With Microsoft finally offering a way for Xbox Music users to add their own music to a cloud-based music collection, it’s time to re-examine a golden oldie of sorts: What’s the best way to rip the music you already own on CD to a digital format you can then access from all your devices with Xbox Music?
Granted, many reading this may be wondering what the point is. After all, it’s not 2002 anymore and most people no longer consider audio CDs to be a viable way to consume this content. And … fair enough. But many music fans still have massive audio CD collections—as I do; all my CDs are still boxed in the cellar. And while I do think subscription-based streaming services—Spotify, Xbox Music Pass, whatever—are enough for most consumers, they’re not perfect. They don’t have all of our music—The Beatles are noticeably absent, as an obvious example—and some people simply don’t want to pay every month to access a music service.
I kind of straddle the line here, and I suspect many of you do too. That is, I use Xbox Music because it works on the devices I really use, and I subscribe to Xbox Music Pass and find that it meets most of my needs. But with the recent addition of OneDrive integration, Xbox Music now meets all of my music needs, because it lets me more easily access my own music—especially that music that is not available via Xbox Music Pass and the Xbox Music Store—as well as the music I get through the subscription. It’s a complete solution now.
If you are a new or potential Xbox Music user, be sure to check out Xbox Music Tip: Access All of Your Music from (Almost) Any Device and Xbox Music Tip: Access Your Own Music with Windows Phone 8.1 for more information about using OneDrive to get your own music into your Xbox Music collection. Here, I’d like to focus on the interim piece: you have music on audio CDs and you want to digitize it so that you can put that content in OneDrive and then access it via Xbox Music (or any other service that lets you upload your own music).
So, it’s 2015, not 2002. I don’t buy music regularly on CD, but I do actually buy some music on CD, especially when it’s not available in any other form. For example, when The Beatles album collection was originally remastered about 5 years ago, I purchased them all in CD form. I purchased the soundtrack to the French movie Paris, a personal favorite, which was never released in the US, from Amazon UK. And I sometimes buy CDs directly from artists like pianist David Lanz as well.
But most of my CD-based music, of course, dates back many years, even decades. Though I was exposed to regular CD audio while working at a bookstore in 1987, the first two CDs I personally purchased—a few days before I even had a CD player—were Hysteria by Def Leppard and Desert Vision by David Lanz and Paul Speer. What’s interesting about this music is that much of it isn’t available in digital form, either on Xbox Music or elsewhere.
Case in point: Def Leppard. If you look up this band on Xbox Music or elsewhere, you will discover that only its most recent music is available digitally—thanks, I think, to legal issues related to the implosion of its one-time record company—and that the band has actually re-recorded some of its biggest hits so that it could sell them to fans and otherwise (as in advertising). What this means is that some of this band’s best music can’t be had online. So ripping it from CD is a solution to a very real problem.
So you, like me, have this music and it’s locked on CDs, which seemed pretty darn portable back in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Today, of course, CDs are just inconvenient. So let’s rip them to some high quality, highly compatible digital format and then get that music into the cloud so we can access it from anywhere.
Doing so requires a few decisions: that digital format, of course, and then the software application we’ll use to rip, or convert, the music into that digital format.
Some audiophiles will gasp out loud at this, but my recommendation is that most people will see the best results by using the AAC audio format at 256 Kbps, which is both high quality and highly compatible. It works with Xbox Music, of course, but it also works with Amazon MP3, Apple iTunes, Google Music, and any other service or music application you can think of.
To be clear, this isn’t “perfect” or “lossless,” or whatever. But if you’re listening at home or on the go using phones, tablets, or home stereo equipment, it’s the right compromise. Audiophiles, by definition, know what they want, and don’t need my advice. So let’s not get too bogged down suggestions that you should rip audio CDs into some lossless format (like FLAC) and then re-encode those files as needed into more easily accessed (AAC, whatever) files. The goal here isn’t to spend the rest of your life managing music. It’s to rip the music and then never look at the CD ever again.
My recommendation for the software ripping tool will likewise dismay some. While I’d love to recommend Windows Media Player, which comes free with Windows, I can’t: it doesn’t support AAC, for starters. (Plus, let’s face it, this thing hasn’t been updated in years.) And while I’ll give a nod to Exact Audio Copy because, yes, it can be used to make exact copies (quality-wise) or audio CDs, this is a power user tool that requires a lot of effort to use effectively. And it doesn’t even work with MP3 files, let alone AAC, without an add-in encoder. Which you have to find and install too.
So I’m recommending—please, sit down—Apple iTunes. I know, evil empire, etc. But iTunes, for all its bloat and general unfriendliness to Windows, nailed audio CD ripping years ago, and it works well with the 256 Kbps AAC format I think is preferable for most, provides good album art, and gets the meta data right. Indeed, iTunes is actually set up to rip CDs to 256 Kbps AAC—which Apple calls “AAC Plus”—by default. So there’s nothing to even configure.
(If you want to make sure that iTunes is configured properly, which isn’t such a bad idea, open the application, tap the ALT key to show the menu, and then choose Edit and then Preferences. Then, click the Import Settings button in the default General tab.)
Apple iTunes is pretty quick, and depending on the speed of your optical drive, you can usually bang through an entire CD in just a few minutes. It’s something you can do while you work on other things: just stack the CDs you wish to rip next to the PC and get to work.
Once you’re ready to move or copy that music into OneDrive, just navigate to your iTunes folder. You’ll find the music you ripped in C:\Users\your-user-name\Music\iTunes\iTunes Media\Music by default, and will see top-level folders for each band, with album folders underneath each.
From here, it’s just a simple drag-and-drop to get your newly ripped CDs into OneDrive. You can do so in two ways:
Use a web browser. With Google Chrome—since it’s the only web browser that supports folder uploading—navigate to OneDrive and then into your Music folder. Then, drag and drop the artists and/or album folders you want into that folder. (The OneDrive Music folder will generally be arranged like iTunes, with folders representing artists at the top level and then album inside each of those.) Read OneDrive Tip: Upload Files with Your Web Browser for more info.
Use File Explorer. Drag the folders you ripped from iTunes into your OneDrive Music folder (C:\Users\ your-user-name \OneDrive\Music by default), remembering that if these two folders are on the same drive, a normal drag and drop operation will move, not copy, the folders. (To copy them, you can drag and drop with the right mouse button, or use Copy and Paste.)
In either case, once the folders have copied and/or synced, you can access the music from any of your devices. Again, check out Xbox Music Tip: Access All of Your Music from (Almost) Any Device and Xbox Music Tip: Access Your Own Music with Windows Phone 8.1 for more information. (And delight in the fact that you can now stop using iTunes.)
Regarding the strategy here, I will be using Xbox Music Pass going forward, too, and thanks to that recent Crazy Eddie sale—where a one-year Xbox Music Pass was just $31.41 for one day only—I will be doing so for years to come. So that means I could do examine my CDs and compare them to what’s available in Xbox Music, choosing to rip only those albums I can’t get in the service. Or I could just rip my entire collection (or use previously ripped files) and copy all of it into OneDrive and thus into my Xbox Music collection too.
It’s going to be a lot of work, but I think the latter approach might make more sense. I’ll start with some CDs I know aren’t in the cloud and go from there, however.
And, yes, I expect to hear some complaints about the format and tool used here. Fire away. 🙂
Tagged with iTunes