Converting DVDs to audio files

A few days ago sylphon mentioned trying to extract audio files from a DVD. I had been thinking of doing the same thing, but really hadn’t looked into it at all. I have a few concert DVDs that I’d like to listen to on my iPod or in iTunes without having to actually watch the DVD. At least for most concert DVDs, the music is still quite entertaining without the video.

sylphon had mentioned trying a program called “DVD Audio Ripper” but said there were some drawbacks with it. Unfortunately there are more than half a dozen programs with “DVD Audio Ripper” in the name. Going through the ones I found, they all annoyed me in various ways. I know that I’m a very picky person (or as I prefer to say, I have very high standards), but some of these programs were really awful.

This kind of takes me back to the mid-90s when digital audio on computers was still a fairly esoteric and difficult thing to do. I remember first hearing about it at the LISA 1995 conference where someone from (I think) Bell Labs was streaming audio between home and work. Sometime after that, I discovered the Fraunhofer mp2 encoder (this was before the mp3 standard was finalized) and a program that could read CDDA off of Audio CDs.

This stuff all came as source code that you had to compile yourself and were all controlled on the command line. I put a wrapper around them so that I could copy the tracks one by one, then it would ask me for the Album, Artist and Track names. This was before ID3 tags were invented, so this information was put only in the directory and file names for the tracks. Encoding a CD would take a few hours, given the CPU power of the time. Playback was also with command line programs. It was, to put it mildly, quite clunky.

Later we got CDDB which allowed us to get Artist/Album/Track info automatically, ID3 tags that allowed embedding that information inside the file itself, as well as improved compression algorithms like MP3, OGG, and AAC. Nowadays iTunes makes it so easy that you can set it to automatically rip a CD after it is inserted and eject when done. All you have to do is keep feeding it CDs. And most computers are fast enough to rip a CD in around 10-15 minutes at most. But it wasn’t until relatively recently that things were so easy.

So these DVD Audio Rippers take me back to the time in the late 90s where GUI based CD Rippers existed but were still limited in features, and clunky to use. One of the ones I tried didn’t even allow you to split things up by chapters, and most of them made things way more difficult that it had to be. A few of them were almost adequate, but not quite.

The critical feature I was missing though was the ability to rip at the native DVD 48khz sampling rate. CDs use 44.1khz 16 bit PCM stereo, while DVDs with uncompressed audio typically use 48khz 16 bit PCM stereo. (DVDs can also go up to 96khz 24 bit sampling, but those are uncommon.) If you’re going to want to put something onto CD, then you’ll want 44.1khz. Otherwise, keeping it at 48khz is better, and most sound cards and portable players support 48khz just fine.

I’m not sure why these programs insist on converting to 44.1khz by default, or why they either ignore it or produce broken files if you set it to 48khz, but the fact is that none of those I tried were able to correctly implement this fairly basic feature.

Then after some more searching, I came across DVD Audio Extractor. This program was fairly simple and straightforward to use, and it produced working 48khz audio files split by chapter without jumping through hoops. My two complaints are that it is a bit slow unless you bump the thread priority up on the encoding screen, and it doesn’t automatically get title/artist/track names. Since there is no CDDB analogue for DVDs that I know of, the latter limitation is certainly not their fault.

One of the really nice things about it is that they let you download a demo that is completely unlocked with all features activated for you to try for 30 days. That’s very generous, compared to other similar products. It certainly makes me feel comfortable that it will meet my needs before I fork over the cash.

I’ve now ripped a couple of concert DVDs, first ripping to WAV, then importing to iTunes, converting to AAC and then adding the title/artist/track info manually. It will also rip to MP3 or OGG format, but I prefer iTunes’ AAC encoding. It’s still a bit of work, but until there’s a central repository of DVD track metadata, this is about as simple as possible.

If you do decide to buy DVD Audio Extractor, please come back and use this link to do so and I’ll get a small commission. (In case you are wondering whether this influenced this review, I was going to write this up anyways but noticed that they have an affiliate program. If you are still worried that I was biased, then try it yourself free for 30 days.)

One thought on “Converting DVDs to audio files”

  1. in my youth, i took a tape recorder when i went to see “the black hole”. i listened to the resulting tape far too many times. later in college i made similar dubs of vhs tapes. i think i still have my bladerunner tape someplace. nice final paragraph, btw. 🙂

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