Going to rip 2000 cds. Which software?


At 63 years old I've decided it's finally time to make the move to a digital library.  I've spent hours and hours on this forum reading about servers, streamers, music servers, nas systems and modded Mac Minis.  I'm more than confused.  I'm pretty much ready to just buy a new transport and be done with it. 

But.... I play "cuts."  I hardly ever play an entire record or cd and would like the ability to choose what's playing from the couch.

I know that the first step is ripping cds.  I have a couple of questions;

1.  Which software should I use?  I am concerned about speed and indexing.  I'm a jazzhead and have quite a few recordings by the same artists that have recorded multiple versions of the same tune.  I want to make sure they are indexed properly.  I would also like a program that doesn't take all day to make a copy.

2.  I can use either Mac or PC.  I would prefer Mac but would use a PC if it is more future proof.  I have a Macbook Air and a PC laptop and both have dual 2 terrabyte external drives.

3. I would also consider a Music Server with a nas rig.

If I do a music server with nas I'd like to keep the price around $2000.

Thanks to all of you.

--Bob


jzzmusician
Bob,

I completed this same journey last year after exhaustive research and consideration of my need for simplicity vs performance.  My answer was the Naim UnitiServe using FLAC.  It is a great ripper, needs no external software and burning in FLAC I can actually transfer to other devices without it going WAV wacko.  WAV is a great format, however not so friendly in a software kind of way.

I am NOT particularly a Naim fan, however the server is extraordinary.

The server sounds very very good.  To give you some reference, my system is the server paired with a the Naim DAC V1, Manley electronics and Merlin monitors with the cadre of Decware and Nordost cabling.  Hope this helps

I use XLD on my Mac to rip CDs wih good results. It is free. The interface seems barebones but really has all the features you will need. It can rip to your desired format, add metdata and album art, and lets you build the Artist/Album/Tracks hierarchy you want. 

I am also a subscriber to Tidal Hifi and Roon. I organized my CD libary such that the CDs that weren't available though Tidal are ripped first. If I want to listen to a CD that isn't ripped yet, I can stream it via Tidal. 

Good luck with your project.
Bob - 
I'm a contemporary age-wise.  The way I got unconfused about setting up a digital library was to just jump in and try it.  I tend to take a pretty basic and pragmatic approach to most things audio - which is to say, I don't obsess about audio quality differences that others talk about if I can't hear 'em (e.g., WAV vs ALAC).  AND I tend to prefer lower cost solutions that provide 90% of a benefit rather than way more costly alternatives that will realize the last 10% or so.  I'm probably not your poster child for "audiophilia" as defined by some.  Consider my comments representing the "low tech" end of an implementation continuum. 

I use a MacBook Air and iTunes to rip CDs in ALAC to a pair of Western Digital 2TB Hard Drives (one is back up to the other).  iTunes gets criticized mainly (I think) due to association with lossy, compressed, and crappy sounding MP-3 files (I CAN hear that difference, by the way!)  But it doesn't have to be that way.  There are preference options to ensure good quality rips.  iTunes is very fast at ripping CDs (even w/quality parameters max'd out in preferences) and I like the way it handles meta data.  It works consistently.  No glitches or mysterious software issues on my MBA.

I use BitPerfect v3.0.1 for playback.  I have a double headed USB cable (one leg for power; one leg for signal) that I connect to a Gungnir DAC via V-Link 192 with a Stereovox SPDIF cable.  The Gungnir feeds into my integrated amp or pre-amp depending on what equipment I'm running.

I'm sure my relatively low cost/low tech approach can be criticized as "non-optimal".  All I can say is, it works reliably and things sound very good.  I guess it's jitter reduction, but to my ear the sound from ripped CDs vs actual playback in a CDP seems smoother and more relaxed (and I don't mean due to changes in frequency response).  Good luck in your research and final decision.  
Give Neal Van Berg @ Sound Science a call.  He sets up his MusicVault servers to be pretty much plug'n'play and can recommend the version that's most appropriate for your needs.  He'll even long on to your machine to help you through any problems you might have.  Best of all, since his server is a PC optimized for ripping, storage, and playback, it can be upgraded as the PC audio paradigm matures. 
Thank for your replies.

The Music Vault and the Naim server are both way out of my budget.  They are, however cool as hell and would be nice to have. 

