I have a background working in radio and as a recording engineer, and recently, iTunes and AAC have convinced me to rip my entire 700 CD collection.
I was intrigued by a product from SliMP3 that hooks up to a stereo and plays music files that it reads over an ethernet network. However, I can't stand listening to MP3 files, since the quality sucks.
When Apple announced the new iTunes with support for AAC, I decided to give it a try. I ripped a few tracks at 360k, and did an A/B comparison with the original AIFF files. (A handy way to do this on a Mac is to set QuickTime Player to only play sound for foreground windows, then get two tracks running at the same time, and click back and forth between them.)
I couldn't hear any difference between the two, so I ripped the same tracks at the default 128k, and to my amazement, still couldn't hear any difference. Now, I make no claim to "golden ears", but I am definitely fussier than most, and know that if I can hear no difference with my Sennheiser headphones, then AAC at 128 bit is good enough.
I immediately embarked on a project to rip all my CDs, getting a dozen or so done each day. Last night I finished Lard, The Leaving Trains and Low Pop Suicide. Tonight, it's on to the M's, starting with Malhavoc!
By the way, I have seen nothing that can touch iTunes in terms of convenience and usability. As I rip my CDs, I take care to classify each album and rate each song. Now I can use iTunes dynamic playlists to randomly select my favourites, or just Industrial music from the 80s, or just Electronica, or whatever. Apple's iTunes is invaluable, if for no other reason than for the meta-data that it tracks, such as when a song was played or ripped. Thanks, Apple!
Part 2 of my project: sell enough of my CDs to buy an iPod or some sort of networked audio component with the proceeds. I figure I need to unload these suckers before they become as value-less as my crates of LPs.
If the SliMP3 player handled AAC files natively, there would be no contest, and I would already have one. However, it doesn't so my search continues for a hardware device to link my ripped collection to my stereo. So far, iPod is the only contender, but a used iBook from eBay might do the trick too.
The iPod doesn't function over the network, but the new ones have a handy dock to make handy stereo connections. The iBook would be nice, because it could also be used to display the visuals, and would let me surf and do email from the living room. Hmmm...