When you rip CDs to convert them to music files on your computer, a setting in your music software determines the format used for those files, and the bit rate at which the music will be encoded – roughly, how much the music will be compressed and how the sound quality will be affected by the compression.
If you are familiar with audio on computer, you already have strong opinions about those things. There are endless arguments and many religious schools about what is best. Follow your heart, with my blessings.
But if you have never thought about this and have no clue what I’m talking about, let me give you a couple of gross generalizations.
By default the music software has chosen a proprietary format for your files. You’re not creating “MP3s”! Windows Media Player creates files in Microsoft’s WMA format. iTunes creates files in Apple’s M4P format.
Those formats are designed for copy protection and to protect proprietary rights! WMA files cannot be played on iPods. M4P files cannot be played on any handheld device except an iPod. A check in the wrong box in the software could restrict those files so you cannot freely play them in the future.
The MP3 format is completely generic – everything plays MP3s – and has no file attributes that can be used for copy protection. If your files are in MP3 format, the RIAA and the software vendors are cut off from restricting your use of those files or from demanding more money from you to play them.
By default the music software chooses a bit rate that is too low; the music files are perfectly okay, but they’re not CD quality audio. On a handheld player, that doesn’t matter, but if you ever hook up your music library to the living room equipment, you’ll be unhappy. There’s no reason not to rip your CDs at a higher rate and use a bit more storage space – storage space is cheap and the last thing you want to do is feel compelled to re-rip your CD collection in a couple of years.
CHANGING THE SETTINGS
Every music program can be changed to rip CDs in MP3 format at a reasonable bit rate.
In Windows Media Player, click on Tools / Options / Rip Music. Choose MP3 as the format, and move the slider to 192Kbps.
In iTunes 7, click on Edit / Preferences / Advanced / Importing. Choose MP3 Encoder as the format, and Higher Quality (192Kbps) as the bit rate setting.