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12/07/2002: CDex [>> Go]

    If you read my last review, then you know about WinAmp, a program for playing MP3 files. I also mentioned some places on the Web where you can download cheap or free MP3 files, but the real beauty of WinAmp and MP3 players (software and hardware) in general is in converting your CD collection to MP3 so that your music is more portable. As I mentioned last time, I ripped my entire CD collection and now they're all stored on my work PC so I can listen to music during the day. Try doing that with 300 individual CDs. CDex is a free program that can convert your music CDs to MP3 files (or ogg files, if you prefer), or convert MP3 files to WAV files, or perform a number of other audio conversions that I'm not really going to talk much about.

    Installation for Windows is pretty straightforward - download the file, and double-click to go through the installation wizard. Once it's installed, pop a CD into your CD-ROM drive and run CDex. Chances are that you won't need any other configuration at all to get started, though you can play around with CDex's settings to change how it works. When CDex finds a CD in the drive, it will try to identify it by calling up one of the Internet-based CDDB (CD database) services. If you've got an Internet connection and the album is already in one of the CDDB databases, then the album name, artist, and all the song titles will appear in CDex automatically. In the rare chance that you've got an album that couldn't be found (perhaps from a local band) or you don't have an Internet connection, you can type all that information in by hand into the main CDex screen. To convert your CD to MP3 files (a process known as "ripping", as in "I ripped my entire CD collection"), you click on the button that has a picture of a little blue CD and the letters "MP3" below it - CDex will take care of the rest. Ripping speeds depend on the speed of your CD-ROM drive, and whether it supports digital audio extraction (DAE, which is a little faster) - in my 32x HP CD-ROM drive, a 5-minute song takes about 75 seconds to rip. Ripped songs are stored in a folder on your hard drive; by default, in c:\My Documents\MP3, with a separate folder for each artist and each album for that artist. You can change where CDex puts these files, whether it creates one folder per artist or one folder per album (or just put all your songs in one big folder if you'd like), and what the resulting file's name is - whether it contains the track number, album name, artist name, song title, etc. Once you've got the file and folder settings the way you like, using CDex is just a matter of inserting a CD and hitting the "MP3" button.

Update 12/31/2002:   When I installed CDex on my work computer, it ran fine but the MP3 files that it created were all completely silent. It turned out that I needed to install the ASPI drivers available for free from Adaptec. Click here to find the most recent version for your operating system. Once I installed the ASPI drivers and rebooted, CDex was able to rip my CDs just fine.

    As I mentioned before, you're not limited to recording to MP3 files, though. In the Options window, you can pick which type of audio encoding you want to use, which includes MP3, Ogg, Windows' WMA audio, and several other audio formats I've never heard of before. MP3 is probably the most common audio type, but licensing issues have caused some people to start switching to the more open (and, so far, patent-free) Ogg format, and WMA files are usually smaller than their MP3 counterparts, but with even more loss in audio quality. It's generally not a good idea to convert from one compressed audio format to another (i.e. converting an MP3 file to an Ogg file); if you decide you'd rather use Ogg after you finished ripping your CDs to MP3, you're better off re-ripping the CDs directly to Ogg instead of trying to convert the MP3 files.

    CDex can also convert all of its compatible audio formats back to raw WAV files, which is what you need if you want to burn an actual CD (one that is playable in a CD player, not an MP3 player). This is useful with services like EMusic.com, which lets you download MP3 files - you can then convert the MP3 back to WAV and use your CD recording software (if you have a CD-RW drive) to make a standard audio CD out of them.

    Finally, in addition to recording entire CD tracks to MP3 or other audio formats, CDex can record just part of a CD track, or can record from your sound card's audio in port (so you can hook up a record player, tape player, or radio, and create MP3 files directly from that external audio source).

    If you're just getting started in MP3-land, or haven't found ripping software you like, definitely give CDex a try. I used to use something else, but now I'm going to use CDex exclusively because it's so simple to use, and because it's free.

©2017 Tyler Chambers