Ghosthouse:  I ripped a couple of cds using ALAC and it took almost 15 minutes to rip each cd.  If that's normal, it's too long.  The number of hours I would spend just ripping approaches 500!  I'm guessing I've got my settings wrong. 
Hello Jzzmusician,
updating my earlier advice to confirm that ghosthouse’s advice was very good. iTunes is an excellent all in one music library manager. It’s free, simple, and easily controlled by remote. Bitperfect, as an addon to Itunes, is an excellent way to improve sound quality. Amazing bargain too.

When ripping, there are a lot of variables. Damaged or dirty CDs will take much longer because the software attempts to reread the disc. Start with a cold reboot of your machine/cd drive and only run iTunes while ripping.

You don’t say what kind/age machine your using so I am assuming it is less than five years old. Is the drive internal?

Ripping a libary takes a lot of time even on the fastest machines. Your libary will also require some thought on HD storage as it grows.

Keep us posted.

Hello jzzmusician.  Gosh, have to say I'm very surprised to hear 15 minutes to rip a CD.  That has not been my experience using the latest version of iTunes (v12.3.2.35) or even previous versions.  Recent CDs I imported to my iTunes library took at most a minute or two.  Certainly under 5 min.  I am no IT guru so we will quickly reach the limit of what I can tell you.  Checking iTunes' General Preferences Tab and then Import Settings, I see that I have "Apples Lossless Encoder" selected along with "Use Error Correction When Reading Audio CDs".  The import settings are all "automatic" for ALAC (but can be customized for WAV, AIFF, etc.).  Is it possible your CDs are dirty or damaged (pls. don't take offense)...triggering a lot of error correction?  Lots of CD treatment products available if needed; low budge option: eye glass cleaning spray and microfibre cloths.  Because of storing my iTunes library on an external drive, I do have to hold down the option button when clicking on the iTunes icon.  This generates a pop up window asking me to choose the iTunes library...from there I choose the .itl iTunes library file on the external drive as shown in Finder.  

dbtom2 - appreciate your follow up comments.  I often feel like the poor country cousin on A'gon.  Nice to read supporting comments.  Good points too about shutting down any non-essential programs and doing a re-boot prior to importing CDs.  

As a follow up to my own initial comments...those were intended as a simple way for jzzmusician to get started.  Figure out how to do the basics then worry about new hardware and/or software that might well give better sound but will likely mean more $ and greater complication.  Only he/she can decide if the benefit is worth the extra effort.

Ciao.
I use a dedicated 21" iMac with a external ROM Drive for ripping, using iTunes as the library and Audio Nirvana Pus as the playback engine. Rip time for a single CD is a couple of minutes, and if the CD is not to obscure the meta data is captured from the net.  Another benefit from the iMac is the large screen / keyboard / mouse that makes editing etc easy if needed.  

I prefer the Apple format over the PC format as the interface with remote options iPhone or iPad is basically seamless and very easy to navigate.


Good Listening
Peter

Sorry - late arriving thought...
jzz - one possibly relevant factor might be that I'm using a USB 3.0 connection between MBA and WD hard drives.  Not 100% certain that affects the speed of import but it seems like it might since my library is on an external drive.
+ 1 for Itunes and Audirvanna Plus . Simple ,yet the Audirvanna program has lots of features that are of use .
I second XLD on the Mac (used MAX before).  Set highest possible amount of retries - otherwise it will interpolate missing samples.  Rip while listening - it won't be a huge chore that way.  Make backups (I use SuperDuper).  I  have two backups and alternate update only one about every 5 rips.  Two backups prevent loosing everything in case of controller malfunction or virus.  I keep one backup at work (fire theft etc.).
I have been doing this for years using Mac mini's. I would suggest using either XLD or MAX.
I configure the bit rate to a higher rate. I have used a few different playback software application (audirvana, pure music, others) and I prefer Audirvana 2.X with their iPad app to control playing music. I configure the ripping to store the music in AIFF format in iTunes, but I don't use the integrated iTunes mode in Audirvana. In Audirvana, I can have multiple disks/folders containing iTunes files, flac files, wav files, and Audirvana can read all of them. IMO, I think dedicated music servers are way over rated and way over priced for what they do. Remember the Sooloos system, all it was good at was displaying content. If you want something similar, check out roon. The problem with what I see with roon is that it doesn't sound as good compared to other well known playback software. Also I would stay with Macs using a Mac mini. To get better quality playback, don't hook up hard disks to your Mac mini. Purchase either a NAS device or hook these hard drives to a remote server so your music server won't have any disk drive noise or vibrations coming from these external disks nor will they compete on the same bus that connects to your external dac.
jzzmusician, I just noticed a Naim UnitiServer for sale on A-gon at $1995, just under your max I realize but everything is negotiable these days. 
The Naim UnitiServe takes about 5 minutes per ripped CD.  However, the unit referred to available here at Audiogon(great price!) is SSD which I believe will give you 512GB of storage.  Even by burning in FLAC, you would fall short of internal storage of 2,000 CDs and would to need external storage to cope, adding another piece to the puzzle.

