When you want to archive your CD collection, you can just rip the tracks using Windows Explorer or your regular media player. However, the quality of those files will never be as good as the original discs due to errors when data is read, and compression when it’s encoded.
Ideally, archived audio files should be as close to the original CD as possible, with complete and accurate metadata, encoded in a lossless format (usually Free Lossless Audio Codec, or FLAC). This requires a lot of space, the cost of which would once have been prohibitive, but the plummeting price of storage makes it feasible to keep those files as a backup, and make copies for everyday use. You can also encode copies using lossy codecs for playback on devices with limited storage.
This process calls for a secure CD ripper – software that ensures audio files are free from errors by reading each sector of the disc several times, and comparing the results with data collected from other users. There aren’t many of these tools around, and here we’ve picked the CD rippers we’d trust with our own tunes.
Is ripping CDs legal?
Although every Windows PC comes with software for backing up CDs, it's not legal everywhere. For example, in 2014, UK copyright law was changed to make legalize personal backups, but that decision was overturned by the High Court in 2015. Make sure you check out intellectual property law in your country before you start ripping.
Exact Audio Copy
The best free CD ripper for Windows, and perfect if you have time to invest in the setup
Usually we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to free software, with dozens of programs approaching the same task from different angles. When it comes to CD ripping, however, there are only two programs we recommend – one free, and one premium (but still reasonably priced).
Exact Audio Copy is the free option. It takes a little time to set up (audiophile forum Head-Fi has an excellent guide to get your started) but the results are worth it.
EAC employs a technology called AccurateRip, which uses data from users around the world to detect whether your rips are totally free from errors. No CD or DVD drive is perfect, and many will insert periods of silence into audio tracks where errors occur, so this verification is essential for making 1:1 copies of your discs.
EAC can also find metadata for your music from four different sources (complete with album art), rename files automatically, and normalize audio as it's processed. If you have the time to invest, you couldn't wish for more.
Download here: Exact Audio Copy
A premium CD ripper that makes archiving and encoding your music a breeze
Its main advantage over Exact Audio Copy is its clear interface, which helps simplify the process of ripping your discs. Otherwise, it’s very similar; it uses the same AccurateRip technology to ensure your files are as close as possible to the original CD, scanning and re-scanning for errors, and comparing the results with data from other users.
It uses all your CPU cores simultaneously for the fastest possible encoding, and can encode to multiple formats at once, saving you the effort of converting files for playback on other devices.
dbPowerAmp also includes an audio converter, with batch support for encoding files en masse – very useful if you need copies in a different format for a new device, or your everyday playback files have become lost or damaged.
Download here: dbPowerAmp trial
Buy here: dbPowerAmp