Ripping CDs Without iTunes (on macOS)

By | 2016/10/16

a CD or “Compact Disc”, is a small, shiny round surface containing optically-readable, microscopic bumps used to encode music or data. They are an obsolete technology that existed in the latter quarter of the twentieth century and enjoyed a brief metamorphosis into the DVD (“digital versatile disc”) and Bluray formats at the beginning of the twenty-first century before fading away forever.

Hi!

I recently wrote about my efforts to get iTunes out of my life. It’s going well, thanks, but there was one piece that was still missing for me: ripping CDs.

For most people living in the modern age of streaming music, this probably won’t matter, but for the collectors out there with shelves full of old discs, it might still be important. If this is something you still do from time-to-time, read on.

iTunes is Terrible

Let me reiterate: iTunes is not good software. It is a pain to use, deliberately makes some things difficult or impossible (e.g., dragging music files out of it for copying or transfer to a non-iOS music player) and is bad at its job! In this case, the job I’m referring to is ripping audio from a CD.

Most CD rippers have some notion of error correction. Spinning discs are susceptible to errors picked up from vibration or scratches on the surface. Most good ripping software will attempt to verify what was read to ensure an accurate copy. If they find an inconsistency, they reread the chunk. Easy enough.

iTunes’ idea of error correction is to take an average across the error. Instead of rereading to see what was actually there, it will interpolate a value that makes sense. Apply enough of these smoothing treatments to a copy and you’ve just ruined that carefully-mastered recording. Worse, you have no idea what it’s done.

enter X Lossless Decoder

… or XLD for short. Usually, when I see something with an X prefix in its name, I tighten up in anticipation of a terrible user experience, but XLD isn’t bad at all. It has a bunch of options you probably won’t need and pretty sane defaults. The first time you open it, you’re presented with the preferences screen. Take a look around. The General tab is where you’ll want to select your output format.screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-11-39-00

It’s ok. It’s not that scary. Just go to the file menu, select “Open Audio CD” and you’re in business. It’ll output to just about any format, though I’m still on Apple Lossless because of old habits. It’s fine. Most things can deal with that now.

What’s great about XLD is that when it’s finished ripping, it checks every track against a global checksum. You get a nice report on each track it’s ripped along with an OK/No Good indicator so you know what didn’t get copied correctly. Of course, there’s not much you can do if you get a bad rip short of trying to hunt down a copy of that CD and ripping the bad tracks over again.

X Lossless Decoder.

There’s another piece of software I use for converting between different audio formats.

xACT

Yes, it’s another one of those pieces of software with X in the name. This one stands for (x) “Audio Compression Toolkit”, but I eXpect they want you to pronounce it “eXact”. Pretty cool, guyz. Also impossible to google. There are a number of different pieces of software with these four letters as a name.

screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-11-44-26

It’s pretty straightforward. Just drop a list of files into the Encode list, pick your output format and hit Encode. It has a bunch of other options like checksum validation, splitting and joining audio tracks and a tagging utility, but this is the feature I use the most.

X Audio Compression Toolkit.

Leave ’em a donation if you find these useful.

Next up: Syncing!

(cover image is a Laserdisc, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LaserDisc#/media/File:Laserdisc_CAV.jpg, CCBYSA3.0)

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