Backing up a CD collection on Linux

I must admit that I rarely listen to any music besides Metallica. However, my girlfriend and I have a small collection of dust-collecting CDs which would be much better off digitalized and stored in a computer. To me anything which is on a computer is far more accessible than anything on a plastic disc.

In this post I show how I digitalized my CD collection on Linux (Ubuntu with Gnome) using Asunder and Grip to rip and encode lossless Flac files, and EasyTAG to edit the files’ ID3 tags.

Ripping format: Flac

I had previously read Martin’s post (in Norwegian) about backing up his music collection and I was inspired by some of his choices. Like Martin I wanted a lossless copy of the CDs which could be converted to any other format. I also wanted a format which is open. Therefore, I decided to go for Free Lossless Audio Compression (FLAC). Another benefit of Flac is that the files are smaller than uncompressed wav files. The files are however larger than for instance mp3 files but these are not lossless.

Flac plugins for several media players can be downloaded from the Flac page at SourceForge. As a media player on Windows/Linux I have up until now been using VLC quite a lot. VLC comes with a built in Flac plugin so no extra plugin is needed.

Ripping and encoding tool for Linux: Asunder/Grip

I started off ripping and encoding CDs with Winamp. Winamp is as the name reveals for Windows and it is not open source. It works quite well but the freeware version has a 8x CD-ripping cap. Not that it is a big problem but I wanted to find something for Linux which is open source.

Grip Flac encoder settings
Grip Flac encoder settings

The first alternative I found was Grip. Grip is available through the Ubuntu repositories so installing it is easy. When I fired it up it complained that the flac encoder was missing. This is nothing a “sudo apt-get install flac” can’t fix. I also had to set the path for the flac encoder (see the screenshots above). One is also able to set several options using the flac command line. I left the default settings more or less untouched but you have all the options at your fingertips.

After a bit of configuration I was off to a running start. I decided to use Flac, enable ID3 tags, keep upper case file names and spaces rather than underscores. I guess this is something I am used to after using Windows for a long time.

There is however one thing to complain about. Grip frequently crashes when I am trying to rip certain CDs. I really don’t know why but I think they are CDs with multimedia content as well. This means I can’t use Grip for all my CDs. However, I really liked Grip and if you do not experience these problems I would warmly recommend it.

Edit: The problem with Grip seems to be related to the ID3v2 tags on some CDs and it is already registered as a bug. Turning off the ID3v2 tags was at least a workaround for me.

Sound juicer configurations
Sound juicer configurations

Then I tried Sound Juicer (Audio CD Extractor) which is a simple and easy to use ripping tool. It worked really well, ripped all the CDs I tested, and stored them as Flac. However, it lacked some of the flexibility I want when it comes to customizing file and folder names. It was moreover not possible to create playlists automatically. If you need as simple tool I would warmly recommend Sound Juicer.


The third one I tried was Asunder. This was another simple tool but it has somewhat better file name configuration options than Sound Juicer and it created playlists automatically. It has not crashed so far and it does what it should. The configuration was not as detailed as Grip’s but it had the most important options. I would have preferred to have them all but Asunder actually worked on my computer with most CDs. Ripping and encoding was therefore done with Asunder when Grip did not work.

Another alternative is XMCD but since Asunder was working I did not bother to check it out. This blog entry and this Wikipedia entry suggests a few other tools you might want to check out if you want something else. You may also want to check out one of these guides(one, two)which shows you how to rip and encode a CD as flac using the command line only. This looks tempting since you will get some of the configurability which I miss with Asunder.

ID3 editing tool for Linux: EasyTAG

All of the tools mentioned above contact an Internet database to download information about the discs and tracks one rips. This information is then stored in the flac-files ID3 tag. This is very convenient but the information is unfortunately not always correct and sometimes it is not formated the way you want it. To edit the ID3 tags of a large number of files one will need some tool support because doing it manually is just too time consuming.

EasyTAG user interface
EasyTAG user interface

I have for a long time been using mp3tag on Windows and I am really satisfied with it. It is unfortunately not available for Linux so I had to look for another tool. I found EasyTAG through the Ubuntu repository. Even though the user interface could have needed a overhaul it seems to be doing its job and I decided to go for that. It offers the functionality I need (rename files, folders, and automatically get tags from file/folder names). It is also possible to search an online database for updated tags.

I am sure there are other options but EasyTAG seemed to satisfy my needs and I did not bother to look further.

Future work: media center software, encoding for portable players, and DVD backup

After ripping my CDs I need to first look into arranging the music with a new media player/music library. Next, I need to find something for encoding it in a somewhat more compressed format for portable mp3 players. Then I would like to look into ripping the DVDs I have as well. After building a gaming media centre for the living room I need to put it into proper use.

If you have any hints or comments please leave me a message.


Ripping CDs and DVDs for personal backups is permitted according to Norwegian law. Other countries may have different legislation when it comes to copying/taking backup copies of copyright protected intellectual property like CDs and DVDs. Do not use this guide to copy/spread copyright proctected material illegally.

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  1. Very concise well written guide, I have a small suggestion for your problem with Grip though, run it through the terminal and read the output when it crashes. Could give you a big hint as to why.

    I’ve found my machines completely ignore all DRM on discs so I haven’t run into a problem similar.

    Oh and thanks for the link 😉

  2. Thanks for the suggestion James. I will do that as soon as I get back from work. If I find anything useful I will post an update and perhaps submit a bug report to Grip.

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