I am currently using both Linux and Windows with my iPod. So far, I have found iTunes to be far superior to any of the Linux applications for syncing songs to my iPod, so I usually dual boot into Windows for this purpose (which isn’t all that often these days, now that I’ve got a fair amount of songs on my iPod to get me started until I’ve had a chance to clean up the ID3 tags for the rest of my MP3 collection and rip my remaining CDs).

However, I currently mostly run Linux on my desktop, and I’d like to at least be able to rip CDs in the background while I’m doing other stuff. On Windows, I usually use the simple and excellent CDex for this purpose, selecting cdparanoia to extract the tracks from CD and the LAME encoder to turn them into MP3 format.

The closest tool I’ve been able to find for Linux is Grip. In typical Linux style, its interface is a little funky, but it has pretty much the same functionality as CDex, including built-in support for cdparanoia, LAME, and CDDB. The configuration is a little clunkier; for example you need to type in the LAME command line parameters to use (I generally use “–preset standard” to encode using good-quality VBR) rather than selecting them from a dropdown. Other than that, it does a great job at ripping CDs, and even though I’m using the same settings for reading CDs as well as for encoding MP3s as under Windows, it actually seems to be a little faster. I wonder if this could be related to the fact that I’m running the AMD64 version of Gentoo Linux, as tasks like encoding are prime examples of applications that actually benefit from the 64 bit processor.

My only gripe with Grip (and to some extent Linux in general) is the way it handles international characters (i.e. anything outside standard ASCII). For example, I have quite a few German CDs, and many of the song titles contain German umlauts. So far, I have not been able to find a solution that allows me to view the correct titles both in Linux and in Windows, and both in the filesystem as well as in the ID3 tags.

When I rip tracks using Grip, the filenames by default strip out any German umlauts unless the option to allow high-bit characters (which is off by default) is selected. When I select this option, the umlauts appear in the filename, although only in the Gnome file manager and not in the Gnome terminal… When I look at filenames with umlauts that I ripped in Windows, they don’t show up correctly in Linux either.

I just realized that this problem may simply be caused by an incorrect translation in the way I mounted the FAT drive that I use to share data between Windows and Linux on my dual boot machine. I’ll try explicitly setting the encoding to UTF-8 to see if this fixes the problem.

Ultimately, I could probably live with messed up filenames in these cases, as iTunes and the iPod only care about ID3 tags anyway. Unfortunately, Grip messes these up as well. It allows the ID3 tag encoding to be specified for both ID3 v1 and v2 tags, the default being ISO-8859-1. But no matter whether I choose ISO-8859-1 or UTF-8 (both of which should have no problem handling the entire German character set), the umlauts show up as garbage.

Any suggestions? Leave a comment.