I started ripping all my CDs this weekend. I decided I'd had enough of the grab a few, play 'em, re-file 'em schlep I've always gone through before. Being able to share everything on my home network and get to whatever music I want with a few button clicks is the way of the future, baby... As soon as you dive into it though, you realise it's not a simple job. What software to use, what encoding formats, what bitrates, decisions, decisions.
I've ended up using a nifty Linux command-line tool called abcde (A Better CD Encoder), which is a really simple front-end for really awesome pieces of software like cdparanoia and lame - tying in CDDB lookups, naming, tagging, the lot. One or two config file settings and off you go with a simple
Cdparanoia rocks in that it seems to do a really good job of "repairing" otherwise shaky tracks. A few of my CDs have been "sensitive" (polite way of saying poorly manufactured or succumbing to rot) and almost unlistenable on most CD players. Cdparanoia's done a decent job of constructing an error-free digital copy of the CDs, and I can listen to them again. The most frightening part is looking at the diagnostics as cdparanoia works its way through audio CDs... I'm amazed that they work at all!
The other major decision is what encoding format to use. With some of these damaged/dodgy CDs, I've encoded the files in flac, a lossless (and free) format which is an exact copy of the digital data on the CD itself. These "masters" can then be used to create mp3 or other "lossy" formats for normal listening. It would be great to keep everything in flac format and know that my CDs are fully backed up, but at a few hundred megs per CD, my hard drives will be overflowing in no time. The downside is that I'll probably want to redo all of this again some time (when terabyte disks come standard with new PCs), but I'll just treat that as another chance to amble down memory lane in the future :-)
For most of my (healthy) CDs, I've encoded them to mp3, using lame's default VBR presets. My ears aren't the greatest, nor are my speakers, earphones and sound card, and most sites suggest that the defaults are near-enough to CD quality for most plebs, so that's what I've relied on.