If you’re a music fan, you probably have several DVDs of concerts by your favourite artists. And you may want to listen to the music from these DVDs, say, on your iPod.
In many cases, the ‘soundtracks’ of concert DVDs aren’t commercially available (and even when they are, you already own the DVD, so why pay twice?). Why not rip the audio yourself, and make your own live album from those favourite DVDs?
We’ve discussed recording audio from different sources on your Mac in the past. This method captures the audio playback from an application on your computer (using DVD Player, for example) into a file that you can edit, chop up, and tag. While you could use this method, it requires that you play the entire DVD while the application runs on your computer.
If you’d prefer to pull the audio files off your DVDs instead, there are several ways to do this. Some are a bit complex but here’s a method that’s worth trying, which is relatively quick and easy.
Start with the latest version of HandBrake (www.handbrake.fr), the free DVD-ripping and video-conversion tool. HandBrake requires that you also have VLC media player (www.videolan.org/vlc) installed on your Mac, which contains the libdvdcss library for circumventing copy protection on DVDs.
A word of warning: DVD-ripping is a legal grey area – even when you own the original version. It’s technically illegal in the UK, but no one has yet been prosecuted, as far as we’re aware.
Insert your DVD and launch HandBrake. Select the part of the DVD you want to rip; it’s usually the longest title, or the main feature. But for DVDs with several features, you can rip each one individually if you want.
In the Presets Drawer, choose Regular > Normal. Then, under the Video tab, make sure Constant Quality is selected and move the slider all the way to the left to 0 (if you’re only ripping the DVD to get its audio, the video quality is unimportant, so the smaller the file size the better).
Click the Audio tab, and choose the track you want to rip next to Track 1. If there’s a 2.0 audio track, use it – it has already been professionally mixed down to stereo so will be better quality. If there’s only a 5.1-channel soundtrack, you can use that instead.
Although you can’t choose to export only audio with HandBrake, you can make use of the audio track that it includes in your video output
Choose AAC (CoreAudio) under Audio Codec, Stereo under Mixdown, Auto under Samplerate, and 320 under Bitrate. Finally, under the Chapters tab, make sure Create Chapter Markers is enabled.
Click the Start button and let HandBrake get down to business. Since you’re ripping the video at the lowest quality, it should take less time than a high-quality rip. When HandBrake has finished, download Monkeybread Software’s free Extract Movie Soundtrack 2.0 (payment requested; www.monkeybreadsoftware.de).
This small app exports the audio from a movie file in AIFF format. And if your ripped file has chapters in it, the app can even export each chapter as its own AIFF file. If that’s the case, it’s a simple matter of adding your tracks to iTunes, tagging them, and converting them to your format of choice (such as AAC or MP3).
Rip audio using QuickTime Player 7
Another option is to open the video file that HandBrake produced with QuickTime Player 7. Note that this isn’t the version of QuickTime Player that comes with Snow Leopard’s QuickTime X – you won’t have QuickTime Player 7 if you did a standard installation, so you may need to go back to your Snow Leopard DVD and install it.
Choose File > Export, and then choose Sound To AIFF in the Export menu. This is why you set HandBrake to use the highest bit rate: as with the Extract Movie Soundtrack step of this process, it’s best to export the audio as AIFF, and since you’ll probably want to reconvert the file to AAC format later, you want to keep as much of the file’s information as possible.
Click the Options button. In the Sound Settings window, make sure Linear PCM is chosen for Format, Channels is set to Stereo (L R), and the Rate is 44.100. Render Settings should be set to Best, and Sample Size should be 16 bits – using a different sample rate may cause distortion or hiss.
Click Save to save the file. QuickTime Player 7 will strip the audio from the video file, and save it in uncompressed AIFF format.
If you used QuickTime – or if Extract Movie Soundtrack didn’t split all the tracks of your music the way you’d like them to be divided – you’ll probably want to split your recording into separate tracks. You can do that with the free Audacity (www.audacity.sourceforge.net), but it can be a bit fiddly – a much easier program to work with that performs a similar function is Rogue Amoeba’s Fission ($32 [£20], www.rogueamoeba.com).
When you open the AIFF file you have a few options for adjusting your file. The first is to select Tools > Smart Split. The app then tries to figure out the track breaks – and you can adjust factors such as the silence length and sensitivity settings to fine-tune the process.
However, sometimes – particularly if the DVD you’re ripping is of a live concert, where there’s lots of applause and shouting between tracks – Smart Split might have trouble identifying where one track ends and another begins. If this is the case, you can manually look for the spots where the waveform is flatter.
To do this, first click the Split icon in the toolbar, and then click the spots between tracks in the waveform. Where the transitions between tracks are difficult to spot, you may need to play the music in Fission to find the best place to split tracks. Save the changes, and you’ll have AIFF files of individual tracks.
Where’s the specialist software for this?
As a side note, there are a number of programs that claim to rip only a DVD’s audio to different formats – and we tried out several of them. Unfortunately, most of them didn’t work reliably in our tests. In fact, several of them actually appear to be the same program, ported from Windows and packaged in marginally different interfaces.
As far as we could discover, at the moment there isn’t a genuine, made-for-Mac program out there that can rip audio from a DVD to your iTunes, and we wouldn’t be able to recommend any of the apps we tried.
So although the method we’ve outlined above uses a couple of different apps and may look rather fiddly, it’s the best way we’ve come up with for extracting audio from your DVDs – for now at least.
NOTE: At the end of 2011 The UK Government made it legal for us to make copies for personal use of our media, but that didn't mean it was legal for people to break the DRM that makes it difficult to rip DVDs. According to the government report: "The supply and use of equipment to circumvent technological measures is therefore illegal in UK and European law in recognition of the damage it can cause."