Exact Audio Copy

A while back I wrote something on dbPowerAmp, a software suite for ripping, encoding and organizing music CD’s. Considering the prevalence of streaming services, especially high resolution streaming, you wouldn’t be alone in thinking CD ripper programs would go the way of the dinosaur. That being said, there are still quite a lot of people who have audio CD’s in their possession, which they’ve purchased and collected over a number of years, and wouldn’t mind having these CD’s transferred to their computers in some fashion.

Even before CD sales declined significantly, one CD ripper stood head & shoulders above all others for its ability to read even severely scratched CD’s. That program was Exact Audio Copy, or EAC. The program was written by Andre Weithoff, a college student in Germany when he tried ripping CD’s with what programs that were available at the time in the early 2000’s, and found them wanting. CD’s that had even the slightest of scratches, defects or other markings would often leave very audible pops, or would cause the programs to crash entirely. So Weithoff set out to create a better one.

Weithoff released EAC on the internet once he realized he had something that could handle all but the most severely damaged CD’s. Once news began to spread about his program, people downloaded it and realized just how excellent it was at allowing them to transfer their music to their computers. And bear in mind, this was when streaming services, such as Spotify, Apple Music, and others didn’t even exist. People were able to listen to their music, even from CD’s that their car stereos or portable CD players couldn’t read due to scratches.

The program itself does require some setup and tweaking, which really isn’t that big of a problem, since it includes an automated setup guide to help get you started. Plus, there are no shortage of sites online that tell you step-by-step how to tweak the program to get the best possible results.

One of the big advantages of the program is its “Secure Mode” which allows it to read damage sectors of audio CD’s. How well it could read them, and the resulting audio was very dependent on the quality of the optical drive reading it, and ripping CD’s with damaged sectors not only increased the time it took to copy the audio to the hard drive, it also stressed the optical drive, sometimes quite significantly on both counts. Which is why for severely damaged CD’s, it’s often best to rip them last, as they can often take hours to allow EAC to completely rip.

Even so, the program allowed for a significant database of optical drives online, showing how well they ripped damaged CD sectors. Several models, such as ones from Plextor and LG consistently made the top of the list of best drives to rip such CD’s, and some have gone out of their way to acquire such drives, to allow them to transfer their audio CD’s to their computers in the best quality possible.

Speaking of, EAC allows for encoding ripped music in the FLAC format, which is perfect for not only archiving music, but allowing people to re-encode their music into any other format, such as MP3. And while hard drives at the time EAC was first released meant that extensive music collections in FLAC format weren’t terribly feasible, now, hard drives are so expansive, they allow for all but the most extremely large music archives in FLAC format. Plus, with the command-line function, you could tweak the size of the files to a certain degree.

In addition, EAC allows for the download and insertion of metadata into the ripped music files’ ID3 tags, including artist, title, release date, and even album art. There’s access to multiple metadata databases, allowing someone to tweak what info is included, and saving a significant amount of time by automatically downloading the information, and either scan the album art or having to scour the internet for them.

This doesn’t mean that EAC isn’t without a few shortcomings. Since EAC is freeware, and Weithoff its only programmer, this means that updates in recent years have been relatively few and far between with version of the program, EAC 1.6, being released on November 11th, 2020. Also, there’s only so much metadata that can be included in the files ripped from EAC. For instance, the release date can only include the year, not the full release date, and things like ISRC codes, MusicBrainz ID numbers, and other info that other rippers can include. This, however, is largely mitigated by ID3 tagging programs such as TagScanner, MusicBrainz Picard, MP3Tag, and several others. These programs, when used once done ripping CD’s, allows people to tag their music with more extensive information, as well as larger album art files.

In short, EAC has in the last 20 years become the gold standard of CD rippers, and when paired with a high-quality optical drive, allows audiophiles with extensive CD collections to have them available at any time for their listening pleasure. And when paired with batch CD encoders to allow people to re-encode their music into other formats, means people can have an amazing listening experience, knowing they got the best possible result from even scratched CD’s.

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