Ripping CDs for Fun

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OK, maybe fun is not the right word, but over the last few years, I’ve been ‘digitally archiving’ a few items – it started with some old photo prints and negatives (that’s ongoing), and then I tackled my DVDs, and now I’m looking to sort my CD collection out (I think it’s ~400 discs).

So why do this? It’s a combination of convenience and sound quality really. I want to hear the music as I paid for it, but it’s a bit difficult to have all those CDs available around the house, and keep them away from the kids. Also, I have ripped all my CDs once, usually into iTunes, and over the years they’ve been in a smorgasbord of bit rates and formats, from 128kbps AAC and MP3, up to newer ones which are VBR ~256kbps AAC.

Now I’m doing this final rip to a lossless format, I can then simply transcode to whatever size/quality a target needs in the future, and enjoy that ‘CD quality’ of this master.

How am I doing this? For the rip, I’m using Exact Audio Copy which is a nice piece of freeware, and rips the audio from the disc using a variety of methods to try to make sure that what you get, as its name suggests, is an exact copy of the disc. It’ll then save this, with all the meta-data it looks up online as either .WAV files, or several other formats you can set up. I’m using the FLAC encoder, so it’s losslessly compressed, and is quite widely supported across players and platforms. This is also open source, so I should be able to play/convert it well into the future.

With even my lowly Windows machine, this takes only a few minutes per disc, including meta data tweaks I need for some of the non-English discs, so it’s more a case of just feeding the machine than anything else. As for size, FLAC, depending on settings, brings most of the CDs in at around 350MB, about half their native size, but obviously nowhere near the ~65MB AAC or MP3 would give you – alas the price you pay, but given disk space costs, it’s not a deal killer.

When at my PC, I tend to listen on my Sennheiser HD-555 headphones, via Foobar2000, which I find to be a nice, simple sound app. The hardware, for what it’s worth, is a Creative X-Fi Xtreme Audio PCI Express card, which I find to sound better than the onboard Realtek codec, or the HDMI audio feed. On the Mac, it’s the built in Intel HD audio, which sounds acceptable, but the Creative card shows why there’s still a little more benefit in a separate sound card.

When not using the headphones, I have some ancient Sony SRS-Z750PC computer speakers which are fine for podcasts, background music and game effects, but aren’t great. In the future I may get a better set of speakers and even a separate amplifier for my computers, but that’ll have to wait a bit. (A real home music system for the living room is higher up the agenda!).

Is it worth the time? Actually, I think it has been – some of my very old rips always sounded a bit harsh, and going back to listening to the CD equivalent makes it all the more difficult to live with, and its been good to listen to all that music again.