Wednesday, August 30, 2006

EAC, or How to Rip CDs

Although many of my friends resolutely refuse to read the blog, despite the fact that it is written for them, and despite the fact that John is one of them and this post is prompted by his interest in this topic, I shall proceed.
Many people, of course, already know how to "rip" their CDs so as to have the music on computer or mp3 player. One can do this with a variety of programs.
I myself had no interest in such things until I was preparing to go to Prague and realized that it would be a good thing to take some familiar music along. It's true that Prague is a great place to buy reasonably priced, good-quality classical CDs, but I like a lot of variety in my music, so I bought an iPod and some portable speakers and set about learning how to get the music I already had onto the iPod.
I read a couple of articles at C-Net about it all, and ripped a few CDs, but immediately discovered that the sound quality for certain albums was terrible. Bryan Ferry, for example, lost all distinctive quality to his voice and became a mere male vocalist. Certain instruments on a Pentangle album sounded tinny even though the voices were all right. This just seemed noxious. It was bad enough that some LPs I had had to replace with CDs some years ago had no richness in the CD format.
I began searching around for "mp3" and "audiophile," which initially brought up only two categories of hits: those that claimed that only a few so-called golden-eared audiophiles were unsatisfied by 128kbps lossy mp3 compression, and those that claimed that no audiophile would be caught dead listening to mp3 music, or at least not without $900 headphones.
I thought both these attitudes were pretty insulting.
Eventually, however, I found that people who want the best of both worlds use a free program called EAC (Exact Audio Copy). While EAC is not the most user-friendly program in the world (it was written by a Geman grad student), it is not all that hard to use at a basic sort of level. Basically, you download the program and also a codec called (for reasons unknown to me) LAME which handles the mp3 compression aspect. (The EAC site suggests places where you can download LAME, which exists in various versions.)
Once you have installed EAC, the program leads you through a configuration wizard that lets you show it where to find the LAME codec, directs you to input an email address so that you can use freedb.org (which you will want to do) and so forth. Initially EAC lets you set up your mp3 to a couple of different choices, but if you want the highest quality (largest-file) mp3 possible, you go back later and set it to 320kbps. There are some web sites that advise how to specify this. In the meantime, EAC will still be making far better mp3 files than you would get at the standard tin-ear 128kbps rate.
What next? Well, stick your CD into the CD drive, wait till EAC recognizes that it's there, and then hit Alt-G (while online) to see if Freedb.org has it in their database. Usually it will. Using Freedb.org means you don't have to type in all the descriptions.
Then, you click on the MP3 button to the left. You don't want to be running much of anything else while EAC works, as this could introduce errors. But, once it finishes the process, you have mp3 files that are worth listening to.
I won't go into all the additional steps involve in digitizing LPs. I'll just say that if you tend to swap your computer's CD player out for something else like a second hard drive, you will have to reboot before EAC recognizes the CD player again. But hardly anyone but me is likely to run into this problem.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Dirk said...

Very interesting. That looks like a useful program. Alas I use a Mac. On a Mac I use Roxio Toast to rip CD’s, and, which is more often the case, Audiohijack to copy tapes to MP3. I have never had a sound quality problem with either, at least to my unsharp ears.

September 01, 2006 4:05 AM  
Blogger Karla said...

I meant to mention that EAC is only for Windows, but forgot. Oh well. Toast should be just fine. I know it's great for general CD-making. (Which reminds me that I need to come up with a better CD-burning program than what came with the laptop. I have several programs that will perform the task, including EAC, but none seems ideal for that job.)

September 01, 2006 4:42 PM  
Blogger Brian Burtt said...

I've taken to using itunes to rip cds. The Apple format (which itunes calls "AAC," but the actual files have the extension ".m4a") is supposed to come out with higher quality for the same compression. I find the 192 setting acceptable, although definitely not ideal.

September 03, 2006 11:22 PM  

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