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Old 07-24-2006, 04:00 PM
Damion Chaplin
Contributing Editor Emeritus
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Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 1,097
Default Ripping the Perfect MP3 With Exact Audio Copy

Ripping MP3s from your CDs can sometimes be a daunting task. Daunting enough that people are often willing to use the first program they find, which is usually supplied on a disc with their digital audio player. I know I was in the same boat until I found Exact Audio Copy, a powerful CD ripping program available for the price of a postcard. The difference was immediately clear and I never went back. Unfortunately, while EAC is a fantastic program, it is a program written by Andre Wiethoff, a student in Germany, and therefore, is still (and likely to be for a while) in beta. There's no documentation to the program, and guides and tutorials are scarce. So while I raved about this fantastic new program I found, and recommended it until I was blue in the face, the majority of my friends and family were unable to use it. I decided to write a guide: this guide. By following it from beginning to finish, you will learn to use one of the most powerful CD ripping programs available. I encourage you to try it out, even if you don't think you need to. You may be as surprised as I was at the difference.

When I first started ripping my CDs to MP3s (wow, over five years ago), I didn't know anything about the various ripping programs, CODECs or really anything about digital music. Digital music was still relatively new at that point, and I was actually the only person I knew who even knew what an MP3 was. So, not having any sort of direction, I bumbled around on the Internet, trying to find a program that would 'rip' the music from my CDs and convert them into MP3s. Thus it was that I stumbled across dBpowerAMP Music Converter, in version 3 at that time. It boasted the fastest ripping times available. Looking at my large CD collection, I realized that sounded like a good idea to me.

Unfortunately, it was a classic case of Haste Makes Waste, and I was dismayed to find pops and crackles in the MP3s I encoded, especially near the beginning of an album. I found myself having to meticulously clean each CD, and often had to re-rip a CD as many as five times before I got a satisfactory encoding. Since I was still new to ripping, I bulldozed ahead, not realizing that better alternatives existed, eventually ripping as much as 60% of my CD collection.

Years later, I was turned on to Exact Audio Copy. In what seemed like a direct challenge to the way I had been thinking previously, EAC offered the most accurate (and slowest) ripping available. Well, of course I had to take that challenge. It was, admittedly, a complicated setup, and, in fact, I had to be shown how to do it the first time. Thankfully, it only needed to be done once, and the results were well worth the effort. How worth it? Well, let's just say I've never had to re-rip a CD since I started using Exact Audio Copy. Each and every MP3 I rip using EAC is perfect (or at least as perfect as a lossy compression scheme can get :wink. Excited yet? Here's how to do it:

First you'll need to grab yourself a copy of Exact Audio Copy. Get the Windows installer version. While you're out there, you'll also need to pick up LAME MP3. Just to be safe, download the copy labeled as 'stable' (version 3.96.1 as of writing time).

First, launch Exact Audio Copy's installation by running the file you just downloaded. It will take you through the normal installation questions (yes, I want to install it to Program Files; yes, I want to create a Start Menu shortcut, etc.). When you reach the final screen, uncheck the 'launch Exact Audio Copy' box before clicking Finish. Next, unzip the LAME encoder file you downloaded earlier into the Exact Audio Copy folder, found in Program Files. Before proceeding, grab yourself a clean factory-pressed CD.

Begin Installation.

Finish Installation.

Extract LAME files.

When you launch Exact Audio Copy for the first time, you will be presented with the EAC setup wizard. Click Next and you will see the CD-ROM selection window. Here it will list the optical drives installed in your system. If you have multiple drives, they should all be listed here, and you can have EAC configure each of them or just one of them. You may want to do some experimentation to see which drive will get you better results, but as a general rule, more expensive, higher-end drives will give you better results than cheaper, bottom-of-the-line drives (e.g. a Plextor DVD burner will have better reading capabilities than a no-name CD-ROM). We'll concentrate on a single-drive setup here. Make sure the drive you want to use is checked and click Next.

On the next screen, Extraction Preferences, make sure the button next to 'I prefer to have accurate results' is checked and click Next. If you own a name-brand drive, EAC will likely have its configuration data in its database (it did in my case), in which case, the data will be displayed in the next screen (Feature Database). For the purposes of this article, we'll pretend I don't have a drive that's in the database, and we'll have EAC try to detect the features for my drive by clicking "I don't trust these values…" and clicking Next. The next window will inform you that it will now test your drive. Insert the CD you grabbed earlier and click Next.

After a minute or two the Feature Results window will appear showing the results of the test. Unsurprisingly, the results of my test matched the known features of my drive described in the database. Click Next to see a "Congratulations!" message, and Next again to finish the drive configuration.

In the Encoder Configuration screen, make sure "Install and configure the external LAME.EXE compressor" is checked and click Next. EAC will then attempt to locate LAME on your hard drive. Take my word for it that it's much faster to click Cancel and Browse to the Exact Audio Copy folder (it will default to it). Double-click the lame.exe file to take you back to the LAME Configuration window. Click the radio button for "Use LAME standard settings", make sure "Let EAC create ID3 tags" is checked and click Next.

The next screen is the freedb Configuration screen. Enter a valid email address here to allow EAC to check freedb for the CD contents and automatically fill in ID3 information in the MP3 files you will create. Click Next.

