How to Work With Audio CD .CDA Files

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Digital Audio CDIf you view the contents of a music CD from Windows, you'll see that it contains a number of .CDA files each corresponding to a song track. (CDA stands for Compact Disk Audio)

I regularly get letters from subscribers asking why can't they just copy these files to their PC rather than first having to rip them to .WAV, MP3 or other music files.

It's a good question with a simple answer: there are no .CDA files on a CD. In fact, from a Windows perspective, there are no "files" at all.

A music CD differs greatly from your hard drive in the way information is stored.

Computer hard drives store data in concentric rings called tracks. In contrast, music CDs store data in a continuous spiral starting from the inside of the CD and ending at the outer edge of the CD. Kind of like a vinyl LP in reverse.

The format of the data stored on CDs is also quite different; it's a continuous stream of raw digital data rather than a collection of individual files.  

The reason the data is stored in this strange way is the music CD format was developed in the late 1970s long before the age of the home computer. CDs were designed to be played by specialised CD players and at that time nobody even considered that one day they would be played on a computer.

So what are .CDA files that you see on a music CD when you place a CD in your computer's CD tray?

These files are created by the Windows CD driver. They are simply representations of the CD audio tracks and are not actually on the CD.

Each .CDA file is a kind of a pointer to the location of a specific track on the CD and contains no musical information. CDA files are all 44 bytes in length and each contain track times plus a special Windows shortcut that allows users to access the specific audio tracks.

So if .CDA files contain no musical information, what happens if you "copy" a .CDA from an audio CD to your hard drive and then double click it?

If the CD is still in the drive then the corresponding track will play from the CD. If you remove the CD you will get an error message. That's because the .CDA file contain no music, it only points to where the music is located on the CD.

To work with music tracks on your CD you need first to convert them to .WAV, .MP3 or another file format that computers understand. That's what a CD ripper does and that's why you must use a ripper before you can work with your music files on a computer. Simple as that.

The good news is that you don't need to buy a CD ripper as you can find some excellent freebies here:

http://www.techsupportalert.com/best-free-cd-ripper.htm

And if you want a free ripper that can handle both CDs and DVDs then check out this list:

http://www.techsupportalert.com/best-free-cd-dvd-burning-software.htm

But what about DVDs?

The DVD format was developed in the computer age so DVDs contain regular files just like those on your hard disk. That means they can simply be copied from the DVD to your computer.

So why do you need a DVD ripper?

The reason people use a DVD ripper is usually to remove copyright protection so that the movies or files on the DVD can be played on their computer.  DVD rippers also commonly allow users to change video format and compress the data so the videos or movies can be played on the small screens of smart phones and tablets.  

In other words CD and DVD ripping programs do rather different things:

CD rippers convert the raw digital data on music CDs into files a computer can read. They don't have to worry about copyright protection as most music CDs are not copy protected.

DVD rippers are designed primarily to copy files from the DVD and strip out copyright protection in the process.

If this is sounding complicated then rest easy. Combined CD/DVD rippers usually do both these things without you having to worry too much about it.

Gizmo

 

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Comments

If you are a Linux user, check out "abcde".
An outstanding CD ripper with all the bells and whistles.

I'm not complaining about where the links go. It's just that the sentence before the second link says it's supposed to be pointing to CD - DVD rippers, not CD - DVD burners. Is there a link to CD - DVD "rippers?"

The link for CD - DVD rippers in your article is actually for CD - DVD burners. Is there a better link?

The links go to their correct destinations: Best Free CD Ripper and Best Free CD-DVD Burning Software. MC - Site manager.

Some rippers will let you rip a CD as one continuous track. I usually use "Audacity" (also found on Gizmo's) to do what I want, but you can use other free applications. Audacity enables you to cut and splice as well as edit the "metadata" (the text that your player displays). If you only want to change what is displayed, then a "metadata editor" is probably the best choice. If you want to play with the audio (convert to .mp3, .flac. etc., equalize, change sound levels, add effects) then a "sound editor" is what you need. Note that you can also change the track order with a metadata editor. There's a lot of freeware out there, but as usual, it's a mishmash and you will likely have to apply some smarts to do what you actually want.

One other confusing and aggravating thing is that "strings" and "integers" are not ordered the same. Integers will be ordered as: 1, 2, 3, ...9, 10, 11, ...19, 20, 21 etc. Strings will be ordered as: 1, 10, 11, 12, ...19, 2, 20, 21, 22 etc. Metadata is a string. Perhaps a reader knows of an application to fix this problem. The only way that I know involves writing custom code. Any good player ought to recognize track numbers as integers when playing. Song names will be considered as strings.

I guess you can rip to one track but then loose ability to play sections by choice so it is still in the playback area where sometimes you pick the segment but if listening to the album/movement it can playback without gaps.

To solve the sorting I get the metadata to zero prefix the number - 01,02 (or even in once case 001,002) so it can sort by string and get the numbers right too.

It also highlights a big failing when converting from CD to "digital". If you play a CD you get a continuous audio signal, there are special break points so you can hit tracks if wanted.

When you convert you get a number of separate files based on those CD tracks. Now in many cases this is fine but if the CD is live concert or especially classical music where a long movement maybe split into smaller segments playing back can be a real pain, you need a way to seamlessly play back without gaps, jumps or other hiccoughs.

Now there maybe players out there that will do this but this fails if you put the files on a stick and playback on a "device" (car radio). But is there even software players that can spot if two tracks played consecutively should be "joined" at an audio level.

Hi, is there any way when using windows media to create music CDs (with WAV files) I can actually add track names that show when the CD is used? At present all you can see on say a car CD player, is Track 01 Track 02. I am using a CD with the WAV files on as the original master then making duplicate copies, all of which just say the same.?

When converting vinyl to .wav then converting .wav to .cda, why is the original sequence of songs/music never kept?

Hello 'Gizmo Richards',

Thank you so much for explaining this topic. I now finally understand what those friggin' CDA 'files' are on my CD.

Also, the ensuing discussion about how MAC and Linux treat these files was most interesting, and informative.

Thanks again fo writing such an informative article!

Best regards,

~Antonio