Compact discs may be less fragile than your old records, but music purists insist CDs can never match the aura of vinyl.
The sounds of nicks and scratches are part of vinyl’s charm. CDs “were never about romance — they were about function,” Rolling Stone contributing editor Rob Sheffield wrote in January. “They just worked. They were less glamorous than vinyl, less cool, less tactile, less sexy, less magical.”
Yet just as vinyl has been undergoing a renaissance lately, it appears CDs have also hit the comeback trail. Sales of the discs jumped 21 percent in 2021, to $584.2 million, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.
Sure, that’s just 3.9 percent of total revenues for all recorded music formats, but it’s the first increase for CDs in 17 years. Of course, most music aficionados nowadays get their fix listening through Spotify, Apple Music or another streaming service.
While you may not be buying as much — or any — new music on physical media as you once did, many of you have also proudly held on to your old CD collection. And you still listen to the discs on your prehistoric CD player, though CD-capable players are still available from brands that include Cambridge Audio, Marantz, Onkyo, Panasonic, Sony, Technics and Yamaha. DVD and Blu-ray players also can play standard CDs.
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But you may want to convert the CDs into digital audio files that will let you listen on a PC, Mac, smartphone or in the car. Adding tunes to a digital library means you won’t have to schlep physical CDs. Plus, you’ll have a digital backup should the physical disc get damaged.
You can easily do so by ripping, or copying and importing, the music off a CD onto a computer. It’s legal, provided you own the CD and are ripping it for personal use.
You will need a CD or DVD recorder drive or CD burner if there isn’t one already built into your computer — extremely unlikely unless you use an older machine. Fortunately, external USB CD/DVD drives that’ll do the trick are generally cheap, in some cases a little more than $20 — less than you might pay for two new CD music albums today.
Ripping should not be confused with burning, which refers to copying music or other files onto a blank CD or DVD.
Ripping a CD using a Mac
In the absence of a built-in CD/DVD drive, start by connecting an external drive to the computer. Launch the Music app, and from the Music menu on the upper left of the screen choose Preferences.
Make sure the General tab is highlighted. At the bottom of the Preferences window, click the When a CD is inserted pop-up menu. You can choose Import CD, Import CD and Eject or Ask to Import CD. The first option is good if you just want to automatically import the CD, the second if you intend to import a lot of CDs and the third if you want to decide each time. Tap OK after you’ve made your selection.
Now insert the CD you want to rip into the drive. If you selected the Ask to Import CD option, a pop-up asks if you want to import the CD into your music library. On all mainstream albums and many obscure ones, too, the names of the album and individual tracks will be correctly recognized through an online database, though in some cases you may be asked to confirm names if multiple matches are found.
If an album cannot be identified, make sure the Automatically retrieve CD track names from Internet box in Music Preferences has been selected. If the contents are still not recognized or if you’re not connected to the internet, you will see generic listings of Track 01, Track 02 and so on. You can manually change track names later.
Click Yes to continue (or No if you decide to bail).
When you click Yes, the computer begins copying all the tracks that have a check mark next to their name. So if you’d rather live without a song on the album, click the box with the check mark to deselect it.
You’ll see a spinning white circle with a red border while a track is in the process of being copied. A circled green checkmark will appear next to tracks that have been successfully imported.
Click Stop Importing to cancel a job in the middle; any songs already copied will be added to your music library. When you’re finished and all the songs you want have landed in your digital library, click the Eject button near the upper right corner of the Music window to automatically remove the CD from the drive. On some CD/DVD drives, you must press a physical button to eject a disc.
Incidentally, you can continue to listen to other tunes in the Music app while a CD is being copied and imported.
It’s also worth noting that after inserting a CD into the drive, you can tap a CD info button in the Music app window to discover more about an album, including the artist, composer, genre and year it debuted. You can edit the information to fix errors.
If you click the Import CD button in the app window, you can change the format settings dictating how songs are encoded, copied and compressed. Apple goes with a default format called AAC, or Advanced Audio Coding, which the company explains rivals the quality of audio CDs and sounds as good as or better than MP3 files encoded at the same bitrate, referring to the amount of data that goes into the sound files.
