We've already shown you how to rip your Blu-Rays and encode your videos, but what of you CD junkies? Ripping your extensive Oasis collection might seem old hat these days, but we'll show you how to breathe new life into your digital archives, and make your songs sound better than ever. Cast aside your MP3s and other lossy formats — today, Tested's taking you lossless.
Trimming all that extra data comes at a price, however. The further an audio file is compressed, the less of it's original signal is retained. This sort of compression is considered lossy. Frequencies are squashed, silenced and altered in such a way that the resulting audio only approximates the original sound. Yet, to the average human ear, the difference is indistinguishable.
For that reason, MP3s are great for regular use. They're easy to encode, convenient to play, and work on practically every music player on the market today. But as good as MP3's may sound, they're still copies, and inaccurate ones at that. For real archival purposes, and true CD-quality audio, you're going to want to go lossless.
Unlike most common formats, lossless codecs compress audio data without sacrificing quality. Decompressed, a lossless audio file is an exact replica of its source, making it the perfect archival and storage format. After all, we're not trying to fit our music collections on 20Gb drives anymore -- these days, we've got terabytes.
Just because CD's are growing obsolete doesn't mean the quality we expect from them should too. A surround-sound system is nothing without good audio, and audiophiles know and MP3s won't cut it. If you want the best from your music collection, we're going to show you how. Mac or PC, here are some of the best ways to turn your CDs lossless.
Apple Lossless files are encoded using iTunes, and the process is much as you would any other CD. Before choosing to import, change the import settings to Apple Lossless Codec — then rip. The process is identical on both Windows and Macintosh computers; for regular iTunes users, there isn't an easier way to go lossless.
FLAC, or Free Lossless Audio Codec, is arguably the most well-known and widely used of today's lossless formats. Everyone from the Beatles to the European Broadcast Union have used the format, and for obvious reasons — it's free, open source, and dead-simple to use. Unlike Apple Lossless and WMA, FLAC is completely cross-platform, with builds available for Mac, Windows and Linux. Some device manufacturers even support recording FLAC audio natively, handy for both broadcasters and bootleggers.
Sadly, there's no cross-platform encoder just yet, but the process is incredibly easy.
Max is one of the most powerful CD ripping applications for the Mac . Comparison ripping, comprehensive error checking, and an obsessive number of output formats make it a valuable tool for the avid music junkie. Insert a CD and select an output format the application's preferences -- in this case, FLAC. You also have the option to adjusting the compression process for smaller sizes or faster speeds. Hit encode, make some coffee, and revel in your newly ripped album.
Growl support is a nice touch, too.
Winamp, Windows users? It's still around, and a fairly competent media player, too. Besides supporting a swath of formats, Winamp also supports the handy ability to encode a number of different audio types -- including FLAC. Change the output format using Winamp's CD rip settings, make some more coffee, and watch your music encode. Speed and size adjustments are available here too, as well as tagging and metadata support.
Windows Media Player is built-in to Windows, after all. Change your format to lossless via the player's rip settings, and proceed as usual.
Finally, while encoding lossless audio is easy, it's playing it back that's the challenge. Luckily, we know your pain. Here are some apps to make your newly-ripped audio play nicely on your platform of choice.
VLC has a reputation for playing anything you throw at it, and lossless audio is no exception. FLAC, Apple lossless and WMA lossless all play flawlessly in the popular, cross-platform media player, making VLC the easiest way to play your newly ripped music.
Apple's iTunes only supports Apple Lossless format -- right? If you're running OS X, a small application called Fluke could change that. Grab the 0.2 beta and enjoy FLAC audio with the rest of your library. Windows Media lossless need not apply.
Windows Media Player is more than capable to play most formats these days, but open-source codecs are still largely absent. Luckily, a tiny piece of software called madFlac rounds out the player's offerings. The software adds the ability to playback FLACs from your library, though you'll need WMP Tag Support Extender to view track info too. While it may complain at first that the FLACs are unplayable, you can safely ignore the warning and do it anyways.
Using another encoder not covered here? Listening to lossless in a cool new player? Let us know below! Lead image courtesy Flickr user Max ☢.