In the dark ages, of the late 1990s, ripping compact discs to MP3 was complicated. Dodgy rippers, lousy players, and hand-entered ID3 information ruled the day. But as time progressed, CD-ripping became a standard feature on all of the major MP3 player programs, as did automatic Internet database querying that would fill in track information for you. Today, ripping a CD to MP3 requires virtually no skill at all. Pop in a new disc, and many programs will begin ripping and titling it immediately.
Yet, despite the ease of use, CD-ripping services are flourishing today. Services such as
Ready to Play,
are all vying to rip your discs for you.
Odds are, if you’re reading
online, you’re already fairly comfortable with technology—particularly digital audio—and having someone else rip your discs might seem like an extravagance. Yet for those with very large music collections who want to convert to an all-electronic format, a CD-ripping service can make sense for a variety of reasons.
I’m all done with CDs. Finished. Never again. Today, when I buy a new album, I get it from iTunes, or a subscription service such as eMusic, or AudioLunchbox. Not that all of my purchases are digital, I buy plenty of albums on vinyl, too. But as for CDs; I have as much use for a jewel box as I do a carriage. For a couple of years, now, I’ve been trying to make the transition away from the physical compact disc media.
Yet, as a pack-rat who doesn’t tend to get rid of much, I still have an extensive CD collection dating back to the mid-1980s. Last time I counted, there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 750 of these low-end coasters cluttering up our apartment. Although I’ve ripped lots of them, I haven’t begun to go through them all. And I have so many, that it’s hard to keep them in any sort of systematic order; much less keep track of which ones I’ve ripped and which ones I haven’t. Not only that, but ripping that many tracks is time-consuming. Conservatively, I estimate that it would take me about 100 hours to convert them all to MP3. In other words, I’m the perfect target market for a CD-ripping service.
Although there are a variety of services out there, each with its own particulars, most work in a similar fashion. Ship (or in some cases drop off) your CD collection—or at least the ones you want to convert—and the ripper will rip them all to MP3 and return your discs to you, typically within 48 hours of receipt. Most cost from $.80 to $1.00 per disc. It’s expensive, but it’s also done in less time than I could possibly do it myself.
Quality is another factor. Not only do rippers offer fast, convenient service, but they also guarantee high quality products. Error correction is the norm, rather than the exception. Most will rip audio at the bitrate of your choice—some going all the way up to 224kbps. Think MP3s sound like junk? Shop around and you can find a ripper who will encode your tracks in the format of your choice, be it FLAC, AAC, WMA, OGG vorbis, or WAV.
Finally, almost all guarantee accurate, clean, ID3 tag metadata. No more ripping discs and realizing that they’ve all been assigned improper titles, or have the track numbers listed in the song names. Most also guarantee accurate genre information, but this is puzzling. While most of the music I rip is automatically labeled “rock” or “alternative” in CD lookup databases, I rarely agree with those classifications, and often find myself re-labeling genres as “folk,” “pop,” “indie,” and “classic rock.” Or if you’re predominantly into one genre of music you might want to distinguish between sub-genres, say “be-bop” and “dixieland.” If you like to assign your own genres to music, you’re probably going to have to go back in and re-enter much of that data on your own.
Nevermind that my copy of
Appetite for Destruction
plays just as well today as it did the day I bought it fifteen years ago, CDs degrade. Or so I keep reading. I’m not sure that it’s an issue I should be too concerned with, although. But in any case, the nice people who rip your CDs will also provide you with backup copies of your discs on DVD. This will save you some space in case you want to sell or trash your originals but want to keep something around on physical media in case of a catastrophic data loss.
Of course, the problem with unloading your CDs once you’ve ripped them is that you’ll be violating U.S. copyright laws. Under the “Fair Use” provision, you have the right to make an electronic copy of your CDs for your own use. But once you decide to unload them at your favorite used record store, technically you’re violating copyright laws unless you delete the tracks you’ve ripped as well. Fair or not, it’s the law. So if you’re thinking about having everything converted in one batch as a way to save space—or that you’ll be able to recoup the cost of ripping your discs by selling them, know that you’ll also be violating the law if you do so.
So am I going to be shipping all of my discs off to a professional ripping service? No. At least not anytime soon. If U.S. copyright laws were slightly less burdensome on consumers, or the services cost slightly less, I probably would. Until that time, however, it’s easy enough for me to rip my own music that I think I’ll stick with iTunes.
is a San Francisco-based writer and photographer. His work has also appeared in Macworld, Wired, Time, and Salon.