In general, the higher the bitrate, the higher the audio fidelity, which you can change in the Import Settings window that pops up. Click on a Setting drop-down menu, choose Custom and then Stereo Bit Rate. An alternate method is to go to the Music pulldown menu up top | Preferences | the Files tab | Import Settings button. Then you can Import Using one of five options in the resulting menu.
But most of you will be just fine sticking with the defaults.
Ripping a CD using Microsoft Windows
As you would with the Mac, insert a CD into the PC’s built-in or external CD/DVD drive. Launch Windows Media Player, Microsoft’s equivalent to the Apple Music app, if it doesn’t open on its own.
Click Rip settings and then Format to choose how music files are compressed and stored. You can pick Windows Media Audio or WMA file, WAV file, MP3 or another format.
If Windows Media Player wants to play the CD automatically, hover your mouse over the right side of the black bar above the album cover. You’ll find a tiny Rip CD icon and a Switch to Library icon. Click on the Rip CD icon, and all will import automatically; the other will give you the options mentioned above and below.
From the same menu, click Audio Quality if you want to change the bitrate. And click Rip CD automatically if you want the player to kick into action to import music when you load a disk. You can also click Eject CD after ripping if that’s your preference.
If you’re satisfied with such settings, click Rip CD at the top of the window to begin ripping a disk. Click Stop rip to pause the operation. Windows Media Player also has boxes similar to the Mac Music app that you can uncheck to leave a song out of your new digital collection.
Keep an eye on the rip status as the files are being copied: You will see Ripped to library after a track has been copied; Ripping with a percentage shown in parentheses when a track is still being copied; or Pending for tracks not yet touched. As with the Mac Music app, most album names, artists and tracks will be recognized by an online database.
Ripped files are copied to the Music folder on your computer unless you change the location by clicking Rip settings, then More options and then adding a new file path under Rip music to this location.
One key footnote for people on the new Windows 11 operating system: Microsoft last month rolled out a redesigned Media Player app that currently doesn’t let you rip CDs, though the company is testing CD functions in Windows 11. Thus, you must rely on the legacy Windows Media Player to digitize your CD collection. To find it, click the Start icon, tap All apps and scroll down to Windows Tools, where it lives.
You may still want to hang on to your old CDs. But digitizing them provides a more portable alternative if you want to transfer some of your music collection to your smartphone so you can listen while exercising or traveling.
New life for old media that you have around the house
Got a box of home movies on VHS tapes? Or a bunch of family photos on an old floppy disk? In our constantly evolving digital world, it’s a good idea to get that ancient media transferred to modern formats. You already have the instructions to transfer your CDs. Here’s the path to save the rest of those memories and that important data.
|What you have||What you need||What you’ll get|
|Printed photos||Scanner||JPG digital photos on your computer or stored in the cloud|
|LPs||Turntable + USB cable (and maybe an adapter) + computer + audio software||MP3s or high-quality WAV, AIFF or FLAC files to play on your computer or phone|
|Cassette tapes||Cassette player + USB cable (and maybe an adapter) + computer + audio software||MP3s|
|Videotapes||USB video converter + computer||Digital video files in MP4, AVI or WMV format to play on your computer|
|DVDs||Computer + DVD drive + video software||Digital files in MKV or MP4 format|
|Floppy discs||External floppy disk reader (and maybe an adapter) + computer||New files on your computer hard drive|
|Source: AARP research|
— Chris Morris
Edward C. Baig is a contributing writer who covers technology and other consumer topics. He previously worked for USA Today, BusinessWeek, U.S. News & World Report and Fortune and is the author of Macs for Dummies and the coauthor of iPhone for Dummies and iPad for Dummies.
Chris Morris is a contributing writer who covers technology and video gaming. He previously was an editor at CNN Money and Yahoo! Finance. His work also appears in Fortune, on Nasdaq.com and on CNBC.