Ripping Audio CDs in Linux


Ripping is the process of saving tracks from a CD as separate digital files. The recording industry would tell you otherwise, but so long as the files are for personal use, ripping is legal in most countries unless a CD uses a copyright protection scheme that you have to overcome before ripping. GNU/Linux offers several tools for ripping, some specific to the GNOME or KDE desktops, and others more general.

Before you begin ripping, you need to know that ripping in GNU/Linux is complicated by the fact that many distributions do not install by default support for non-free file formats. Since one of these non-free formats is MP3, the most popular format for online music, that means you have to add the support yourself. The details for this task vary greatly depending on your distribution, but you should be able to find detailed instructions online without any problem, such as the ones provided by Ubuntu.

Alternatively, you may prefer to use free formats such as Ogg Vorbis (.OGG). The main drawback to such formats is that they are not supported by every music player. But an increasing number of players do support free formats, most notably the Sansa Clip and Fuze. If you want to use free formats with an iPod, you might consider installing Rockbox on it. But many people maintain that .OGG delivers superior sound quality to .MP3, so you may find that the occasional awkwardness of staying with it is well worth the effort.

Regardless of your preferences, decide what formats to use before you start ripping or open any applications. That way, you will minimize the chances of running into any further difficulties.

Ripping in KDE

For KDE users, the easiest way to rip CDs is through K3b, an application best-known as one of the first and easiest graphical tools for creating CDs in GNU/Linux. In most distributions, you will have to install K3b after installation.

To rip with K3b, insert a CD, and go to Tools -> Rip Audio CD. If you receive a message asking if you want to use Cd-Text rather than CDDB, you can choose either one. Both will give you the same information about the tracks on the CD.

K3b then displays a list of available tracks with all of them selected. De-select any tracks that you don’t want to rip, then click Start Ripping at the top of the list. You are taken to a configuration window with three tabs.

On the Setting tab, set the file format you will use, and the directory for the digital files. The available formats are those enabled on your system, although I have heard that some users have trouble saving to MP3 format.

If you choose, you can also create a playlist using the files. On the File Naming tab, you can set the meta-tags and their order for the file names, and, on the Advanced tab some of the details about how K3b rips. In most cases, only the Settings tab will interest you, but, when you have made all the choices you want, click the Start Ripping button at the bottom of the window. Within about five minutes, the process is complete.

Ripping in GNOME

In GNOME, the most commonly used ripping tool is Sound Juicer. If my experience is typical Sound Juicer is less likely than K3b to detect meta-data correctly (especially track titles) and takes about one-third longer to rip an entire CD.

However, for those who want MP3 files, its greatest drawback is that it does not ship with MP3 support installed. You may need to enable it using the instructions posted a few years ago in the Ubuntu forums, or convert the output in one of the ways listed below.

When a CD is in the drive, Sound Juicer opens on a window that displays the available tracks and–if you are lucky–their meta-tags. If you are unlucky, you may have to add this information yourself, clicking on the track titles to change them. If you are unsure what something labeled Track 8 is, you can use the convenient Play button to find out.

Before ripping, you should also select Edit -> Preferences. By default, Sound Juicer creates a hierarchy of folders with the Album on top, followed by the Artist and Album, but you may want to use an alternative structure. You may want to adjust the file name format in the same way, and select the output format. When you have made any adjustments, return to the main window and click the Extract button.

Other Ripping Solutions

Those who are not working in KDE or GNOME may prefer to return to the basics and use the command line tool cdparanoia. However if you want to stay on the desktop, then a better choice might be ripperx.

ripperx converts only to two proprietary formats–.WAV and .MP3–but has the advantage of a simple interface and a logical work flow. All you need to do is to follow the icons on the top of the window from left to right.

Following this sequence, the first step is to configure ripperx. You can usually ignore most of the tabs, but you will need to set the target directory for files in the General tab. You should also spend some time adjusting the file name format, in order to create a format that will create meta tags for you. ripperx uses a series of building blocks separated by a hyphen to create names for both files and directories, and you may want to note the order for later use.

After configuring, return to the main window, and press the Scan button to enter the meta-data, including the track names. Select the tracks, and either Rip to WAV or Encode (which means rip to .MP3), followed by the Go button. About ten seconds may pass before ripperx begins working, but, once it does, ripping is usually reasonably quick, although the occasional track may take extra time for reasons that are unclear.

Since ripperx does not extract or preserve metafiles, the next step is to open the tracks in a tag editor such as Easytag. This is where your set up of file names comes in handy: by telling Easytag what format is being used, you can save yourself the effort of entering all the meta-tags by hand.

Rather frustratingly, Easytag uses a series of building blocks that is almost–but not quite–the same as the one that ripperx uses, but this is more a nuisance than a problem, since the two programs do not have to interact directly. Select Scanner -> Fill Tags and define the file name format, and Easytag will add the meta-tags as a batch, saving you many long minutes of drudgery.

Format Conversion

Regardless of what ripper or other tools you use, you may want to convert a music file to another format.

From the command line, you can tools such as lame to convert files to .MP3, or oggenc to convert to .OGG format. If you want more versatile conversion between formats, try audio convert.

On the desktop, you can use tools such as gnormalize or SoundConverter in GNOME, or SoundKonverter in KDE. However, gnormalize and SoundKonverter are not packaged by many distributions, so you may need to search the web for packages or source code if you want to try them.

Making a Choice

As with other stages in ripping, the problem with file conversion is not in finding applications, but in deciding which ones will work for you. At times, it seems as though any tool remotely connected with sound has at least some capacity to rip CDs. What I have given here are the tools that I have found to be the most efficient. However, your needs may vary, not just by preference, but by your preferred file format. Fortunately, shopping around for the tools that suit you cost you nothing in GNU/Linux, and you can learn a considerable amount about audio formats as you browse.