Ripping

Ripping is transferring the content of a CD to a hard disk.

In general ripping requires 2 stages:

Ripping is a bit different from making a straight copy.
The audio is transformed to an audio file format a PC understand.

Often this is combined with tagging as the ripper looks up the CD in an online database.

Audio Format

When you rip, you have to choose an audio format.

As a hundred buys you a couple of terabytes today, I wouldn't settle for anything less than a lossless format.

I don’t think the specific file format is important as long as it is lossless.
Observe as lossless is lossless; there is plenty of software enabling you to convert from one lossless format to another lossless format indeed without loss.

Choosing a specific lossless format won’t tie your hands.

 

Proprietary formats are often tied to a specific operating system.
As your PC runs Win, your NAS runs Linux and your smartphone Android, a format that runs on all popular OS is an asset.

Media players are using the tags to display information like album title, artist, cover art, etc.
You need a format with excellent tagging support.
This rules out WAV.

 

The format should allow for storing custom tags in the file too.
If not, you run the risk of losing a substantial amount of information the moment you migrate.

 

Media players store the Meta data in a library (a database with Meta info) and write them to the audio file if the format supports this.
If writing tags to the audio file is not supported you won’t notice the difference as what you see on the screen is the content of the library. The moment you move your audio files to another device you will notice that all information is gone.
A typical case of What You See Is Not What You Get.
This often happens with WAV and with custom tags when using proprietary formats.

 

The ideal format:

I’m afraid the ideal format, fulfilling all of these requirements doesn’t exist.
For me, FLAC fulfills all these requirements except “official” support by Apple. As I don’t use iSomethings, I don’t have this problem.

Libraries

Often people maintain two libraries, a lossless one for home use and a lossy one for a portable e.g. a smart phone.

Even ripping software might alow you to create two file formats at once.

My advice is to rip to a lossless format only.

Maintaining 2 libraries is a waste of time.

If you need a lossy one, use transcoding to create a lossy version on your portable.
Most media players support this option (often called synchronizing).

Sound quality

There is a lot of talk about differences in sound quality between audio formats.
Typical claims are:

You can simply try it yourself by ripping a couple of tracks to various formats and do a blind listening test. As lossy codecs are pretty good today, you might have a look at samples putting them really to test.

 

My advice is not to rip to any lossy format even if there are no audible differences with a lossless one.
The real problem is generation loss.
If the flavor of yesterday is MP3, today AAC and tomorrow MQA, you transform from one lossy format to another. Each transformation will add some tiny artifacts.
The cumulative effects might become audible one day.
If you rip to lossless you don’t have this problem.

FLAC

If you start to rip, you have to decide what format you are going to use.
You have done your homework, only the purest format will do: WAV.
You might be in for a nasty surprise some day.

 

I recommend FLAC

If you are a OSX/iOS person, ALAC might be a better choice as Apple don't support FLAC natively.

Tagging

Rippers often combine the ripping with tagging, retrieving Meta data from an internet database.
How this works can be found here.
Popular sources are FreeDB and Amazon.
If you are into classical you might need a more structured database e.g. AMG or GD3.

Unfortunately you cannot choose the internet database. Either your media player support it or it doesn’t.


dBpoweramp extract information from AMG, SonataDB, Music Brains and FreeDB.

You can inspect the results and choose the one you prefer before you start to rip.

If you are into classical, have a good look at MusiCHI. It has a large database of composers, compositions and performers.

Single file or a file per track

The content of an audio CD is one long spiral ‘groove’ with pits and lands. There are no files on a CD but a table of contents telling where each track starts and end.
You can rip the CD to a single file.
You can’t tag the tracks as there are none.

The solution is a CUE sheet. This is like the TOC of a CD. It tells the media player where it can find the next track and supplies information about the name and the artist.
The down side is that you have to keep CUE sheet and audio file in sync.
If you change the name of the audio file, you have to change the name inside the CUE sheet as well.
If you move the audio file to another directory, you have to move the CUE as well.
The tags supported by CUE sheets are very limited.
The big plus is because it is a single file, it will play gapless.

Most media players today support gapless but in case of streaming audio (DLNA) gapless is often not supported.


The alternative is ripping to a file per track.
This has the advantage of full tagging support.
You can delete tracks you don’t like.
This is my personal preference.
The downside is small white spaces in live recordings or classical if the media player doesn’t support gapless.

Rip to a single folder for each CD

One might argue that the file structure is irrelevant.
Media players rely on tags to identify the audio, not on a file structure.
As long as the file is in place, it is ok.

 

Why bother about the file structure?
When things go wrong e.g. a track is missing, you are glad you have the entire CD in one folder.
You also appreciate the file names being pre-fixed with the track number.
This allows you to find out if the track is missing because the file is gone or because it is tagged wrongly.

If you are using dedicated tagging programs like MP3Tag having an entire CD in one folder is an asset. It allows you to select the entire CD from the file structure and perform an internet lookup.

 

Ripping software must store the tracks somewhere.
Most of the time this is done using rules like Root/Artist/Album.
In case of samplers, this might scatter the files as the Artist is different for each track.
Check before you rip.

In case of samplers a rule like Root/Album Artist/Album helps as “Album Artist” is often set to “Various Artists”.

 

For tracks, use a rule like Track # - Title.
If possible, use leading zeros to have them sorted correctly in the file system.
You might put a bit more info in the tile but be aware of the 256 character limit.

AccurateRip

The typical audiophile worry: “Is my rip bit perfect”?

Most of the time your rip will be fine but you don’t know for sure.
Rippers supporting AccurateRip allow you to compare your results with those of others.
This allows you to verify your results

You have to choose your ripping software.

EAC and dBpoweramp are the big names and do support AccurateRip but media players like MusicBee supports AccurateRip as well.


More details about ripping can be found in the reference section.

Optical drive

Another typical question is “What is the best optical drive to rip my CDs”
The answer is often Plextor.
They do have an excellent reputation but stopped years ago making their own drives.
Today a Plextor is simple a rebadges OEM.

 

Little is known about the accuracy of optical drives from different brands.
However, there is some empirical data.

The AccurateRip database tells you if your rip is accurate or not.
It can be used the other way around too, how many rips are accurate given a certain brand/model.
The list can be found here: CD/DVD Drive Accuracy List 2012

Jitter

Will ripping add jitter to the file?

The answer is no.

Jitter (small variations in the timing) happens at two stages.
At recording time, the jitter of the clock driving the AD converter and at playback time, the jitter of the DAC.
Ripping is simply copying the bits from one digital medium (CD) to another (HD).
The timing is not a property of the data but a property of the playback device.
Asking if ripping is adding jitter is like asking if moving an LP from one shelf to another will add wow and flutter.

Recommendations

dBpoweramp

Probably the best ripper there is.

I recommend FLAC

If you are a OSX/iOS person, ALAC might be a better choice as Apple don't support FLAC natively.