The good old CD, long may it Rest In Peace.  No, that’s not the meaning of the term “rip” as we’re using it here.  Yet the title is quite apt, and becomes increasingly so every year, as more and more of us leave the traditional CD behind.  So what are we talking about then?  In the context of this article we’re looking at CD “ripping”, as we’ll come to in a moment.

First, ask yourself this.  Do you have a pile of CDs but no longer own anything to play them on?  Maybe your journey to work involves travelling by car.  Lots of people enjoy listening to music while commuting, yet even the vehicle manufacturers are turning away from CD players.

So what can we do?  Advancements in technology give us many ways to listen to our favourite tunes.  But how about transferring your old CD collection onto your computer and then copying it to a USB memory stick so that you can take it with you wherever you go?  Indeed, many of those same car manufacturers are now fitting USB connections to their latest car stereos.

Note. Its never a wise idea to keep a single copy of all your files on one USB memory stick.  Although the medium is far more reliable than floppy disks of old (now we’re really digging up past technolgy), it is still more prone to failure than a computer hard drive.  For this reason, always keep more than one copy of your files.

Remember these?

So what exactly is CD Ripping?

It is simply the process of copying the music off a CD and on to your computer.  Unfortunately its not quite as simple as copying and pasting.  However, with the right software, it’s not that tricky either.

Remember, most CDs will be copyrighted and the laws on copying them vary from country to country.  For your own personal use, it is often okay to do so, but you should always make sure that this is the case where you live.

Okay, now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get ripping!

As mentioned above, first we need some software.  There’s certainly no shortage of programs out there that will accomplish this task, both free and paid for.  Here we’re going to use one called “fre:ac”.  This program is completely free and open source (if you’d like to know more about open source software see the article “What is Open Source Software?” here).  Fre:ac is also available for Windows, Mac and Linux.

You can download it here.

Click “Downloads” (the red arrow in the screenshot below) and then click the correct download for your computer (the “Self extracting installer” would be the correct choice for anyone running Windows, as shown by the blue arrow in the screenshot below).

Once the download has completed, double-click it to install the software on to your computer.  The installation wizard is very straight forward and it’s simply a matter of clicking “Next” a few times and agreeing to the licence.  After the program has finished installing, you should have a “freac – free audio converter” shortcut on your desktop.  Double-click this to get started.

When fre:ac first launches it will display a “Tip of the day”.  If you’d rather not see this every time the program opens, you can uncheck the box (highlighted by the red arrow in the screenshot below) before clicking “OK”.

The next step is to put the CD you wish to rip into your computer’s CD/DVD drive.  Not all new computers have an optical drive.  If this is the case, you can purchase an external USB CD/DVD drive for less than £20 (approx. $25) on Amazon here.

The audio files on a CD are recorded in WAV format.  This is fine for CDs, but WAV files take up a lot of space.  When you rip a CD, you can choose the file type you want to save the tracks as.  MP3 is a popular choice.  This format uses compression.  As a result, it shrinks your music down to a fraction of its original size.

The downside of this is that it also loses some of the quality along the way (this is why mp3 is known as a lossy file format).  Although true audiophiles may turn their collective noses up at the humble mp3, the format is great for the rest of us, and many people would struggle to tell the difference.

Another advantage of mp3 is that it’s compatible with just about any kind of media device out there.  Also, because of its smaller file size (and the enormous capacity of USB memory sticks you can buy these days), you can literally carry your entire music collection around in your pocket!

So let’s rip that CD.

The interface in fre:ac is relatively straightforward, and (especially since we’ll be using the default options) is very easy to use.  First we need to click the “Add audio CD contents to the joblist” button (as indicated by the red arrow in the following screenshot).

The program should automatically locate the name of your CD.  Click “OK” and it will import the contents.  The tracks will be displayed inside the software and have a check in the box next to them.  By default, Fre:ac will create the new audio files in your “Music” directory, but you can easily change this by clicking the “Browse” button (as in the screenshot below) and selecting another location.

The audio files Fre:ac creates will, again by default, be mp3s.  It’s now time to start the ripping process.  To do so, click the “Start the encoding process” button (shown in the screenshot below).

The software will begin copying the contents of the CD on to your computer.  When it’s complete you can go to the output folder location and view the mp3 files.  To listen to any of the tracks, simply double-click on one and it will open in your computer’s media player.

Fre:ac’s default settings employ a variable bit rate.  This means the software will automatically set the quality-to-space (file-size) ratio.  A bit rate of 192kbps (kilobits per second) is said to be ‘near’ CD quality.  It would appear that, without changing any settings, Fre:ac produces mp3s of up to 200kbps.  So your new audio files should sound comparable to the CD they were ripped from.

Note, you can change the quality of the resulting audio files by clicking the cog “Configure the selected audio encoder” icon before ripping the CD.  Just bear in mind that, the higher the bit rate (which, up to a point, produces a higher quality audio file), the larger the file will be.

And there you have it. A folder full of mp3 tracks copied straight from your CD.  You can now copy and paste them, as you would any other file, on to a USB memory stick.  Ready for your listening pleasure.

Other questions frequently asked about CD ripping

Does ripping a CD erase it?

No.  Ripping has nothing to do with writing to a CD.  Besides, most audio CDs are read-only and cannot be written to.

Does ripping a CD damage it?

Not at all.  Your computer is merely reading the data from the disc, the same as a CD player does when playing it.

Is it true that Windows Media Player can rip CDs?

It certainly is.  As you probably know Windows Media Player is installed by default on Windows computers.  So, should you prefer (and if you’re a Windows user), you can rip your CDs using this software instead.  One of the reasons I have focused on Fre:ac in this article is because it is cross platform.  This means it doesn’t matter if you’re running Windows, Mac or Linux, you can install and use the software on any of these operating systems.

Can I rip a CD using my hifi system?

This depends on your Hi-Fi.  Majority don’t, but there are models out there that have this facility.  A lot of these are all-in-one units (including components such as a record player, CD, radio, bluetooth, USB, cassette deck – yes, really, do you remember those?)  These music systems have a dizzying array of features and will often allow you to rip your CDs (and even vinyl records, if you have any) to a USB memory stick in the mp3 file format.  If you’d like to have a look at what’s available, check out the link below.