Try not to suck the life out of your favourite music when you’re ripping it to your computer.
Despite the rise of digital downloads and streaming music services, many people still prefer to buy old fashioned music CDs. It’s then easy to copy or “rip” the tracks to your computer, using your format and quality of choice. Now you can play your music on your favourite devices and put the disc away in the cupboard for safe keeping.
You’ve got several file formats to choose from when ripping your music. The first step is to consider which devices you’ll be listening to — which could include your computer, MP3 player, smartphone, tablet, car stereo and maybe even your television, Blu-ray player or games console. Finding one format they all support will definitely make your life easier. MP3 was initially the digital music format of choice and it’s supported by a wide variety of devices. Today you’ll also find wide support for Microsoft’s WMA as well as AAC — the default format used by Apple’s iGadgets.
Deciding on a format makes it easier to choose your ripping software of choice. The easiest options tend to be iTunes and Windows Media Player, but you’ll also find a wide variety of third-party ripping software such as Exact Audio Copy, dbPowerAmp and CDex.
Keep in mind that MP3, WMA and AAC are all “lossy” formats, which means they leave out small details to keep file sizes down. The sound quality is determined by the bit rate, which is measured in kilobits per second. Low bit rates often aren’t as clear and tend to lack bass. Increasing the bit rate improves the sound quality but bumps up the file size. A low bit rate is less noticeable if you’re listening through earbuds, but you’ll notice it if you’re listening on a decent car or home stereo.
Before you throw your entire CD collection at your computer, it’s worth running a few tests to compare different bit rates and other settings. Play your favourite songs on your different devices to see how they sound. For most people a bit rate of 192 kbps strikes the best balance between sound quality and file size. Some people prefer to bump up the bit rate to 256 or even 320 kbps. At this point you’ll struggle to hear the difference between a ripped file and the original CD.
If you’ll mostly be listening via a decent sound system you should use a high bit rate or perhaps consider using a “lossless” audio format such as Apple Lossless, WMA Lossless, FLAC, WAV or AIFF. These make a perfect copy of your audio CDs, but the result is much larger files. Thankfully iTunes and Windows Media Player can be configured to automatically convert some lossless formats to lossy formats when you’re copying tracks to your portable music player.