The final screen in the EAC Setup Wizard is the most essential. In the Done screen, make sure to click "I am an expert, let me use the full potential of EAC" and then click Finish. The wizard will close, and you'll see the main EAC screen for the first time. Go ahead and remove the CD you tested with from the drive (you might want to keep it handy to do your first rip with). We're halfway there folks!

From the main Exact Audio Copy window, click the EAC menu and select EAC Options. Click on the General tab.

Make sure "On unknown CDs, automatically access online freedb database" is checked and selected. You may or may not want to have EAC eject the CD when it's done, if so, check that option at the bottom of this screen. Note that EAC by default disables Windows autorun for CDs while it's running. Nice.

Next, click on the Filename tab. Here is where you can, using tokens, specify how EAC should label each MP3 file as it's ripping it. Each person will have their own preference as to how their files should be labeled. My preference is %A\%Y - %C\%A - %N - %T, which corresponds to Artist\Year – Album\Artist – Track Number – Track Title, and tells EAC to create a folder with the Artist's name, a folder inside that named with the Year and name of the Album (separated by a dash), and to place each MP3 in that folder, naming each file with the name of the Artist, the Track Number and the Track name (again, all separated by dashes). Confused? It took me a little bit too. In our example, the first file created by EAC would be \The Mars Volta\2005 – Frances the Mute\The Mars Volta – 01 – Cygnus….Vismund Cygnus.mp3, and each subsequent MP3 will be placed in that same folder with a new track number and title.

Once you've told EAC how to label your files, click on the Directories tab. I recommend creating a base-level folder called "Ripped Music" on your hard drive and telling EAC to always rip MP3s to that directory by clicking the "Use this directory" button and Browsing to that folder. Click OK to exit the EAC Options window.

Back in the main EAC window, click on the EAC menu again and select Drive Options. Ignore the little warning dialog and click OK. In this window, make sure "Secure mode" is selected. I would recommend unchecking "Drive is capable of retrieving C2 error information" if it's checked, just to avoid future complications. Click OK to exit that window.

Click on the EAC menu again, this time selecting Compression Options. In this window, click on the External Compression tab. This is the tab where you'll spend most of your time, if any, configuring EAC in the future. In this tab you can specify which external compression scheme EAC will use to rip your CD to. EAC is capable of ripping to many different formats – any you'd ever wish to use in fact – provided you install the proper CODEC. In this article, we're concentrating on creating MP3s, but really this guide could be used for any format.

We've already told EAC during installation where to find the LAME MP3 compressor, so just make sure that the LAME MP3 Encoder is selected in the Parameter passing scheme drop-down box and that the path shown to it underneath is the same \Exact Audio Copy\lame.exe you specified earlier. Next, select the Bit rate you wish to use. For greatest cross-compatibility, a file that any device can read, I recommend ripping at 256 kBit/s Bit rate. This will give you near-CD quality and a universally-accepted file. Make sure "High quality" is selected and "Add ID3 tag" is checked and click OK. Almost done!

Finally, select freedb / Database Options from the EAC menu. Make sure your email address is listed in the Your E-Mail address field and click the "Get active freedb server list" button. After a brief moment while EAC contacts freedb, you'll be back to the freedb / Database Options screen. Click OK to exit that window.

Wow, can you believe all that? Well, thankfully it's over and now the ripping fun can begin, and it is considerably easier. Insert a CD to rip. Exact Audio Copy will immediately attempt to identify the CD using freedb. EAC will then use the information obtained from freedb to label the album and each track.

Click the MP3 button on the left-hand side and sit back. Remember, Exact Audio Copy is not fast, and that's the point. By going slow and steady, EAC carefully reads, copies and verifies each bit that it extracts from the CD by comparing it to the original. When it encounters an error, it will re-read (and re-read) the trouble spot until it gets a good copy or rejects the CD as unreadable. I've seen EAC get good copies from deeply scratched CDs that other ripping programs would choke on. I've used it more than once to save a CD that was recently damaged.

The first thing EAC will do is extract the audio data from the first track into a .wav file on your drive. The speed of this will depend on your drive, but again, don't expect it to be fast. For those OCD types, EAC kindly displays the running information as it extracts.

Next, EAC passes the .wav file to the external compressor, in this case the LAME format. The LAME encoder then transcodes the .wav file into an MP3. The speed of this step will depend on your processor. It was reasonably fast on my machine.

When EAC is done ripping the CD, it will sound a tone and "Audio Extraction Complete" will appear in the extraction dialog. Click OK and EAC will present you with the ripping log. Here you can see just how good of a copy EAC was able to get from the CD. In my case, Peak level never dropped below 100%, and track quality was never below 99.9%. Very nice.

Well, now you've done it. You've created your first perfect MP3s with Exact Audio Copy. It wasn't that bad was it? Keep using Exact Audio Copy and you'll never need to re-rip a CD again.

Not a fan of MP3? Rather rip your CDs to WMA, OGG or even FLAC? Don’t worry, EAC can do all those too! Recently I've been using it to rip CDs to the WMA Lossless format and it works just as well for that as MP3.

Now that you know how to make the perfect MP3, I encourage you to share your new knowledge, and this guide, with your friends and family. Just don't blame me if they realize they need to replace their whole collection! :wink:

And don't forget to send Andre his postcard!

Damion Chaplin is a graphic artist and digital media connoisseur who's very annoyed that 'Audi' is in the spell check dictionary.
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