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Hints for Ripping a CD  (March 2019)


While shooting the breeze over coffee, a friend suggested I write an article about what’s involved in ripping and burning audio CDs.  While I had posted articles about what I consider in preparing to burn CDs for customers and for myself, I had never tied things together around the burning process.  And I admit it hadn’t occurred to me to write one about ripping (which is reading files from a CD and writing them to one’s hard drive, converting the files’ formats as appropriate).  So, here goes, starting with ripping.


To begin with, it’s worth considering why someone would want to rip a CD and then perhaps burn one.  The reasons that come to mind are to:


  • Create audio files to play on your computer rather than loading CDs, which also permits constructing play lists using tracks from several albums.

  • Create MP3 files to load onto a portable player, your phone, or a flash drive or into an Internet cloud database.

  • Create audio files to reconstitute a CD if the original is damaged.

  • Create a copy of a CD to use in a player instead of the original, thereby protecting the original (notably in a car where environmental conditions are more extreme than in your home).

  • Create a copy of a CD with edited album and track information.

  • Create a copy of a CD of a recording to give to someone else (see “A Note on Copyright” under Important Considerations).


This article will address ripping, and you will undoubtedly note the appearance of several technical terms.  They have all been addressed previously, and rather than adding several paragraphs here, let me suggest that you review the following articles.



Workflow for Ripping a CD

The steps for ripping a CD, and for testing ripping software that you’re considering downloading or purchasing, are presented below.  As luck would have it, a customer gave me a CD of her mother playing piano just before I began outlining these articles.  Taking advantage of this opportunity, I ripped it and then burned the audio files onto a new CD, capturing images along the way to illustrate several points.


  1. Launch a CD ripping program capable of reading a CD-Text file.

    • If CD-Text information is present and acceptable, go to Step 4.

    • If CD-Text information is present but requires alteration, and the program permits editing, go to Step 3.

    • If no album or track information was imported or the information imported cannot be edited, go to Step 2.

  2. Open a different ripping program, one that allows editing of album and track information to be placed into the ripped audio files.

  3. Edit the album and track information, if necessary or desired.

  4. Ensure that the desired destination folder and audio file format (and bit rate, if appropriate) are what you want.

  5. Rip the CD.

  6. Confirm that the ripped audio files appear where you instructed the program to place them, that they’re in the desired format, and that the track titles and artists are represented.


With this as background, let’s explore why these steps are important for ripping CDs.  The workflow for burning appears in the article Hints for Burning a CD.


Ripping a CD

The basic procedure for ripping a CD is easy:  Load the CD into your optical drive, open your ripping software (Step 1 or 2), and click whatever button launches the process, usually labeled something like “Rip” or “Start” (Step 5).  That’s it!  However, after the program has finished and as you review the audio files (Step 6) in your directory/folder navigation program (e.g., Windows Explorer), you’ll discover the things that you probably should have considered before hitting the “Rip” button.


Where Did the Ripped Audio Files Go (Step 4)?  The ripping software has a default directory or folder where the ripped files will land.  Once you figure out where that is, you’re all set (you might want to write it down, though).  Better yet, see if you can change the default directory or folder to one that you find easy to remember and is easy to navigate to.  This is especially useful if you want to rename the folder of ripped tracks or move it elsewhere, e.g., into your collection of jazz albums.


What Format Was Used for the Audio Files (Step 4)?  You’ll want a lossless file like WAV or AIFF if you intend to back up a CD, create a copy, or play the tracks on your computer, since the audio quality of these formats is identical to what’s on the CD itself.  Similarly, you may want a lossy file like MP3 if you intend to migrate the audio files to a portable player or your phone.  If the format is anything else, it’s likely a less popular format, and it may not be playable on some devices.  Worse, the format might be proprietary to the ripping program, which would restrict use even more.  Ripping programs should provide the opportunity to select the format you want, usually through an Options or Preferences menu.  Though you might have to consult the help information or snoop around until you find the appropriate place to make the change, it’s worth the effort.  Whatever you choose should remain the default selection, and you won’t have to worry about it again.


Do You Want Both Lossless and Lossy Audio Files (Step 4)?  If you want lossless files to back up a CD or play on your computer as well as lossy files to play on a portable device, I recommend ripping the CD as you normally would.  Then, change the format option/preference, and rip it again.  (And then change your format option/preference back to what it was when you started so you don’t have to worry about it the next time you rip a CD.)  An alternative to this second ripping step would be to use a format conversion program.  Be forewarned that conversion programs don’t always work the way you want them to.  For example, one popular program converts WAV files to MP3s just fine but discards the track and album information in the process.


What Is the Bit Rate for MP3 Audio Files (Step 4)?  If you want to create MP3 files for your portable player or phone, you’ll need to consider another parameter—bit rate.  The default value may be 128 Kbps (128,000 bits per second).  But in picking the format you want to use, you should be presented with the opportunity to change the bit rate (see Figure 1).  A lower bit rate will result in smaller audio files and save space on the player device, but audio quality will suffer.  Conversely, selecting a higher bit rate (up to 320 Kbps) will yield better fidelity, but at the expense of larger files.

1 MP3 Bit Rate Selection Options.jpg

Figure 1.  Selecting the bit rate for ripping to MP3 files.


