Four reasons to rip CDs without iTunes

We recently ran an article explaining How to rip CDs with iTunes. For many people, iTunes is their main music management tool, and using this program to rip CDs fits perfectly with the way they work with their music. But, in some cases, you may not want to rip CDs with iTunes: you may want to rip to formats that iTunes doesn’t support, such as FLAC; you may want to make an “accurate” rip; you may want to rip CDs using a database other than the Gracenote database that iTunes accesses to get information about your music; or you may want to rip audiobooks. Here are some reasons why you might want to rip differently.

1. Get more accurate rips

Many people like to get the best possible rips of their CDs. iTunes does a pretty good job, and its Use Error Correction When Reading Audio CDs option (in the Import Settings areas) lets iTunes perform basic error correction, but to do the best job, you’ll need another application.

If you make an “accurate rip”—verifying ripped tracks against an Internet database—you can be sure that the resulting files are bit-perfect copies of the music on your CDs. The free XLD, or X Lossless Decoder, offers this type of ripping, and compares the resulting files with the AccurateRip database. This slows down ripping, but you’ll have perfect files at the end. Another program, Stephen F. Booth’s free Rip, offers the same feature. (Rip is currently in beta.)

2. Use a different music database

iTunes uses the Gracenote database to provide information about your music: this is where the tag information—the names of songs, albums, and artists—comes from. But other databases, such as FreeDB or MusicBrainz, may have better tags for more obscure music. If you rip with XLD, you can use either of these databases to download tag information before ripping your CDs.

XLD's interface for ripping CDs is Spartan, but it does the job.

3. Rip to multiple formats

iTunes supports ripping to a number of different audio formats, but it can’t handle everything. C7 Software’s $8 Phile Audio offers a number of interesting features. It can convert CDs to the usual suspects—AAC, MP3, Apple Lossless, AIFF and WAV—but it can also rip to FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) and Ogg Vorbis (which XLD can do as well). Like XLD, it can access the FreeDB database, but it can also get track information from iTunes. And it can search for and add album art to your files. But where it stands out is in its ability to rip to multiple formats simultaneously, and even use multiple CD drives, if you have more than one.

Phile Audio ripping a CD.

Phile Audio does this multiple conversion by first ripping the files in AIFF format, then converting them to your selected formats. While this process takes a bit longer than a normal rip, you might want to use this if you want both lossless files for your archives, and AAC or MP3 files to use with iTunes. Or maybe you want Apple Lossless in iTunes for home listening, and AAC files to sync to your iPhone or iPod.

4. Rip audiobooks better

If you rip audiobooks from CDs, you use different techniques than for ripping music; in “Ripping and playing audiobooks” I discuss the issues of file size, format, and so on. But if you rip audiobooks often, one tool that could be very helpful is Roxio’s $100 Toast 10 Titanium ( ). While the cost might be a bit steep just for ripping audiobooks, if you pick up the app to burn and copy CDs and DVDs (or already have it installed), you might find its audiobook ripping feature interesting.

Toast ready to rip an audiobook CD.

Launch Toast, click the Convert tab (the last of the five tabs in the sidebar), and click Audiobook. There you can choose from three different qualities—Good (32 kbps), Better (64 kbps), or Best (128 kbps)—alter the playback speed if the narration is too slow or too fast, and choose to can convert stereo to mono to save space. Insert a CD, then click the big red button to start ripping. Toast presents a Save dialog box, and lets you save multiple CDs to a single file, multiple CDs to multiple files (one file per CD), or a single CD to a single file (if your book is only one CD. You can choose to have the files added to your iTunes library), as bookmarkable .m4b files. It also records chapter breaks for each individual file on each CD. If you choose the first option—multiple CDs to a single file—Toast prompts you to insert the discs in order as it finishes ripping each. The app then stitches the files together, so you have a single file for your audiobook. (iTunes can rip audiobooks CDs, but can’t alter the speed or rip multiple CDs to a single file.)

[Senior contributor Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just Macs on his blog Kirkville. Twitter: @mcelhearn Kirk’s latest book is Take Control of iTunes 10: The FAQ]

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