How to Work With Audio CD .CDA Files


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 or floppy disk drive in the way information is stored.

Hard drives and floppy disks 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 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:

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

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 compress the data or change its format so the DVD files take up less room on their computer.  

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.



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by Juanantoniod on 15. January 2013 - 23:05  (104507)

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,


by lesandre on 7. December 2012 - 23:02  (103428)

My father made a wonderful 4-disc compilation of Christmas jazz tunes that I want to share with my clients. I successfully burned 25 copies each of the first two discs. I then opened a new spindle of blank Memorex CD-Rs and didn't discover they weren't burning properly until I had made at least 40. I was working with Windows Media Player. I tried burning with iTunes. No luck. Because my first batch wasn't problematic on a different spindle of CDs I thought they were the culprit. I just tried burning again, at the slowest possible speed (16x on my computer), on TDK CD-Rs. Same problem. It appears that only CDA files are on the disc, no WAV files, even though I always ask it to burn an audio CD for conventional CD players. I've spent hours reading through forums and cannot determine what the source of my problem is, let alone how to fix it.

I'm running Windows 7.

Thank you!

by MidnightCowboy on 8. December 2012 - 1:24  (103430)

Hi lesandre. Please post your query here in our forum where it will receive a better response. MC - Site Manager.

by rj (not verified) on 23. October 2012 - 12:25  (101221)

thanks man ... rippin worked....

by Parth (not verified) on 20. June 2012 - 9:24  (95147)

This article was really informative and descriptive...It was of great help...Thanks a ton...

by dcara (not verified) on 14. June 2012 - 18:35  (94874)

I have an old cd with 12 music tracks that has been damaged such that tracks 1, 10, 11, and 12 don't play. The other tacks will play. However, when I try to rip either the whole cd or even just one of the playable tracks I get the error message

Windows Media Player cannot rip one or more tracks from the CD.

Any ideas on how I can get the playable tracks off the cd?


by MidnightCowboy on 15. June 2012 - 5:37  (94899)

Sorry but we cannot provide individual support here in the comments. If you register and post your issue here in our forum, someone will help you.

by pianocomposer (not verified) on 12. June 2012 - 1:53  (94715)

If you open them in iTunes, you can save them as MP3s.

by rfaulk on 28. March 2012 - 12:30  (91325)

I need to convert an audio file (mp3) to a format that is playable on most CD players then to convert that file to a nrg format.
We have a network CD duplicator with an internal HD that will only recognize nrg and iso files for copy to a CD. I want to eliminate the need to create a master CD and use the HDD but I need a way to convert our original files (mp3) to the local HD folder then convert that file to a nrg format for transfer to network drive then to CD.

I have Nero 8 Essentials for converting to nrg. I have AVS4You software. I have IMGBurn software.

by Larre (not verified) on 5. November 2011 - 0:01  (82732)

Hi guys. I have a question. A long time ago when I did not know much about computers I copied a bunch of CDA files to my computer as backup, and the CD that they came from got stolen and I have no clue what the names and artists of these tracks are, in fact I cant even play them. Is there a way to hack into a CDA file to extract the song titles that may be in these files, or are this info not on them?

Thx so much :)

by Anupam on 5. November 2011 - 9:18  (82749)

There is no such information in the .cda files.

by Bas (not verified) on 2. October 2011 - 16:21  (80756)

Ok, fellow nurds, I bought a CD, ripped it, chose a few tracks which I liked, now!!! how to burn it back as .cda to play it in my car from mp3.???

Any ideas?

by Anupam on 2. October 2011 - 17:51  (80762)

You need to burn those songs onto an audio cd, or mp3 cd. See here for software which provide such option.

by confused in K-town (not verified) on 5. July 2011 - 12:21  (74786)

Does anyone know if it is possible to reduce the size of a .cda file? I know it isn't the actual audio file on the CD but only a pointer to the actual raw file; however, what I am trying to do is place MORE music on a CD. Is there anyway to compres the raw file? I need to put about 15% more music on the CD. HELP!???!??!??!!????

by rockcrash (not verified) on 22. September 2011 - 7:58  (80094)

You can easily solve this problem without compromising quality! Buy mor expensive 800MB or even 900MB,and you will have 90min & 100min of music respectively, only that the latter is harder to find.

I hope this satisfies your needs.


by garth on 5. July 2011 - 21:54  (74823)

Not that i'm aware of. As far as i know the only way to achieve this is by converting the audio files to another type such as mp3. Alternatively you could use a DVD instead of a CD....depends what you intend to use for playback.

by JoE100 (not verified) on 26. April 2011 - 20:30  (70969)

Thanks alot the Ripper worked

by Lantz (not verified) on 7. December 2010 - 22:36  (62186)

This is absolutely insane! It's the year 2010 and Windows can't see the native audio files on an audio CD?!?
I was just trying to help a long distance client with an audio file on a CD someone sent her. I told her to drag the audio file to her desktop and send it to me. She sent me a "cda" file. Out of curiosity I went to to see what a cda file was and it told me it was a shortcut to the actual audio file. So I replied to her this was not it, and that I needed the "real" audio file. She said there was nothing else. I knew she was using Windows.
So I grabbed an audio CD and looked at it on my Mac and all the native AIFF audio files were there as has always been the case. I've dragged these to the desktop on many occasions to do whatever with.
So I booted into MS Windows on my Mac and looked at the CD from there, sure enough, just cda files. I tried everything to find the real audio files. After being stumped, I came online and found this article. Absolutely amazing, I couldn't believe what I was reading.
Take your troublesome CD to a Mac and see what you've been missing. Shaking head.

by Jojo Yee on 10. December 2010 - 1:42  (62254)

That's interesting Lantz.

