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Why Audio CDs cannot be copied to computer



Well-Known Member
Mar 7, 2011
My friends and colleagues usually ask this question. When they tried to copy an audio CD into a computer, only a link is copied. I tell them you cannot copy ACD directly but need to rip them into mp3, wav, wma etc. formats. I searched the net and found a simple answer to this question. It is posted below:

If you view the contents of an audio 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 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.

An audio 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, audio 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 individual files.

So what are .CDA files that you see on an audio CD?

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 audio files 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 audio files. Simple as that.