dBpoweramp Music Converter
dBpoweramp is often described as a 'Swiss Army knife' audio tool, ripping and converting to just about every major audio file format you can think of and providing a range of DSP options with which you can adjust the output files, performing tasks such as removing the minutes of silence before hidden tracks or using Replay Gain to achieve the same perceived playback volume across tracks you're adding to your music library (this technique uses metadata and must be supported by the software player or playback device, so it's of limited use with most portable players). The interface is more functional than particularly user-friendly, but it's not a particularly difficult program to get to grips with and it's never less than efficient.
CD ripping is handled by a dedicated CD Ripper module, which has a lot going for it. While it doesn't support FLAC by default you can easily fix that by downloading the FLAC encoder from dBpoweramp Codec Central or installing the optional Reference Codec Pack, and the ripping and encoding process is speedy. With built-in support for multi-core CPUs, dBpoweramp was the fastest ripper on test by a small margin, ripping my test album (Talk Talk's Laughing Stock) to FLAC in under two minutes and to MP3 using LAME in two minutes, 11 seconds. Using the Multi-Encoder plug-in you can rip to FLAC and LAME MP3 or OGG simultaneously, or you can simply rip to FLAC then use the Music Convertor tool to convert your files at a later date. In fact, the Batch Convertor tool supplied with the Reference edition will recode whole folders full of audio files at a click of a button.
In terms of accuracy, dBpoweramp uses a system called AccurateRip, whereby the files you rip are compared with rips of the same file from other people. If your results tally with the majority, then AccurateRip gives you a tick. If not, it does additional passes over the affected track, essentially trying to capture a perfect rip. It couldn't perform miracles on the scratched disk I used for testing, but at least it could alert me to the problems I would hear later on.
Finally, Dbpoweramp uses a system called PerfectMeta to capture ID tags and other metadata for the CDs you're ripping. This calls up data from four different Internet metadata providers - AMG, GD3, MusicBrainz and freedb - and compares them to check for errors, typos and spelling mistakes. The final result should be a composite of the best of all four, complete with album art, where available. PerfectMeta had no problem finding the metadata for the Talk Talk CD, Laughing Stock, bar the album art and year of release.
The only problem is that many of these features are only available if you move up from the free, trial version to the MP3 Power Pack or Reference editions (and even then access to all four PerfectMeta services comes in at an extra $5 per year after the first year). The trial version gives you all the features (bar PerfectMeta), but the additional options, including AccurateRip, disappear after 21 days. Even then, however, you can still rip to FLAC and OGG Vorbis without paying, so if you're prepared to do without MP3 then dBpoweramp remains an OK free tool. To get the best of it, though, its actually worth coughing up.