Wow!  You guy are great.  Thank you for your help!

Right now I've got three choices:

1.  Use my MacBook Air with an external drive
2.  The Naim UnitiServe
3.  Get a streamer that runs off a nas

Number 1 is the least costly.
Number 2 is the easiest and as long as I can get a good 5 years of use I see no reason other than budget to get one.
Number 3 is attractive in that a streamer would cost less (Cambridge Audio CXN) and the music would always be on the nas

And to answer a couple of questions;

My computer is 5 years old and uses USB 2.0
My Mac uses 3.0, I think.

Whichever way I go it's going to be at least a month before I buy anything.  I just heard from Kent at Electrostatic Solutions.  I sent my Quad 2805 speakers to him for some repair.  The repair cost was very reasonable, so reasonable that I'm springing for some upgraded mods, and there goes my budget.

I'm thinking that I'll rip some cds in a casual sort of way and start messing around just using my Macbook and next month make a long term decision.

Thank you all again for your input and I certainly don't mind keeping this thread alive.

-- Bob
I would like to hear rips with the Unitiserve.

I use XLD and could never get my rips to sound anywhere near as good as CD playback.

To compound the problem, I found rips via dbpoweramp on a different Macbook sounded totally different.
I guess I am much like Ghosthouse, jump in and take a pragmatic approach. I rip via itunes to AIFF with the error correction. Use both a Macbook pro and a Mac mini.  I have found that some CDs do take longer than others, however not 15 min.  I use Pure Music for playback. I have had little problem with the learning curve, and enjoy the flexibility of computer audio. The Macbook pro allows me to take my music where ever I go. 
I don't know how to quote others since I am new here, however, I read that the seller of the Naim Unitiserve is including a 6TB external drive for full price offer.  

I have no affiliation, just trying to help the OP.

Good luck!
Data loss due to scratches up to about 4mm along the track is automatically corrected by Cross-interleaved Reed-Solomon error correcting code.  Between 4-8mm player that operates in real time interpolates samples while scratches longer than 8mm result in pops and clicks.  Programs like XLD can be set to very high numbers of retries while MAX can be set to "never allow to skip".  Badly scratched disks can be completely recovered but it can take hours.  Itunes went over the same bad CDs much faster meaning that it probably quits and interpolates just after few tries.  In reality on decent CDs I cannot tell the difference between original CD and the copy made with Itunes/Toast.  Playing ripped CDs from the computer can sound worse not because of deficient rip but because of greater amount of jitter created or different signal path (different D/A converter, different analog circuit etc.)
Just to echo kijanki and say that XLD ripped some CDs bitperfect that I thought were goners. My GF found some old bare CDs in the glove compartment of her car that had been there for years. Jewel boxes totally MIA. Scratched, stained, and stuck together. Ugh. I cleaned them up as best I could and XLD turned a sow's ear into a silk purse. I couldn't believe it. YMMV but it taught me to put a little more effort into the ripping process. Of course, I would never treat my CDs that way. 
Update:

I've begun ripping my cds.  I'm using a MacBook Air with an Apple Superdrive and an external hard drive both attached via USB.  I am using iTunes as the software.

Settings are AIFF with error correction on.

My first couple of cds ripped at about 18-20x.  All subsequent cds dropped to about 5-8x.  No idea why.

My cds are all mint.  No visible scratches or dust. 

I'm ready to give dbpoweramp a try.  Does anyone know if it manages files as well as iTunes?

Thanks in advance,

Bob
That speed change. It's why I think it is good to cold boot from time to time. I have no technical explanation for this. Except I could regain ripping speed by cold-booting. I used Superdrive as well. My rips using XLD start slow on each track, usually 1X,2X. Then they speed up to 2X, 4X, etc. For me, 8X isn't bad.

I use AIFF as well. Disk space is cheap and it's compatible with both iTunes and other software that isn't compatible with ALAC. (FLAC is my first choice but it's not compatible with Apple.)
I have no experience with dbPoweramp so I can't advise. 

