For the past few years I’ve usually bought CDs that are “special edition” or have bonus material. I have also bought DVD-Audio discs to get 5.1 mixes (mainly Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree stuff). These formats get archived as tagged FLAC files on my home server. FLAC is my lossless codec of choice because it is an open specification, supports a wide range of resolutions and channels, has good metadata support, and is supported by a wide range of software. I don’t currently own any FLAC playback hardware, but that’s not critical to me. I play back FLACs on the computer using Foobar2000. It’s also my main ripper/converter and librarian. The only gap it has for me is that it doesn’t support writing album art metadata natively. I use either Album Art Downloader, MP3tag, or iTunes for that. Speaking of metadata, in addition to the essential metadata, I make use of album artist, disc number, and ReplayGain tags.
When I buy music online, I prefer to buy FLACs. I also prefer to buy music that has moderate dynamic range. I’ve found that I enjoy music that has a ReplayGain value of -8dB or less the most. When I see ReplayGain values at or above -10dB, I usually have a bias against the mastering, which probably used at least some brickwall limiting to produce such a high volume. Unfortunately ReplayGain values aren’t a primary specification prior to purchasing music, so I usually have to purchase on reputation. I probably shouldn’t display ReplayGain values in my primary view on Foobar2000, but I do. It’s mainly to make sure the files are tagged with it, but like I said, it does color my anticipation of the music.
My FLACs get transcoded to LAME MP3 v2 (~190kbps) for normal playback, which could be on the computer, an iPod or iPhone, or to an Airport Express via Airplay. If I’m at a computer that has access to my FLAC archives and Foobar2000, I’ll listen to those.
I rarely purchase iTunes Plus (256kbps AAC) or MP3 files (190kbps or better), but when I do it’s with the expectation that I will not transcode them into another lossy codec or to the same codec at a different bitrate. I will burn them to CDs with a note like “from AAC” or “from MP3” to let myself know not to rip the CD later expecting a lossless copy of the original. Sometimes if I’m using a playback device that’s storage-constrained, I will transcode down to AAC or MP3 at ~128kbps. These files aren’t anything I would archive – they’re for playback only.
Speaking of burning CDs, I do burn discs to listen to stuff in the car with a little more quality than just plugging my iPod or iPhone into the aux jack. Like many, I have quite a few CD playback systems around the house and at work. One little quirk I have is that I like to write CD-TEXT on my burns; my car stereo and a few of the players I use support displaying that info. When I burn CDs, I don’t apply ReplayGain or any volume processing. I burn CDs with Nero, CD Architect (rarely, if I want to do some limited mastering, crossfades, or track adjustments), or Foobar2000 (if I don’t want to write CD-TEXT).