If you're new to MP3s and digital audio in general, "ripping" is the techno-babble term for taking a song on an audio CD and turning it into a digital audio file (an MP3 or other audio file format like AAC) which can be played back on computers, Digital Audio Players like the iPod, smartphones, tablets, and even some DVRs and game consoles.
While there are many software utilities for ripping CD audio to your PC, Apple's iTunes software is my recommended solution for most users because of its speed, ease of use, and free distribution. And if you're an iPod, iPhone or iPad user, iTunes makes getting the music from your audio CD collection onto your device about as simple as it can be.
In this tutorial, I'll take you through the iTunes music ripping process in three simple steps.
Step 1: Tell iTunes What You Want
Before you begin ripping CDs with iTunes, it's important that the software knows what type of audio files you want to create from your CD tracks. There are several types of audio files with various benefits and deficits, but the format most of us know is MP3. To set up iTunes to create MP3 files, open iTunes and browse to the Edit > Preferences menu from the main toolbar.
From the General tab select the Import Settings button:
This is where you tell iTunes to rip audio tracks to the format you prefer.
In the Import Using drop-down menu, you'll find a list of the audio encoders iTunes includes. Selecting the "MP3 Encoder" tells iTunes you want to rip audio to the MP3 format, a somewhat dated but widely compatible audio file format. AAC is another popular audio format that's supported on most modern devices, including the iPod, iPhone and iPad, and is likely the best choice for users of newer hardware. Apple Lossless creates large, but very high quality audio files best suited for audiophiles or archiving. AIFF and WAV are not recommended for most users.
For the purposes of this tutorial, I'll select the "MP3 Encoder."
In the Setting menu, select your preferred audio quality. The "kbps" suffix stands for kilobits per second. The higher the number of kilobits per 1 second of audio, the more data is packed into the file, making for a truer, higher-quality audio experience. If you rip songs to MP3, I recommend the 160kbps or 192kbps setting. With higher bitrates, your music will sound better, but higher bitrates also mean larger files. Ripping is often a battle between size and quality.
If you use the AAC format, I recommend the iTunes Plus setting which is 256kbps, though - at least in theory - AAC audio files should sound better at lower bitrates than MP3 audio files.
Once you've set the preferences as you want them, click OK and go back to the main iTunes screen.
Step 2: The iTunes Import CD Function
You've now set iTunes to rip audio in the format (MP3, etc.) and quality (192kpbs, etc.) you want. So let's get started transferring audio from a CD to your computer's hard drive.
With iTunes open, place an audio CD in your computer's optical drive (CD/DVD). iTunes will scan the CD, download available track information from the Internet (if you're connected), and prepare to rip the audio tracks from the disc using the parameters you specified in Step 1.
After scanning the music CD, iTunes will display the title of the CD on the left side of the window and the audio content of the CD in the main screen to the right (you must be connected to the Internet to automatically get CD and track names). A new button will also appear in the lower right-hand corner of the iTunes window labeled Import CD:
A checked blue box to the left of each track name indicates that the track has been selected for ripping. If you don't wish to rip the entire CD, check only the songs you wish to rip. I'm copying only three songs from an old Matchbox Twenty: Yourself of Someone Like You CD, so I'm only checking the boxes next to those tracks:
After selecting your tracks, click the Import CD button in the lower right-hand corner of the iTunes window:
Once you click the Import CD button, iTunes takes over, automatically running and completing the ripping process. It's best that you not use your computer during this time, particularly if your computer is more than three years old.
Step 3: Locate & Manage Ripped Audio
When iTunes has completed the ripping process, the audio tracks will have been copied to your hard drive and automatically show up in your iTunes Library under Music:
Since the ripped tracks are now in your iTunes Library, you can play them in iTunes or drag-and-drop them directly to your iPod or iPhone. If your iPod is set to automatically sync with your iTunes music library, the new songs will be transferred the next time you sync.
But, what if you don't have an iPod and need to use the files with another program? Or perhaps you want to merge the newly-ripped audio files with your existing MP3 and/or AAC collection? To do that, you'll need to locate the files on your computer's hard drive.
The first step in locating your ripped tracks is checking to see where iTunes is storing them. By default, this location is C:\My Documents\My Music\iTunes\iTunes Music\Artist\Album. For example, in my case, the three ripped audio tracks are stored in C:\My Documents\My Music\iTunes\iTunes Music\Matchbox Twenty\Yourself or Someone Like You\:
If this is not the location your files were ripped to, you can find the location in iTunes by clicking Edit > Preferences > Advanced (tab) and selecting the General sub-tab. The storage location for ripped and purchased music is shown here, and you can also change the location if you prefer another:
Copying songs from your audio CDs to your computer, and eventually to your portable music player, is an excellent way of having what you want to hear whenever and wherever you want to hear it. If you prefer other MP3 jukebox music software, like WinAMP, you can also easily add your newly ripped files to its playlist once you know where the MP3 files are stored.
If you're an MP3 devote, I encourage you to experiment with more modern audio formats like AAC; AAC files will play on your PC, Mac, iPod, iPhone and iPad, along with the majority of newer music hardware on the market. MP3 is still the most widely-compatible audio format, but AAC is catching up.
If you want to copy a large number of CDs to your hard drive and sort the songs out later, use the Import CD and Eject feature. In the Edit > Preferences > General tab, select Import CD and Eject from the When you insert a CD drop-down menu (thanks, Don!). This setting will keep you from having to sit at your PC and confirm each rip; each time you insert a music CD while iTunes is running, it will rip the entire CD, add the songs to your library, and eject the disc automatically.
Apple updated iTunes to version 10 in September 2010. The logo changed, support was added for Ping - Apple's social music network - and there were slight changes to the user interface. While the screenshots shown above were made using iTunes 9, there doesn't appear to be any difference in iTunes 10 which makes it necessary to update the screenshots. If you run into any problems following the screenshots above using iTunes 10, let me know and I'll have them updated.
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