The Complete Guide to CD Ripping - Part 1: Getting started

The process of extracting audio from a CD and saving it as MP3 files is commonly known as 'ripping' or 'grabbing'. There are literally dozens of software packages that perform this task, the most common being AudioGrabber, WinDAC and CDex.

A relatively new player in the ripping game is EAC, which stands for "exact audio copy". EAC is without question the best ripper available for Windows -- not only is it the most versatile, it is also the only ripper that uses a secure method of reading data from CDs. In this context, "secure" means that every sector of a CD being ripped is read at least twice. If there is a discrepancy between the two reads it will continue re-reading the sector-- up to 82 times -- to verify the data. If the data cannot be verified, which is usually due to a severe problem with the CD, the error is reported along with its exact location. You are then able to listen back to these reported problems to see if there are any audible artefacts of the errors. If so, you can use the built-in audio editor to try to repair the problems. As a consequence of this feature, ripping CDs with EAC will take longer than it would with other applications, but you will be able to extract audio from damaged CDs that would be impossible with any other program. You will also know that your MP3s are the best they can possibly be, without having to listen to them to check.

In this first part of our complete guide to CD ripping, we will show you how to create MP3 files from your audio CDs using some of EAC's advanced features. In part two, we look at using EAC to create Ogg Vorbis (OGG), Windows Media Audio (WMA), and Monkeys' Audio Lossless Compression (APE) files instead of MP3s. In part three, we investigate using other advanced EAC features such as repairing glitches.

Installing EAC

Firstly, you'll need to download EAC from http://www.exactaudiocopy.de/. You will also need the LAME MP3 encoder, which can be downloaded from http://mitiok.cjb.net/. Extract the contents of the EAC ZIP file to C:\program files\EAC and the LAME ZIP file to C:\program files\LAME and you're ready to roll.

The first time you run EAC it will offer to take you through the configuration wizard. Step 1 of the wizard is simply a welcome message (see Fig 1). Step 2 will automatically detect your CD drives and ask you which of them you wish to have configured for you. You should leave all your CD drives selected (see Fig 2). Step 3 will offer you the choice of a default configuration for either speed or accuracy -- we recommend accuracy (see Fig 3). Step 4 will test your CD drives for a variety of supported features such as audio caching and C2 error detection. You can simply accept the default settings for your drive unless you are certain that the detected values are incorrect (see Fig 4).

Step 5 is simply a confirmation screen (see Fig 5). Step 6 will offer to install and configure the LAME MP3 compressor, so you should enable this option (see Fig 6). EAC will now look for your LAME.EXE file and ask you to confirm its location in step 7. Once again, you can leave the default settings here (see Fig 7). In step 8 you enter an e-mail address, which is required in order to use the freedb service, which we'll cover later (see Fig 8). In step 9, be sure to select the expert options, which is not the default. This will give you access to all the advanced features we will be exploring in this two-part series (see Fig 9). Click "finish" and you're done -- ready to rip! The main EAC interface should now be visible (see Fig 10).

Using freedb

The freedb service is an online database of CD information such as album titles, track names and artists. Of course, this requires an Internet connection in order to be used. The main benefit of freedb is that it saves you having to type out all the CD information yourself -- unless, of course, your CD isn't in the database! When EAC queries the freedb database for your CD, it uses the information to automatically name your MP3 files. To test this, simply put an audio CD in your CD-ROM drive and hit -G (or select 'Get CD Information from freedb' in the database menu -- see see Fig 11). A dialogue box will keep you informed of EAC's progress as it fetches all the relevant information (see Fig 12). Once this is complete, you should have all the track, album and artist details completed in the main screen (see Fig 13).

Recently, an Australian mirror of the freedb database was added to the service. To use this local version, simply hit to bring up the database options and enter http://au.freedb.org:80/~cddb/cddb.cgi in the freedb server field (see Fig 14).

A few configuration tips

Just before you conduct your first rip, you should enable a few extra features of EAC to make life a little easier. First, hit and go to the tools tab (see Fig 15). Check the box next to 'Create .m3u playlist on extraction'. This will force EAC to automatically create a playlist for your CD with all the tracks listed in the correct order.

While you're in the Tools options, you can choose the 'Start external compressors queued in background' option (see Fig 15). This option will speed up the ripping process by encoding a track while it rips the next one. This works because EAC rips the CD audio to a temporary WAV file, which is sent to LAME for encoding to MP3. If you encounter problems with simultaneous ripping and encoding, you can deselect this option later.

Next, go to the Filename tab. Here you can specify a format for EAC to use when naming your MP3 files. Don't be intimidated by all the percentage signs (%), it's really quite straightforward. In Fig 16 we have used the setting "%N - [%A] %T (%C)", which generates filenames like this:

01 - [Looking Good Records] Pariah, Search For Life (Looking Back 5).mp3.

Extracting the audio

Now you are finally ready to start the ripping. To do this, simply click the MP3 button on the left-hand side of the main screen and select a folder in which to save your new MP3 files.

You will now be presented with a progress dialogue box as EAC extracts the audio from your CD (see Fig 17). Once the first track has been ripped, a DOS window will appear with the LAME encoder progress information (see Fig 18). Meanwhile, EAC will move on to rip the second track from the CD. At the end of your ripping session, EAC will display an error report to inform you of any errors that were encountered with your CD (see Fig 19). If there were any problems, now is the time to have a listen to them and determine whether to try and repair them.

We will take an in-depth look at this process and other advanced aspects of using EAC in part three of this guide. Next up, in part two, we explain how to use EAC to create alternative digital audio formats such as Ogg Vorbis and Windows Media Audio files.

(Part 2 is the Intermediate Guide: Ripping to Alternative Formats)(Part 3 is the Advanced Guide: Glitch removal & Troubleshooting)

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