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I searched Instructables and was mildly amused that there's no tutorial on how to rip CDs (convert audio CDs to MP3s). Plenty of articles on how to remove copy protection systems, but none to do the basic process. I've shown this to many friends who are intelligent, but not really into high tech equipment and they've found it useful.
There are two challenges to converting your audio CD collection into MP3s on your computer and media players – the actual conversion (copying the uncompressed file from the CD to your computer and compressing it as an MP3 file) and labeling the song. The technical specifications for standard audio CDs do not provide a way to identify a song’s name or other information about the song and album. Many modern MP3 players have the capability to display a song’s title and additional information (artist, album, year, and even album artwork if it’s available).
Step 1: FreeDB and Suitable Programs
The solution is an online database of millions of CDs with that information. Clever CD to MP3 conversion programs can generate an almost certainly unique “serial number” for each CD by looking at the length of each track. The odds of separate unrelated CDs having lengths which match is incredibly low. Of course your computer has to be connected to the Internet and your conversion program has to be compatible with the freedb database for this to work.
The key limitation of freedb is most of the data is submitted by users. When a new CD is submitted which isn’t in freedb’s database the user has the option to enter the information for that CD. Users can certainly make typos, enter names in the wrong format, or other inconsistencies. As a consequence when your program queries freedb you may be given several basically identical choices (e.g. “Beatles, the White Album”, “The White Album”, “White Album, The”, or even “White Album – Beetles”).
You cannot download or purchase MP3s from freedb, it’s a database of information about songs, not an online collection.
Freedb is a GNU licensed database and it’s been promised that the data will always be free, even though it’s controlled by a commercial company (Magix) which sells audio editing software.
Magix’s Audio Cleaning Lab is an excellent CD ripping program and is also an excellent audio editor and CD burner. But if you only need to convert audio CDs into MP3s in Windows there’s a free program, Audiograbber.
Step 2: Do It
Audio Cleaning Lab and Audiograbber have very similar menus and use the same general instructions.
Run the program and put your audio CD into your computer’s CD or DVD drive. When the program recognizes the CD its tracks will have generic names (Track 1, Track 2, etc.) But when you hit the freedb button the program will query the freedb database and return the Album’s information. The name of the performers, album name, year, and genre will appear, along with the names of each of the tracks.
At this point you can click Grab and all of the tracks will be saved on your computer in the compressed MP3 format.
Step 3: Final Thoughts
I like to put the MP3 files into a separate folder with the name of the album, but that isn’t absolutely necessary.
Once the MP3s are saved on your computer you can use any program which manages music (iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc.) or just move the files manually. The MP3 songs can be saved on a stand-alone MP3 player, streamed to your home theater system, or any other way you use MP3s.