Exact Audio Copy
Ask on many PC audiophile forums what their CD ripper of choice might be, and you'll frequently get the answer: Exact Audio Copy. Why? Because while EAC isn't what you'd call a novice-friendly, fully-featured or even fast CD ripping tool, it's renowned for its accuracy.
The current version combines the same AccurateRip technology used in dBpoweramp with a technique where the program reads every sector on the CD at least twice to ensure that the correct data has been copied, comparing results until eight of sixteen tries produce an identical read, with dodgy sectors being read up to 82 times. You'll appreciate this if you have a badly scratched disc, because while other rippers will give up on it or just pretend everything is hunky-dory, EAC will keep going back to it like a particularly stubborn terrier until it has made the best job of it that it possibly can. This still wasn't enough to repair tracks on my mangled test CD, but after twenty minutes or so of churning EAC could at least tell us exactly where and how the disc went wrong.
All this accuracy comes at a cost, and that's speed. EAC took 52 seconds longer to rip our test CD to FLAC than dBpoweramp, and took twice as long to rip to MP3. You can switch off the secure ripping options to speed this up, but that rather misses the point of using EAC.
There is one other reason to avoid EAC, and that's that it's very much an enthusiast's tool which does little to make things easy for beginners. It doesn't include or incorporate its own codecs; instead, it rips the CD to a WAV format then calls in an external codec to do the conversion. If you just want a FLAC archive, no problem. EAC will install the FLAC option by default and all you have to do is select the FLAC encoder from the Compression Options menu (EAC > Compression Options). Click the appropriate button on the left of the EAC window and you're away.
If you want to encode to OGG or LAME MP3, however, then you have to go to the appropriate website, download the codec application, copy the .exe file to the EAC program files folder and then set up the options in Compression Options. It's not difficult, but it's the sort of thing that puts novice users off. It's typical of a program that includes some very useful features - including a built-in volume normaliser or the ability to rip selected portions of CD tracks - but hides them in nested menus and innumerable option screens.
Here are some other examples: EAC won't automatically pull album metadata from the freedb database until you go to the General tab of the EAC Options menu and tell it to do so. Unlike dBpoweramp, it also doesn't rip your files to regular artist/album folders. Instead, you just get a selection of files dumped willy-nilly into the folder of your choice. None of this is disastrous, but if you're used to programs that do all the work for you, using EAC can come as a shock.
On the other hand, get used to its foibles and you'll soon realise that EAC is probably the most powerful free ripping tool out there. It can't do simultaneous rips to different formats without automation from even more terrifying plug-ins like WACK or MAREO, but if you're happy to rip and then convert - there are tools and scripts to handle straight FLAC to OGG or MP3 conversions - then that's not a problem. Personally, I'd take dBpoweramp any day for ease of use, ripping speed and features, but there are good reasons why EAC is so popular, and they aren't reasons that more technically minded users should ignore.