)
  • OSX: CoRD (free at http://cord.sourceforge.net); Jump Desktop ($30)
  • Windows 7: RealVNC Viewer (free), Remote Desktop Connection (built in)

How much disk space do I need for my collection?

A CD contains around 0.7 GB (740 MB) worst case (74 minutes of music). Without any compression, you could store about 1300 CDs in 1 TB. FLAC provides a compression ratio of about 2:1, so you can store about 2600 CDs in 1 TB if you encode them with FLAC. One Wax user was able to store about 3400 recordings (mostly pop) in 1 TB using FLAC, probably because few CDs fully utilize their theoretical capacity.

With Ogg (quality 6) you could store over 9700 CDs. Most people find a quality of 6 with Ogg indistinguishable from the original. Lossy compressors like Ogg, AAC, and MP3 permit even greater compression ratios, but the loss in fidelity becomes noticeable. As you are unlikely to need to store 9700 recordings, you could use a quality factor of 9 with Ogg (5700 recordings) or even 10 (3600 recordings).

An HD download requires much more space. If the HD recording has a sample rate of 96 kHz and a resolution of 24 bits, then the storage requirements are about 3x the requirements for a CD. In round numbers, figure 2 GB per HD recording. It is possible to find HD recordings with a sample rate of 192 kHz, in which case the multiplier is 6x, or 4 GB per recording.

Which encoder should I use?

Wax supports all popular encoders: WAV, FLAC, Ogg, AAC, and MP3. MP3 is a poor choice unless you are concerned about compatability with a portable media player – an old one, most likely, because these days most PMPs support better codecs. MP3 is old technology (it was invented over 20 years ago), but it is ubiquitous. However, if you are considering a lossy encoder, either AAC or Ogg offer better sound quality for a given bit rate or greater compression for a given sound quality. Of these two, I prefer Ogg. It is a newer standard and it is constantly undergoing refinement by a community of dedicated programmers thanks to its open-source status.

Lossy encoders (Ogg, AAC, and MP3) have the advantage of much greater compression ratios. Ogg is capable of 6:1 compression with distortion so low that no one I know has ever been able to hear it. If you have a very large collection, the high compression ratio could be a significant advantage. Lossy encoders rely on auditory masking to hide the distortion that they introduce. Thus, they are a bad choice if you know that you are going to modify the signal, because the modifications could render the distortion audible by undermining the masking assumptions made during encoding. Converting the encoding from the initial choice to some other lossy encoder (e.g., converting an Ogg file to MP3) is an example of a modification to be shunned unless sound quality is not an issue.

FLAC is a good choice for people who worry about degrading the original signal even in ways unlikely to be noticeable for most people. A FLAC decoder produces exactly the same data presented to the encoder. The downside is that FLAC provides a compression ratio of only around 2:1 in most cases. Transcoding from FLAC does not present any issues because decoding FLAC produces the original data, which can then be encoded using some other encoder with the same result as if the FLAC encoding had never occurred.

Some people believe that they can hear a difference between a signal that has been encoded and decoded using the FLAC codec and the original signal even though the samples are identical. For them, WAV is the only choice because the signal undergoes no processing whatsoever.

Some people worry about codec longevity – no one wants to rip a music collection again because it is no longer possible to decode the sound files. All codecs supported by Wax are widely used, so I do not foresee a time when it becomes impossible to decode any of them.

How do I control Wax from my Crestron/Control 4/other home automation system?

Wax has a graphical user interface that is optimized for music lovers. Adapting the GUI to a system designed with different priorities is not straightforward. Talk to your custom installer or dealer about options for integrating Wax in your system in the best way possible.

Why not use Spotify, Tidal, or some other streaming service and completely avoid the hassle of ripping a large collection of recordings?

Spotify is a good solution for many music lovers. Here are some drawbacks to keep in mind:
  • Spotify transmits audio in a compressed format (Ogg q5 (ca. 160 kb/s) for the free version or Ogg q9 (ca. 320 kb/s) for the premium version. Using Wax, music lovers who are particular about sound quality can rip recordings in WAV or FLAC. Tidal Hifi uses FLAC, but Tidal charges $20/month for this service.
  • The free version of Spotify runs on a computer. If you want to listen to music using your hifi system, are you willing and able to add a computer to the stack of audio equipment? You could use Spotify on a system like the one from Sonos, but then you are adding an entirely new audio system to your living space.
  • Streaming services provide only basic metadata. As usual, basic metadata are probably sufficient for pop music, but for classical music, jazz, shows, and sometimes even pop you might wish for more information about a recording. For example, it is often difficult to determine the conductor of a classical work. You will not know the cast of an opera or show or the members of a jazz combo. For an interesting blog about the challenges involved in using streaming services for classical music, see this NPR blog.
  • A streaming service may not offer your favorite performance of a work. Again, this limitation matters little to people who listen only to pop music, but classical music lovers often want to hear a work performed by a particular artist or conductor.
  • Spotify controls what metadata it presents to identify recordings. To scan a list of recordings of Mozart Symphony No. 40 for a performance conducted by someone you admire, start by searching for the work. If you happen to want the performance conducted by James Levine, you are in luck because the name James Levine appears in the metadata for one of the recordings in the search results. However, the same field is populated with "Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart" in another recording in the same list. I am guessing that he is not the conductor. The one after that displays "The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra" in that field. Of course, you could include the name of the conductor in the search string if you happen to know it or if you are willing to shoot in the dark. But if you want to be able to scan a list of recordings with all the metadata that you decided are important presented in a uniform manner so that you can easily locate the recording that you want, then you need Wax.
  • Spotify is oriented around playlists. If you browse by genre, you will see a list of playlists that other Spotify users created and shared. In the classical genre, you get a choice of four subgenres: Renaissance/Baroque, Romanticism, Contemporary, Misc. If you want more (or different) subgenres, Spotify is not for you. If you want to browse a style of music (e.g., orchestral vs. chamber) and then browse a list of works by composer, Spotify is not for you. Spotify works best for people who know exactly the recording they want to hear and are willing to type in a search string long enough to specify exactly that recording.
  • If you want to be able to listen to any of your recordings on another device (e.g., your smartphone), you must install Spotify on that device. Spotify allows you to sync your playlists to only three devices. If you download music so that you can listen on a subway or airplane, you must activate Spotify within 20 days or it will delete your downloads.
  • You are going to use the search function a lot with Spotify. How easy will it be to type in a search string on whatever platform you are using to control Spotify? In Wax, you hardly ever need to search; a few taps usually suffice to get you to the recording that you want to hear.
  • You own nothing. You could be paying $240/year (for Tidal HiFi) and possibly another $120/year for Roon's enhanced metadata, but when you quit your subscription, a DRM wrapper assures that any music you downloaded will be unplayable.
  • Streaming has a track rather than a work orientation. To play a complete work such as a symphony, you need to create a playlist comprising all the tracks in the work.
  • Most streaming services do not support gapless playback. Assembling tracks in a playlist assures that you will hear the complete work, but the tracks will play with gaps at the transitions even when the music is supposed to play continuously (an opera, for example). To solve this problem, streaming services would have to give users an option because sometimes the tracks should play with a gap (the movements of a symphony, for example).
  • Watch out for "disappearing album syndrome". Streaming services are constantly renegotiating rights to recordings. Just because you marked an album as a favorite or put it in a playlist, doesn't mean that you will be able to play it again in the future. Users report that some playlists get shorter and shorter over time as their streaming service surrenders rights to favorite tracks.

Does Wax support DSD?

Wax supports DSD by converting it to HD PCM (24/96) encoded as FLAC when you import it. See comments on DSD for more information.