Best format for Music?

I want to take my collection of music CDs and put them on a hard drive and listen to them from the HD. I want to have it in the best quality possible, to match the high end sound system it will be listened to.
What is the best format that I should use? And how would I convert the CD to this format?

Who is Participating?

[Product update] Infrastructure Analysis Tool is now available with Business Accounts.Learn More

I wear a lot of hats...

"The solutions and answers provided on Experts Exchange have been extremely helpful to me over the last few years. I wear a lot of hats - Developer, Database Administrator, Help Desk, etc., so I know a lot of things but not a lot about one thing. Experts Exchange gives me answers from people who do know a lot about one thing, in a easy to use platform." -Todd S.

.Wav files are highest quality, but MP3 at 320bit rate will give you your basic CD-quality sound. dBpoweramp Music Converter is great utility, and windows media player lets you rip music right from the CD. has many converters, many of which are free. Just make sure they are not simply trial versions.

Easy CD-DA Extractor - Works great for ripping cds!
FreeRIP - Another great music ripping tool.
4Musics Multiformat Converter - converts many sound files.
Jess31Author Commented:
Thanks for your reply.
So if I rip a CD to MP3 320 bit will that be the same quality?
I have windows media player - would I be better off with one of the others?
And does it matter which ripper I use, is one better/quicker than another?
Yup, just pop in the CD, and in Windows Media Player you should have the option to choose MP3 as a format to rip from. Give it a shot first! The others are good to, but you might just save some time. I uploaded a picture, please note I have set my Windows to look like 98 cuz I'm oldschool, this is Windows 7 with the current Windows Media Player.
Learn Ruby Fundamentals

This course will introduce you to Ruby, as well as teach you about classes, methods, variables, data structures, loops, enumerable methods, and finishing touches.

DBPower Amp is a beast, but it's 40 bucks. My friend is a DJ, "Blackhat Karaoke" and he uses it. If Windows isn't high quality enough for you then that is the bee's knee's. It converts all audio formats and has options even more compressed and better sounding than MP3, but I think once you hear 320bitrate you shouldn't notice a difference.
The speed of your CPU really determines the speed of ripping. It has to process all the data and convert it, so I would say if you have a decent PC then most of the applications will run about the same. Just so you know, to get into the options of windows media player simply right-click at the bottom of the player, it will give you a drop down box, select tools, then options.
If you want BEST QUALITY, you want something "Lossless".  CD Audio is 44.1khz, stereo, 16 bit samples per channel, or:
44100 (samples/sec) * 16 (bits per sample) * 2 (channels - L/R) = 176400 bits per second, or 22050 BYTES per second, which is 1323000 bytes per minute.  It doesn't matter if the CD is silent or random white noise - It will ALWAYS be the same number of samples per second, because it's not compressed.

Before music was compressed, programs like PKZIP and RAR were programs invented to compress executable programs and data.  These computer programs and data must decompress and be EXACTLY the same as the original source data.  Try to tell someone that you "aproximated" their bank balance because the data was compressed won't fly, so data is ALWAYS compressed with a scheme that is "lossless".

When MP3 was invented, it was based on the fact that you can save a LOT of space if you aproximate the waveforms, but assume that you dont need to reproduce them EXACTLY 100% correctly.  PEople will RARELY notice the difference between a good quality MP3 and the original CD.  That being said, MP3 can be recorded at any number of different quality settings, and if you start getting down to 96k/second, you're going to start hearing the difference.

Personally, I consider myself pretty anal about the quality of music, but I am perfectly happy with a high-quality MP3 file rather than using a "lossless" codec for my audio.  Most audio amps that you're going to put the music through will have capacitors and R/C circuits / high&low pass filters to  filter out the top and bottom edge frequencies, and to clean up any unwanted harmonics anyway, so different systems would sound different anyway.

SOME people prefer to have "Lossless" codecs anyway.  THese are codecs that you can feed a .WAV file into, and it will compress it like a .zip file, however it will be in a format that can be played directly by a music player, and will decompress on the fly to the exact digital data that was originally compressed.

If you're going to be picky about it, It's probably worth reading a bit about the different "Codecs"  (Code/Decoders) which are the software programs that convert to/from different file types.  A good site for this is:

NOW that you have a bit of education about the formats, I'd recommend that you do some testing on your own, with your own systems..  THings that might influence your final decision might be your system speed to encode to different file types, how your system sounds with different file types, and/or how much space you can save by compressing to different formats..  Typically I can get 10 to 1 compression with a good quality MP3 and not know the difference...  lossless codecs might be 2:1 or 3:1.

As far as choosing software, at this point, I think it's CRAZY to pay for any ripping software.  iTunes is available for MAC and PC and does a great job, for either lossy MP3s that sound great, or you can pick from 4 other formats, including .WAV and "Apple lossless".  iTunes will also store the album artwork and figure out what album it is as it rips (converts) the CD to whatever you pick.  If you're Anti-apple, then the Windows media player does most of that too, but personally I'm an iPhone user, so iTunes works best for me.

Good luck, and just out of curiosity, let us know what format you pick, after you hear a couple samples...  Just make sure you pick a high quality MP3 to compare.. like 256k or 320k...  Afterall, remember you're comparing to the CD's native 1.3MB/minute, so no matter what, you should be getting plenty of compression!

Experts Exchange Solution brought to you by

Your issues matter to us.

Facing a tech roadblock? Get the help and guidance you need from experienced professionals who care. Ask your question anytime, anywhere, with no hassle.

Start your 7-day free trial
Dave BaldwinFixer of ProblemsCommented:
You should consider getting a sound card with an optical connection that will work with your stereo.  That will prevent ground noise problems that you can get if you use copper connections.  Computers are electrically pretty noisy and it can show when you connect them to other equipment.
I don't think it's crazy to purchase a high quality encoder/ripper if you have the money to do so and would like to support the programmers who create such applications, although there are many free tools out there. As far as quality goes, the difference between lossless WAV and standard MP3's at 320bitrate is pretty negligible compared to the size difference.

Getting technical with MP3's can be tricky because there are many formats. Lame, Helix, Fraunhofer IIS. I usually go with LAME, Constant Bit Rate CBR at 320kbps, 44.1 KHz, basically CD quality sound at half the size.

I don't know exactly what Windows encodes and rips at, it's probably either constant or variable which means it may jump around quality-wise, someone here could probably elaborate further on that.

If size is not an issue, Flac is another possibility, but it is large and can become complicated. The sound quality is great though.
I would not go with the stand alon out of the box windows encoder.

Defiinitely the WAV would be the best and most raw format to work with. Space may be an issue as each song can be 50+ MB depending on length. As far as fidelity goes that depends on what type of a system you are blaring. The lower mp3 files of course wont work but anything above 320/Kbps should be sufficient unless you want to blare this to an audience of a big music venue or night club. Even then that compression rate should be OK. not perfect but not distorted.
It's more than this solution.Get answers and train to solve all your tech problems - anytime, anywhere.Try it for free Edge Out The Competitionfor your dream job with proven skills and certifications.Get started today Stand Outas the employee with proven skills.Start learning today for free Move Your Career Forwardwith certification training in the latest technologies.Start your trial today
Digital Audio

From novice to tech pro — start learning today.