There's a nifty piece of software, Tag Editor, you will probably find handy at some point. http://www.amvidia.com/tag-editor
I use Google Images to find the album art that iTunes can't.

Finally, echoing what someone else wrote, when I'm ripping I'm listening. I set a goal of 5-10 CDs at a time and have a nice listening session while I'm at it. My guess is that there's plenty of hidden treasures in your library that your ripping project will help you rediscover.




The easiest is to send the CDs to a CD ripping service. The best service, in terms of quality and service is: ReadyToPlay. Here is their link: http://readytoplay.com/
It's $1.30 per cd or less if you have more CDs. I have no links with them other than being a happy customer. They will make sure that all metadata is transferred correctly with pictures et all. And the sound quality is the best. The use dBPoweramp software for ripping and use audiophile recommended Plextor CD rippers with dedicated PCs. I've found that the music from ReadyToPlay rips sounding better than my own rips using my own dBpoweramp on my desktop PCs. FWIW.
Bob,
Please stop ripping with iTunes and download and try the free XLD app on your mac as recommended by a number of people above.

There are a couple of reasons why:
1) XLD guarantees bitperfect rips and reports if there are any errors. So you can change settings to rip more quickly and adjust to slower reading only when you are dealing with a scratched up disc. As long as you get "No errors reported" you're good to go. It's free for mac and if you read computeraudiophile forums so you see that it is proven and preferred for a majority of mac users.
2) iTunes treats album art differently than almost every other playback program. The problem is that since it doesn't imbed art in every track, if you choose later to use your ripped library with other software(let's table the discussion about software/streamer/platform for now) art won't necessarily be visible, creating lots of metatags editing work for you. Ripping with XLD will eliminate the issue.

Trust me on this. I am a former iTunes user who lived through the pain described on hundreds of albums ripped using iTunes years ago. Changing to XLD now will save you tons of time and mental energy down the road regardless of which hardware and playback platform you move to in the future. 
Note that all the iTunes recommendations above seem to be of the flavor: "I do this" not "Here's why iTunes is best for you to use". 

FWIW, about the ripping seeming daunting, I suggest not thinking of it as a race to complete. While watching sports or tv I will rip CDs during commercials etc. It only takes a few seconds of attention. Do a few a night, starting with your favs and it won't be such a chore. Cheers,
Spencer
dBpoweramp CD Ripper - works great - just did 3,000 CDs with it!
I use dBpoweramp CD Ripper on my HP Pavilion Notebook PC's.  It works well, has all the "bells and whistles," and is one of the highest rated applications for ripping CD's to files.  

You can choose any file format, but I use FLAC, because it's typically recommended, and is compatible with most servers and players - the sound is identical to WAV files, as is ALAC.   I chose these applications not only because they were widely recommended, but also because they work well on my HP Notebook - I can sit and watch the "playoffs" while I rip my CD's - very handy.

I store the files on a 1 TB USB drive, which connects to my various music servers (Bryston and W4S).  All very reasonably priced, or free, and very practical.   

I'd choose something, which will function well on the type of technology you already have - PC, or Mac - and... applications that are widely recommended and free.  No point in blowing the budget on buying new technology, because other's favor it (Mac... or, PC for that matter).  
Oh yes... I would not use any "computer" as a music server - they're not desiged for that purpose and will give you inferior sound (too much electronic interference and noise).  Get a real music server from an audio company that specializes in them (Bryston, W4S, or any of the many others) - same for the DAC.  
Post removed 
As someone just getting into digital, I recently ripped my cd collection (ok...I did it twice...) and working with a little background from reading posts I ended up using db as their trial period I was able to do everything I had on hand. As the gig's started to pile up, I found a bunch of 1TB drives that were pulls from computers long since retired. Bought a external 4 bay drive holder and used a single drive for each genre. By the time I got to the end of the ripping (and finding myself buying a couple each week since) I elected to move everything onto my Synology NAS that has 2-2TB drives set up as a raid, so no more worries about having to rip a third time.

It worked well with the 1TB external and the total cost (again, I had the drives already) was 150.00. NAS was already on the system so going from one to the other was $0 and the externals will be for data/photo and misc that did reside on the NAS.

JRiver works well as I have it on my desktop/laptop/tablet and can control  fram any and all. Still working out everything as far as the software end, but running over a wired network was the best for me, wince I already had a CAT6 going to my Magnum Dynalab MD807 and the tv mounted behind and above the stereo rack, a 49.00 gig switch and a couple of CAT6 jumpers and everything is on the network. With the snow this weekend I hope to have plenty of time to now enjoy the music, much of which I have listened to in years and maybe even get a chance to build playlists.... 

