The Basics of Converting Audio CDs to MP3s

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You’ve already got it on CD, and don’t want to have to pay for it a second time to get it in digital format. No problem!

Let me state right up front: as the title of this post says, I’m about to address the BASICS of converting audio CDs to MP3s (also known as “ripping” CDs). While there are lots of software programs and tutorials you can get to provide you with lots of advanced options for organizing, labeling, sorting and converting your music CDs into all kinds of different formats, this post is geared to the person who has a collection of CDs and simply wants to know the simplest, FREE way to convert them into digital MP3 files so the person can listen to that music on computers and portable devices.

So without further ado, let me spell out how someone with a recent-model (say, within the past 5 years) computer that has a functional CD or DVD drive can quickly and easily convert his CDs into MP3s.


Wait A Minute; Isn’t This Illegal?

It is NOT illegal for the legitimate owner of an audio CD to create a backup of that CD for personal use. One method of backup is to simply burn a copy of thhe CD. Another is to convert the CD to digital audio files (like MP3 files, for instance) and store the audio files as a backup.

What IS illegal is sharing or selling those digital files or burned copies.

This rare, out-of-print Poe collection, read by such great actors and musicians as Christopher Walken, Dr. John, Iggy Pop and Gabriel Byrne isn’t even available in digital format. Thank goodness I was able to convert the CD I bought all those many years ago, when it was initially released.


Wait A Minute; Why Do I Have To Convert To MP3 Format Instead of A Different Digital Audio Format?

Well, you don’t really have to go with MP3. But MP3 is the most universally-compatible format for digital audio. It’s the one that you can be 99.9% certain will be playable on ANY device that can play digital audio files.

I’m not gonna lie: there are other formats audiophiles prefer for their higher quality and customization options. But if you’re an audiophile who’s looking to convert CDs to digital files, you shouldn’t be reading a post entitled The Basics of Converting Audio CDs to MP3s anyway. You should already know all about those other options, or else you should be Googling for more information about them.


iTunes Users, Whether You Have An Apple or Windows Computer

Anyone who reads my posts here regularly knows I am no fan of Apple, and iTunes in particular. I’ve made a concerted effort to de-couple my music collection from iTunes, and I’ve written an entire series of posts on the subject of why and how I did it. But for those of you who are still using, and are happy with, iTunes, the process of converting your CDs to MP3s couldn’t be simpler.

1. Open iTunes.

2. In iTunes: Click on iTunes > Preferences > General, and click Import Settings. Note that in versions of iTunes older than 10, this may be on an “Advanced” tab in the Preferences menu. In the “Import Using” pop-up menu, choose MP3 as the default import format. Select your desired quality setting; note that the higher quality level you choose, the larger the file will be. For most users, High Quality is the right choice here. Click OK to save the settings.

You can convert the oldies, too!

3. With iTunes still open, insert your audio CD into your computer’s CD or DVD drive. iTunes will automatically detect it, and prompt you to import it. Click “OK”, “Yes”, or whatever the affirmative answer is in your version of iTunes.

Note that if you’re on a Windows computer, you may also get a Windows Autoplay pop-up; click the red ‘X’ in the upper right-hand corner of the Autoplay pop-up to close it.

That’s all there is to it. iTunes will import the CD to iTunes along with its “metadata” (e.g., song names, artist name, album name).
Windows Users Who Don’t Use iTunes: Use Windows Media Player

Windows Media Player is one of the utility programs that comes pre-loaded with Windows, and it has come pre-loaded with Windows since about the days of Windows XP. So if you’re running Windows Vista, Windows 7 or even Windows 8, and your computer has a functional CD or DVD drive, you have everything you need to start converting your CDs in a few simple steps.

1. Open Windows Media Player. If it’s not on your Start menu, select “Show All Programs” from the Start menu to find it.

2. Insert your audio CD into your computer’s CD or DVD drive.

3. Windows Media Player will automatically detect the CD and offer some new menu options on the main menu bar. You want to select Rip Settings > Format > MP3. Leave all other settings at their default values.

Windows Media Player Audio CD Rip Settings

Click on the image to open a larger version in a new window.

4. Click on Rip CD on the Windows Media Player menu bar to import your CD to Windows Media Player along with its “metadata” (e.g., song names, artist name, album name). Note that the MP3 files will be stored in the My Music or Music folder (depending on your version of Windows) under Windows > Users > [your user account].


Linux Users

What are you doing on a site that’s dedicated to helping and educating the non-tech-savvy? If you’re running Linux, you clearly do not fit into that demographic. Move along, nothing for you to see here.


That was easy, wasn’t it?


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