Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Rip Audio Compact Discs the RIGHT Way

Everybody knows Compact Discs (CDs) store audio digitally. Digital recordings may not be perfect representations of the original analog signal1, but at least the bits read off the disc are guaranteed to be exactly the same every time it’s played. Well...no, not exactly. Errors due to dust, scratches, imperfections, etc. result in errors. It’s true that audio CDs perform some level of error correction, but they don’t guarantee that the output will be error-free. Nevertheless, we would like to extract the digital data without error when ripping the audio from a CD. I’m going to provide my list of tools and process that helps ensure the best results.

1. The output analog signal from the D/A converter and low-pass filter is indistinguishable from the original analog signal as measured by the human ear. No, your ears are not special. You can’t tell the difference and you’re deluded if you say otherwise.

Ripping the CD

Most copying programs make no attempt to detect nor correct digital read errors for audio CDs. Human beings can’t detect most of these digital errors, so it’s understandable that not many people are aware that their rips have been compromised. That’s precisely why the red book standard allows for imperfect reconstruction of the original audio.

The tool I recommend is Exact Audio Copy (EAC). I’m not going to delve into how it works, nor will I provide an explanation of how it tries to ensure an accurate rip has occurred. You can read about that stuff on its website under “Basic Technology.”
  1. Put a new, unscratched audio CD in the drive. This should be a store-bought CD, not a CD-R.
  2. Click EAC, Configuration Wizard. Follow these directions to configure EAC: https://wiki.hydrogenaud.io/index.php?title=EAC_Configuration_Wizard. EAC needs to be configured for your particular CD/DVD/Blu-ray reader. This is important since it will use “Burst modes” instead of the preferred “Secure modes” by default.

    EAC Drive Options screenshot.
  3. Do not configure an encoder. We will not be encoding audio files through EAC. Ripping an entire audio CD should be done by creating a CUE/IMG of the disc.
  4. Insert your audio CD in the drive and run EAC.
  5. The program should display all the tracks. Depending on how EAC is configured, it will not show the disc nor track titles.

    EAC disc track output screenshot.
  6. (Optional) Click the little CD icon to attempt to identify the disc. This will connect to various CD database servers and load in the disc and track titles. It’s not necessary, but it makes the output easier to read.

    EAC disc track output screenshot.
  7. Click the IMG icon. A window will pop up for you to choose the directory you’d like to save the CUE and WAV files.

    EAC file output screenshot.
  8. EAC will extract the audio. It will beep when it’s done.

    EAC extract audio data screenshot.
  9. There will be a report provided showing the results. Hopefully, the audio will be verified by Accuraterip, too.

Converting to FLAC/MP3/OGG

I use Foobar 2000 along with an external command-line encoder to do the conversion from the CUE/WAV files to individual tracks. EAC could be configured to perform this operation, but I prefer Foobar 2000 because it adds ReplayGain metadata to the output files.

Foobar 2000 needs to be configured to point to the encoder executable. I recommend the LAME encoder for MP3 files: http://www.rarewares.org/mp3-lame-bundle.php.
  1. Open Foobar 2000 and drag the CUE file from a File Explorer window into Foobar 2000. All the tracks will appear and begin to play. Press the stop button to stop playback.

    Foobar 2000 track screenshot.
  2. With all the tracks selected, right-click on the selection and convert to whatever format you desire.
  3. A file explorer window should pop up when the conversion is complete showing you the files.

    Foobar 2000 file output screenshot.

Tagging and renaming the files

There are many programs that can edit audio file metadata, but my favorite by far is Tag&Rename. It can scrape the album and track information including the CD artwork from Amazon and has advanced methods for file-naming based on the metadata. It’s a tad expensive, but ultimately worth it.
  1. Open Tag&Rename and browse to the directory where the audio files are located.

    Tag&Rename file screenshot.
  2. Highlight all of the files to be modified.

    Tag&Rename scrape screenshot.
  3. Click on the icon to scrape data.
  4. Search for your album and find the closest match. If an acceptable match isn’t found on Amazon.com, try one of the foreign sites or discogs/tracktype.
  5. Ensure the results match your tracks. Click the “Write Tags” button to apply.

    Tag&Rename scrape screenshot.
  6. You can also rename your files based on the “File name mask” settings.

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