Another vote for dBPoweramp.  I rip on a laptop which is networked to my router.  The rip is sent to my Vortexbox Appliance, a Linux dedicated server connected by ethernet to the router.  Yes, the Vortexbox Appliance has an internal optical drive and ripper, but it is a basic program and dBPoweramp is much more flexible.  I use the free program MP3Tag to edit tags.  I rip to FLAC, but dBPoweramp is flexible, with many codecs to choose from (including several levels of FLAC compression) and also has a format converter.  At $38, dBPoweramp is a bargain, IMO.

But, for Heaven's sake, please BACK UP your rips.  I have two back up drives, one I keep at home and one I keep at the office (in case of fire or theft).  I have already restored my files from back up after a hard drive crash.  And since it took me three years to rip my CD collection, you can imagine how relieved I was not to have to start all over again!

I recommend checking out computeraudiophile.com, a very useful site with great information. The site has a really good tutorial on ripping CDs and managing your library, well worth the time to read.  The tutorial also describes how to set up and use dbpoweramp, IIRC.  Good luck.
I use XLD on my Macbook Pro.  The music files sound better than iTunes and I agree with the earlier post suggesting that you stop using iTunes for ripping your library.  Also, my process is to rip the cd's to an external hard drive connected to my Macbook Pro and then push them out to my NAS drive.

Before ripping my collection I ripped WAV and AIFF versions of some of my demo CD's and listened to them on my system.  On my system the AIFF format was clearly better.  I discuss the experience on my system page if you are interested.

Again, I'd start over and use XLD.

Cheers,

John
You may want to consider this article about ripping.

http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content/309-computer-audiophile-cd-ripping-strategy-and-methodolog...

Chris Connaker

Founder
Computer Audiophile
Bob,

I purchased a Mac Mini in the fall of 2015 with the intention of building a dedicated music server.  In the process of researching my options, I found there were a few folks out there that will modify the Mini with an external power supply.  I read some good things about Ben Zwickel and Mo-Jo Audio, so after numerous email and phone conversations I sent my Mini to Ben for the upgrade.  It took only about a week and I couldn't be happier with it.  I have begun the arduous task of re-ripping my CD collection to AIFF, so I feel you pain.  I use dbpoweramp to rip with and have been very pleased with it. I also purchased Mo-Jo's asynchronous DAC, Mystique 2.0 and have been very pleased with that, as well.  Lastly, I store the files on a Synology NAS and use JRiver Media Center as the front end for the whole thing and it all sounds terrific.

Good luck and enjoy the music.

Skip
Hi All.
For Mac i'm using the XLD on my MBP free and simple. However, my rip server was always vertexbox it is free and always up and running. I had it for the last 5 years with only 2 power outage that i can remember. beside CDs on FLAC i also use it to rip Bluray and DVD back than. 

the only Mod i did was to feed it with linear power supply with that all the rips will sound so much better.

I'd like to jump onto this thread and ask several additional questions of viewers.

I am using Jriver MC 21 on a PC laptop running Windows 10, and using a SSD HD. I have two 3 TB WD portable HD's, and a third used as backup. Since my laptop only has a SSD, it has no internal CD tray. I am purchasing a usb external CD R/W drive coming shortly. I plan on installing dbPoweramp to use as my ripping/burning software, and use FLAC as my preferred file format.

Questions:

How do I direct the new ripped CD flac file into my library on JRiver on drive D? Before I used the internal ripping software from JRiver when my laptop had an internal drive. I was not happy with its capability. Not sure how to synch the dbpoweramp software into JRiver MC library. Don't want it on my internal SSD drive, do I? Its only 250 GB.

Is there any software than can help recover my wav. files transferred
 from another hard drive. I experienced the frustration of lack of transfer/inclusion of meta data on the wav. files. They appear only as a series of numbers/letters, without allowing me to know artist or album, or song. Would Roon work for this function, and if so, how?

Thanks in advance for any assistance to this older computer illiterate geek, who enjoys the convenience
 and quality of computer audio.

