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Backing Up Your Music Files

Backing Up Your Music Files

If you’re a computer-audio enthusiast, no matter how expensive your equipment may be, your largest investment will be your collection of music files. Downloads cost money, and the higher their resolution, the more money they cost. Even if most of your music files come from your ripped CD collection, you’ve still invested a lot of time ripping them to your hard drive. So do you protect your investment by backing up your computer-audio files? I suspect many of you don’t. A recent failure of the NAS drive where I stored all my music files drove home to me the need for backing up files. Fortunately, since I use a redundant on-site and off-site back-up procedure, I didn’t lose any data. I’d like to share some ideas that can help you back up your files, because you well know a time will come when your hard drive or computer fails, and the results can be tragic.

I use a Windows computer, but these procedures should work with any operating system. All of the strategies use an external hard drive as the back-up medium. You can use other media to back up files, but as of late 2014 external hard drives offer the best cost-per-terabyte ratio of any medium, have the fastest file-copy speed, and are readily available, at least with the ubiquitous USB 2.0 and 3.0 interfaces. If you want to use a different interface, that’s fine, but it will limit where you can restore the files. If your computer, server, or Network Attached Storage (NAS) drive has a USB 3.0 connection, a corresponding USB 3.0 drive will be much faster than a USB 2.0 drive. You can use either a desktop or portable USB drive. Desktop drives can have up to 4TB storage capacity, but are physically larger and require an external power supply. Portable drives are much smaller and are powered over the USB connection, so they don’t need an external power supply. The largest portable drive is currently 2TB, and if your music file collection is smaller than 2TB, I’d recommend using one for your backups. If your collection grows beyond 2TB, you can easily copy the files to a larger drive later on.

There’s been a lot of discussion about backing up to the Cloud, which is nothing more than backing up to an on-line location. Cloud back-up storage sounds intriguing, but so far is somewhat expensive. And given typical Internet upload speeds (usually way slower than download speeds), uploading all your music files to the Cloud could take a long, long time. I asked one Cloud service how long it would take to upload my 1.2TBs of music files and the answer was: over a year. Ack!

Let’s consider a server system, which is pretty common in computer-audio. It typically comprises a computer (either laptop or desktop) with music files stored on a local hard drive. The hard drive can be internal (you can get up to a 6TB internal drives today, and most computers will house several hard drives) or external, with a USB, FireWire, eSATA, Thunderbolt, or some other interface that connects to an external drive. I suspect most people will use the internal drive on their computer when they first get started with computer audio, and then move to external USB 2.0 or 3.0 drives when the computer’s internal drive fills up. The easiest back-up strategy is simply to buy another external drive of equal or larger capacity and use your computer’s operating system to copy the files to the second drive. You could use special back-up software that compresses the backed-up files to save space on the back-up drive, but restoring files from a compressed back-up set can be challenging, whereas using a direct copy of your files lets you plug in the back-up drive and be operational immediately.

Don’t be lulled into complacency because you use a dual-bay NAS drive in a RAID configuration. Theoretically, the second drive in a RAID array is a back-up of the main drive. But if music files on the primary drive are accidentally erased, those files will also be erased from the back-up drive. There’s no substitute for a physically separate back-up drive.

Basic Back-up Strategy
Here’s my basic back-up procedure, which should work for any operating system. These instructions assume you have a mouse; if you have a touch screen monitor, you’ll need to adjust accordingly. They also assume the use of a USB external hard drive.

  • Connect the back-up drive to a USB port.
  • Your computer will read the files already on the back-up drive, and offer you several options. Open the drive to view the files there.
  • Review the folders on the drive you’ve opened. Find and open the folder where you want to store your back-up music files. This prepares the folder to receive new files.
  • Open another window and display the contents of your server drive or folder there.
  • Open the appropriate drive or folder and select all the music files on the server.
  • Tell your computer to copy them to the back-up drive. If both the server folder and back-up drive folder are visible on-screen, you can just drag and drop the files from the server folder to the back-up drive folder.
  • If you’ve used the back-up drive for a previous backups, there will already be copies of some files on it. There’s no need to back these files up again, so when your operating system asks if you want to overwrite the files already on the back-up drive (copy the same file over them), or skip the copy operation for these files, tell it to skip the copy.

Perhaps you store your music files on a network-attached storage, or NAS, drive so you can share them with several playback devices in your home. The basic back-up strategy outlined above will work for files on a NAS, except to access the NAS you’ll have to open your network window to show the music files you want to back up. Then you select them and copy them to an external hard drive using the same process I’ve described. Your NAS may offer a simpler way to back up its contents; if so, use that way.

My basic back-up strategy will protect you against everything except a physical catastrophe, like a fire or theft. You can guard against such a catastrophe by taking an extra step: after making a back- up copy on an external hard drive, store that hard drive somewhere away from your home. I make two back-up copies— one I keep nearby in case my main drive fails, and the other I give to a friend to hold for me.

I recently had an occasion to test this strategy. When my NAS failed, I just retrieved the back-up copy from my friend and plugged it into the laptop computer that’s my server, and I was operational again. And I still had another back-up copy. I use a portable hard drive for my off-site back-up drive, since I don’t want to bother with a power supply. But I have less than 2TB of music files; otherwise, I’d need a larger backup.

The last type of system I’ll address is a dedicated server where music files are stored on internal hard drives or solid- state drives. Examples of dedicated servers are the Aurender W20 or Wyred 4 Sound Music Server MS-2. With any server that stores music files internally, you’re at the mercy of the designer. If the server is accessible on your home network, and you can view the contents of its drive from a computer on the network, you can treat the server just like an NAS and use my basic back-up strategy to back up the contents of the server’s drives. Some dedicated servers have their own back-up procedures, which may be even easier. I’m currently reviewing a server that lets you plug a USB drive into it and use the remote control app to create a backup. When you’re buying a dedicated server, it’s very important to make sure there’s some way to back up the files from the server’s internal drive. If there’s no way to do that, I’d take a pass on that server.

To summarize, you can back up your music files on your server by simply copying them to an external hard drive. If the hard drive in your server fails, you can plug the back-up drive into your server and be immediately on the air again, if your hardware permits. You can add an additional layer of protection by copying your music files to a second external hard drive and giving that drive to a friend for safekeeping. These are pretty simple things to do; but I’ll bet more than one reader ignores them. There are other ways to back up your files; if you prefer a different back-up procedure, fine, as long as you use some procedure. I wanted to pick one as simple as possible.

Remember, all hard drives fail eventually, and your collection of music files is or will be the biggest investment in your audio system. These procedures are simple and don’t take much time. Now it’s up to you to actually implement them.

By Vade Forrester

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