If you boot into a Linux system such as Ubuntu, you don't see .cda files from an audio CD either, but a list of files such as Track 1.wav, Track 2.wav,... presented by the default file manager. Each file is about 30-40 MB in wav format and you can copy it to your hard disk with the file manager for play back after removing the CD. No separate ripping is necessary as in the Windows system, which seems to have mystified some users by generating .cda files to point to the raw digital data in an audio CD.

See also Audio CDs, WAV and AIFF, all three using uncompressed pulse-code modulation (PCM) encoding by standard.

by manasavi (not verified) on 11. April 2011 - 18:29  (69999)

I once copied some music files from a cd into my hard drive. i could play them for some time. recently, i loaded ubuntu 10.10 as second operating system. and when i try to play them some of them are not playing. these have extension .cda. this is so whether i see them in win7 prof or in ubuntu. how can i restore them to music files. i don't have the cds as i came to another country after that.

by Anupam on 12. April 2011 - 11:51  (70039)

The files cannot be restored, because .cda files are just pointer to the original files, and nothing else. The original files are still there on the CD, and without the CD, the .cda files are useless, as they are nothing more than shortcuts.

by Mike Moorgen (not verified) on 15. November 2010 - 9:53  (61220)

Previously i used to make audio cd from mp3 files stored on my hard disk.Now when using various software to make audio cd. it only burn cda files on the cd with 44kb.

Please help to get back to normal audio cd, that can be played on any cd player.

Is it a problem in the settings of the dvd writer.


by Anupam on 15. November 2010 - 10:41  (61222)

Please tell us the exact steps you are taking to prepare the audio CD. Also, please mention what program are you using to create the CD. That will help us in solving your problem.

by Mike Moorgen (not verified) on 15. November 2010 - 10:53  (61223)

I use nero 7 , upon inserting a blank cd, i got the pop up to burn cd.Then i choose the option make audio cd. it then prompt me to select the files on my hard disk. then i click on the button next, then the option burn. After it burn the audio cd, i verify it on a cd player unfortunately it says wrong format. Then when checking the cd on my pc , i saw it burn only cda files.

Thanks for your help.

by Anupam on 15. November 2010 - 11:36  (61226)

An audio CD will show .cda files, which are tracks information for the underlying mp3 files. Although the songs will be there internally, yet the files will be shown as cda. The steps you are taking are correct, and the CD should play. I cannot think of any problem with the steps. I hope you are using mp3 files for the audio CD. I think Nero accepts mp3 and wav formats for audio CD, but I am not sure as I dont use Nero.

by Mike Moorgen (not verified) on 15. November 2010 - 12:04  (61229)

Yeah i use mp3 format, but still i get the same problem, although i use different softwares. Should i convert the mp3 files in wave format before burning the audio cd.

Or might it be a problem with the dvd writer.

by Anupam on 15. November 2010 - 12:09  (61230)

I don't think it should be a problem with the DVD writer. Does the CD play on your computer? You can use a CD ripper like Audiograbber to rip the CD and see if it can extract the mp3 files out. This will tell if the mp3 files did get written to the CD at all.

Which other software have you used? I haven't made an audio CD before, so I don't know much about it, although I do have knowledge of CD burning.

If the burning software supports mp3 files(which it should), then I dont think you need to convert to wav files.

Other thing you can try is to make the CD as a data CD, but that will involve numbering the mp3 folders as well as the files inside the folders sequentially. That's a cumbersome task. I have used this method in the past to play CDs, and it worked.

by Jojo Yee on 16. November 2010 - 6:20  (61271)

I agree with Anupam that the steps you took are correct. Personally I use Windows Media Player to burn MP3 to CDs, so far it works well for me.

There're quite a number of factors which can result in a burned audio CD that can't playback well on a CD player, such as whether the burning is 'finalized', the player supports both pressed CDs and burned CDs (CD R/RW), the quality of CDs and/or many other reasons.

More tips here: CD BURNING TIPS: How to avoid making coasters...

by Rmink (not verified) on 2. February 2011 - 17:31  (65711)

Actually the CD's work fine in the Computer they were created on, (pretty stupid) but they will not work in my Car's CD player (2002 Cad. Deville stock)
So, I need CD's that will work on ANY CD player not just windows CD players.

by Sarah J (not verified) on 8. November 2010 - 18:34  (60888)

I copy the track from a cd and paste on my flash drive. There a program that i can used to convert these cda track from my flash drive to mp3 or wav?

Please note the cda track is not on a cd, its on a flash drive.


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