I should have opened more of the above posts before I wrote in..I read Chris's well researched link on how to install and configure dbPoweramp, which I purchased today...Thanks for that...my bad for not taking advantage of info already covered.
I have ripped almost 1000 CDs using iTunes on my MacBook Pro.  It has worked great, however, now I need to transfer the files to an external hard drive.  Does anyone have any advice about doing this?  I think I need to reformat the drive so that it keeps the backups in a separate place from my music files, yes??  I copied a couple of articles about it, but I am a little confused over how to proceed.  I also have no idea about how to find the files on that drive afterwards - or is this not an issue??  
Lear - I have fumbled around learning how to do this myself (changing the location of my iTunes ripped CDs from computer to external hard drive). Search the internet and Apple support and see what the experts advise. It might be no harder than dragging the ENTIRE iTunes folder over to your ext. hard drive (I still have iTunes on my computer but do not use it...day to day). Given the number of files you will be moving, this might take some time to complete. Once iTunes is on your hard drive, when you open iTunes to play music, you will have to tell iTunes the new location of the library. You will want to direct it to a file on your hard drive in iTunes that has the .itl extension...That’s dot-eye-tea-el (just in case characters are not completely legible). I direct iTunes to the appropriate library by holding down the Option key while clicking the iTunes icon. This should open a pop up that says, "Choose Library". Select the highlighted choose library button. This will open Finder. In Finder locate and click on your hard drive which should be listed. In the iTunes folder on your hard drive you should be able to find a file called, "iTunes Library.itl". Click on it and then click on "Open" in the bottom right of the screen to complete this selection. iTunes should now access the music files on your hard drive. I use BitPerfect rather than Audirvana or JRiver and I have to tell that where the music is located. When I start BitPerfect it will ask two things. First step is to direct it to the .xml file in the iTunes folder on your hard drive (find and click on this then click Select or Open bottom right). Second is to direct it to the actual music library on the hard drive. I do this by clicking on "Music" in the iTunes media folder. Hope that works for you. It is what I use on a MacBook Air. By the way, when ripping CDs you will have to identify the external hard drive as the new destination otherwise files will be saved on your computer. When iTunes is open, go to (Preferences?) and set the external hard drive as the new destination folder. Going from memory on this. Haven’t had to do this part in a while so you might have to hunt a bit in iTunes for setting the library location for ripped files...could be under an "Advanced" button. Good luck. Don’t hesitate sending me email if you think that will help.
PS - I did nothing special to "prep" or format my Western Digital 2TB hard drive.  I use Time Machine for back up to that same ext. hard drive. Since I only keep the basic iTunes software on the computer and have no significant library associated with it, backup does not duplicate my iTunes library on the external hard drive.  

You might be well served experimenting with "exporting" just a portion of your library - 1 or 2 saved CDs  - until you get the hang of things.

I made that transition about 18 months ago.

I decided on an Autonomic Controls MMS-5A "Mirage" music server, which has a 1tb internal hard drive, a decent iPad app to control it, an app that runs on my Windows10 laptop to sync from my iTunes library, the laptop is where I have iTunes configured to capture CDs in 44.1/16 bit AIFF files, with a 4tb external hard drive for the iTunes content.  The MMS-5A also connects to my streaming services (Tidal, Spotify & Tunein), and has an app to back up its hard drive "automagically" to my Google Drive account.  I have an external DAC, so I have no experience with the one built into the music server, I suspect it's not the best quality.  I use the coax output from the server to the DAC (I use the USB output from my Windows10 laptop to the DAC as well).

Autonomic's support staff are really good.
Lear - I have a 2nd WD hard drive on which I maintain a duplicate of my iTunes library.  Also use Time Machine to back up the MBA to this one too...so, duplicates of both the MBA and iTunes library on external hard drives.

Ghosthouse, thanks so much for the response!  You answered pretty much all of the questions I have been wondering about.  If I have any trouble, I will let you know.   It may be several days before I actually attempt this, though.  
Happy to be able to help, Lear.  I would again definitely urge you to "start small"!  Good luck.
I see this is an old thread, so please forgive the ’necropost’, but I just did the same with my collection and EAC (Exact Audio Copy) which does intensive error correction and reconstruction, comparing the end result to a database of checksums to verify the % of accuracy.
@parabolic Likewise. Exact Audio Copy isn't necessarily the fastest, or the easiest to use, but it's the best ripper there is. And it's free...
Linux PC with Sound Juicer to start with. :)

Under $600 for 2TB, it can be your ripper and player.  Make sure you buy the fastest CD reader you can though. :)

Alternatively you can rip elsewhere to a shared drive, or drag and drop.

ALAC or FLAC should sound the same, but since I don't do a lot with iPods it's all FLAC and transcoded when needed.

Also, make sure you have a back up solution. After going through the trouble you will, it would suck to loose the effort you put in.

Best,

Erik