Ripping and Burning CDs in iTunes Explained

Ripping a CD in iTunes
Ripping a CD in iTunes.

Not as many people use CDs these days as did when iTunes was first introduced, but from nearly its very beginning, two CD-related features have been at the core of what iTunes can do: ripping and burning. These terms are related to each other, one about getting music into iTunes, the other about getting it out. Read more to learn in detail which each of these things is.


This is the term used to describe the process of importing songs from CDs onto a computer, in this case, specifically into iTunes.

Songs are stored on CDs as high-quality, uncompressed files to deliver the best possible sound quality (digitally at least; audiophiles contend that music on CD never sounds as good as it did on record). Songs in this format take up a lot of storage space. That's why most CDs only have 70-80 minutes of music/600-700 MB of data on them. Storing music files that large on a computer or iPod or iPhone wouldn't be practical, though. As a result, when users rip CDs, they convert the files to lower-quality versions.

Songs on CDs are generally converted to the MP3 or AAC audio formats when ripped. These formats create smaller files that have slightly lower-quality sound, but that take up only about 10% of the size of a CD-quality file. That is to say, a song on a CD that takes up 100MB would result in a roughly 10MB MP3 or AAC. That's why it's possible to easily store dozens, or hundreds, of CDs on an iPhone or iPod.

Some CDs use digital rights management, or DRM, which can prevent them from being ripped. This is designed to stop the contents of the CD from being pirated or shared online. This practice is less common today than it was in the early days of MP3s and MP3 players.

If you transferred a CD to your iTunes library, you would say that you ripped that CD.

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Burning is the term used to describe creating your own CD or DVD using your computer, in this case iTunes.

Burning allows you to create your own music, data, photo, or video CDs or DVDs from your computer. While there are many programs used to burn discs, iTunes and Mac OS X's Finder program both have burning features built in. On Windows, you can use iTunes or any number of third-party programs to burn CDs or DVDs.

For instance, if you want to make a mix CD that contains songs from a number of different CDs, you'd assemble the playlist for this CD in iTunes or a similar program, and then insert a blank CD or DVD and record the songs onto the disc. The process of recording those songs to CD is called burning.

If you recorded your own custom mix CD with your computer, you would say that you burned that CD (though the term applies to all kinds of CDs or DVDs you make, not just music).

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