What Are the Audio File Names and Track Titles (Step 3)?  If the file names and track titles are TRACK1, TRACK2, etc. or simply “Unknown title,” you’re missing the opportunity for your player to display the titles of what it’s playing.  Ripping programs typically import and display track titles—if they can find them.  Figure 2 shows the display of a ripping program that apparently makes no attempt to identify album or track information; perhaps a more expensive version of the program offers that capability.  (In Figures 2-4, I loaded a commercially produced CD in my optical drive—one with album and track information in its CD-Text file waiting to be discovered by a ripping or player program.)

2 Ripping - No information retrieval.jpg

Figure 2.  Display of a ripping program that makes no attempt to identify album or track information.


If the ripping program can read the CD-Text file from the CD, you should be all set (assuming the CD-Text file was written to the CD in the first place).  See Figure 3 for an example.

3 Ripping - Reading CD-Text.jpg

Figure 3.  Display of a ripping program that reads the CD-Text file.


If instead the program attempts to find the CD and track information in an on-line CD look-up service, you may be all set.  The track information is subject to conventions adopted by whoever initially provided the information, and it may not be what you’d like to see displayed by your player.  And the information retrieved might be appropriate for a different release of the CD than the one you’re trying to rip, so track information could be missing for some tracks, or tracks could have been retitled or repositioned.  Moreover, the information retrieved could be flat-out wrong because it pulled data for a different CD altogether.  Or, you might even get something like what appears in Figure 4.

4 Ripping - Reading from Internet CD loo

Figure 4.  Display of a ripping program that imports information from an on-line CD look-up service.


If the ripping program fails to import any track information (as in Figure 2) or imports wrong information (as in Figure 4), you should be able to use the software’s editing capability to change what’s displayed to what the track titles should be—or what you want them to be (and maybe the track artists and composers as well).


What’s in the Album Title Field (Step 3)?  Just as track titles and artists may be missing or inappropriate, the album title and artist may also need to be changed.  Figure 5 shows what is displayed when the ripping program cannot read CD-Text files and is unable to locate the CD in an on-line CD look-up service (upper left corner).  In Figure 5, I’m back to using my customer’s CD, and I wouldn’t expect any ripping software to find album and track information.  The values “Unknown album” and “Unknown artist” can be edited, along with genre and year.  Even if your ripping software retrieved album information, you still might want to change it if you don’t like what it came up with.  (The genre of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony is not Rhythm & Blues!)  Be aware that while some ripping programs allow you to edit album information, that information doesn’t appear anywhere in the track list display.  You will need to browse the program’s help information to discover where to find—and change—that information.

5 Ready to rip - No CD or track metadata

Figure 5.  Customer’s CD with no CD-Text file or entry in an on-line CD look-up service.


I changed the album title, album artist, genre, year, track titles, and composers to match what was printed on the CD’s insert; the result appears in Figure 6.  (For the purposes of these articles, I used “Customer’s Mother” and “Mother” instead of her name to protect the customer’s identity.)  After proofreading and correcting what I had typed, I ripped the CD.

6 Ready to rip - CD and track metadata a

Figure 6.  Ripping software display after album and track information was typed in.


When ripping finished, I checked the information associated with the audio files that were created (Step 6).  Figure 7 shows what I found and indicates that the ripping process did what I wanted it to do for the audio file format (WAV), track titles, album title, and artist.

7 Audio tracks and their metadata.jpg

Figure 7.  Audio tracks and their metadata as they appeared in a directory/folder navigation program.


Software for Ripping

There are lots of ripping programs available, and one may have been included in the software loaded onto your computer when you bought it (e.g., Windows Media Player).  I’d recommend starting with whatever was pre-loaded on your computer.  If you’re dissatisfied with the program that came on your computer, or if you’re just feeling adventurous, you can try out different programs.  Start by researching reviews and ratings from both editors and users.


Many programs are free, which will allow you to test their capabilities without any monetary investment.  Be forewarned that free software may include unwanted programs, including those that enable pop-up ads on your computer and are so intertwined with your operating system that they’re very difficult to get rid of.  At the very least, look for any option boxes that indicate you “want” to download additional software (usually selected by default) and uncheck those boxes.


Other programs cost money and may come with additional features that, though legitimate, you don’t need or especially want.  Some of these ripping programs offer a limited time free trial.  If you’re considering one of these, take advantage of the free trial by testing it to see if it does what you want.  Here are what I consider to be requirements for a ripping program:


  • Choice of audio file format that includes, at a minimum, WAV, AIFF, and MP3, with selectable bit rates for MP3.

  • Ability to edit track titles and artists (and optionally composers).

  • Ability to edit album title and album artist (and optionally genre and year).

  • Ability to read CD-Text information (album title, album artist, and track titles) from a CD ( useful).


The ability to retrieve album and track information from an on-line CD look-up service is optional, as it can sometimes be useful.


I primarily use a program that came installed on my last three computers, not because it’s better than others (it cannot, for example, read CD-Text information from a CD), but I know how to make it do what I want, which more often than not involves editing album and track information.  More importantly, it has performed consistently and reliably over several years.


What’s Next

With the information provided above, you now have the wherewithal to create audio files from your CDs for playing on devices other than a CD player, and they’ll contain all the album and track information you’ll need.  Hints for Burning a CD presents a companion workflow addressing the procedure and software requirements for burning.


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