If you want to burn a mix CD, transfer songs to your MP3 player or simply listen to your favorite albums while you're at your computer, you'll need to transfer the files to your hard drive. Even if you're accustomed to using your CD-ROM drive as a CD player, you'll find that "ripping" (transferring) the files to the hard drive is easier.
The first thing that you'll need is a media player. If you run Windows XP, you already have Windows Media Player on your hard drive. Some people don't like this software: there are plenty of free alternatives. You can even play your CDs through song-download services like iTunes. These are also free, so download and try a few different things to get an idea of what works best for you.
Once you find the player that you like, connect to the Internet and put your CD in the CD-ROM drive. You need to be online so the player can consult Internet databases for artist, track and album information. Otherwise, you'll probably need to manually enter all this information. Being online saves you a lot of time and effort.
Your media player should have a clearly-labeled option for ripping/transferring your files. Before you hit this button, check the program's options menus to find out where the song files will be stored. You'll need this information to transfer files to your MP3 player, burn a mix CD or even add the files to the player's media library in some cases.
There is also the question of sound quality. Newer versions of Windows Media Player have a WMA file type that claims to be "lossless." In plain language, this simply means that you won't be able to tell any difference in the sound quality. The WMA file will sound just as good to your ears as the CD does.
That file type, however, takes up a ton of space. If you have a huge hard drive or a massive MP3 player, you might consider ripping CDs to this format.
Otherwise, you can rip the files as MP3s or WMAs. Go to the program's "rip" menu or screen and look for options. You should be able to tell the program what file type and quality you want.
You should note, however, that not all MP3 players will handle WMA files. This is particularly true of older players and the less-expensive brands that are currently on the market. Read your player's instruction manual to find out which file types the device can handle.
Feel free to experiment with different file types and quality levels. You can always delete the files you don't like and rip that CD all over again.
Once the player has ripped your files, eject the CD and put it away. You won't need the disc again unless your computer crashes or you reformat the hard drive.
Now you can listen to your favorite music without your CDs. Most media players have advanced options such as equalizer settings and playlist editors. Check the software's help files for information on these features. They're usually easy to use and worth the effort - especially if you have a massive CD collection ripped to the hard drive and need some help organizing the songs.