A venerable and reliable tool for ripping CDs to FLAC on a Mac is Max. Pick up a copy (it's free) at http://sbooth.org/Max/#download. I'm still using the 0.9.1 version from 2009, and it works just fine on Mavericks and beyond. CDs haven't changed much since then. Other ripping and conversion tools for Mac are XLD and xACT. Any of these will do a great job, and differences are in the details and the interface: they all produce equally good FLAC files.

Let's just choose Max for a deeper description. (If you don't like Max, try one of the others.)

Like most rippers, Max takes two steps to rip and encode files, but they are joined seamlessly so that extracted files are encoded automatically to the format you have chosen.

The first time you use Max, you need to choose some settings:

  1. Ripping. You can choose between fast (and possibly error-prone) ripping or highly accurate (but slower) extraction using cdparanoia. Make your choice at Preferences / Ripper / Ripper. Choose 'Basic ripper' for fast and carefree ripping. Use cdparanoia for your treasured antiques, and problem CDs. In fact I use cdparanoia for everything, as I'm not usually in a panic hurry. There's always time for another cup of coffee.
  2. Encoding. Once the CD files have been extracted, Mac stores them temporarily then converts them to the format of your choice. Make that format choice before you start ripping at Preferences / Ripper / Formats. To set your usual encoding to generate FLAC, just choose FLAC in the lower panel and double-click. You will be asked to choose some encoder settings, but the defaults work for most CDs. If you know what you're doing and want to make some changes to the encoder settings later, just select FLAC in the list then click the Encoder Settings box. Remember that all FLAC outputs are lossless and will play exactly the same. Your trade-off is between encoding speed and file size. You can add multiple formats to the list of output formats: only those with a check (tick) in the box on the left will be used at encoding time. Note that you can select more than one, so you can create FLAC, OGG and MP3 files all at one time (for example).
  3. Output. Decide where you want to store the generated files. You could create a folder inside your Music folder called (for example) CD Rips. You could call it Samantha if you like, but don't blame this website if you can't find your CD Rips when you're getting older.  We call ours CD Rips. Whatever you've decided, go to Max Preferences / Output and select your chosen folder in the Output files field. Files will be saved in the normal Artist/Album/Track folder structure unless you choose something different. With Squeezebox, the folder names don't really matter, because the library is built from tags, not from folder names.

All the setup described above needs to be done just the first time. Every time after, Max will use the same settings, so ripping CDs become quick and easy.

What can go wrong? Not much.

  1. Max uses MusicBrainz for track information. If MusicBrainz doesn't find the track info, or if you don't like what it's found (how can people make spelling errors when the CD is rigth in fornt of them?) then you can use the album/track info from iTunes, which uses a different database. To do this, download the utility called MAXgetitunescddata from here. Unzip it and put the .app file in the Applications folder. To use it, make sure that both Max and iTunes are running and iTunes has downloaded the file information. Then double-click Maxgetitunescddata and the tags will automatically be copied to Max.
  2. If your CD is old and scratched, Max might not be happy. Go to Preferences / Ripper and make sure it is set to rip using cdparanoia. You can increase the number of retries (in the paranoia panel at the bottom) before skipping is allowed. Or you can select 'Never allow skipping'. If then you still can't rip the CD give it a clean with your favorite magic substances and a new microfiber cloth. If it stil doesn't work, buy a new CD. (I've ripped over 1000 CDs using Max and never had one that was not rippable, eventually). Hint - don't use your CDs as beer mats.

Want to try something else?

Also worth a try: XLD and xACT both have their supporters:

  • XLD is described as a "lossless decoder" but, like Max, it can also convert files from one format to another, and had the cdparanoia conversion capability as an option. Highly flexible. Free.
  • xACT is often preferred by people with 'problem' CDs (aka beer mats) because it provides much more logging information than other apps. It also requires each step, ripping and encoding, to be initiated separately by the user, which helps in identifying problems, but may be irksome for some people. Free.
All three apps (Max, XLD, xACT) will do a technically good job. Differences are mainly in the interface, and that can be a matter of taste, and in some technical options.

iTunes? iTunes doesn't rip to FLAC and doesn't have the same level of error correction as Max, xACT or XLD.

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