Rip This, Tag That, Save it This way...What the...

Forgive me of my ignorance. Prior to posting, I did indeed do a pretty thorough search of this site for answers – but I came away with more questions than answers. I will be using EAC to rip my CDs on my PC/laptop (Vista or XP – is one format better?). What is the best file format, WAV, FLAC, or AIFF (is AIFF even compatible with PC?). What the heck is “Tagging,” and what the heck is “Meta Data,” and what the heck do I need to know about EAC (I downloaded it, but I don’t have any instructions with the download – where do I learn how to run this puppy?)

Lots of questions – sorry, but I need lots of answers, and since you guys are so ridiculously knowledgeable, I know I’m in good hands………
here's a good tutorial for setting up EAC:

some people will say that WAV is better than FLAC. others will tell you that FLAC is identical to WAV and therefore sounds the same. FLAC has a few positives over WAV in that the file size is smaller, FLAC offers better tagging ability, and the most important feature (in my opinion) is a checksum error capability.

in other words, if you encode a song to WAV and encode the same song to FLAC, if the WAV get's partially corrupted, it'll still play. if the FLAC gets partially corrupted, it won't play so you'll have to re-encode the file so that there are no errors. this was the best explanation i ever got regarding FLAC's checksum superiority to WAV:

"Corruption just means that a bit or several bits aren't what they should be. It could mean that something that's normally 3dB is now 3.5dB...or 90dB. Typically it's more "brief white noise" like a pop or crack, but technically it could be the whole range from totally inaudible to blatantly obvious.

Nothing is immune to it, but having a checksum in all of your files means you can know immediately when there's any corruption at all. Not having a checksum means you can't really ever be sure."

i'm not familiar with AIFF, but it's my understanding that it is for primary use with apple's and itunes.

tagging is how one enters the meta data. there are several programs that allow you to edit the meta data. think of the meta data in the same way as you might think of cd's encoded with cd-text. the meta data is just the pertinent information about the song file, name, artist name, album name, year, genre, composer, etc...
Thank you Kgturner....You the man!
Regarding EAC - is Express Rip the same thing? That's the only download I see at the site. Once downloaded and launched, I get no set up wizard - it simply launches right into the Express Rip program????
i'm not sure what express rip is. from the eac site, it appears to be a banner ad for another program. i don't know why eac would run a banner for a competing program other than the fact that eac is free and banners generate money.

to download eac, i'd suggest you go to this link:
This is exactly why I appreciate Apple Macintosh.
I was able to download EAC from a different website. You can't download EAC from the EAC website, but you can download Express Rip from the EAC website - go figure.
Do NOT use WAV. There is no standard for how to store the metadata (title, categody, bitmaps, ...) so this is typically stored separately. Many people have experienced losing this data in connection with backup restores or move between systems.

I use iTunes with AIFF since harddisk is so cheap that I don't see a need for compression, but both ALAC and FLAC should be fine too (you can convert either to WAV or AIFF at any point since the compression is lossless).

AIFF is fine on Windows, but not all software will support it (I use iTunes for Windows on my desktop and for Mac on the Hifi).
EAC is a technical solution to verifying that the rip of the CD you drop in your CD drive is exact (mathces a standard) .... not just reproducible

Rather then EAC check out dbpoweramp. This program does the error checking and adds the meta data info that you want. dbpoweramp compares the error correction of the CD's read with a database of that CD and that track... if it matches... its an exact digital copy. If it's not in the database it rescans the CD and compares the two reads and then writes the data to your hard disk... Once a month the chksum info from your ripped cd's are sent to the master database which increases the numbers or adds new info on cd rips to the database. Since you will only have patience to do the ripping once... using an EAC based method makes sense.

Metadata. This is the track, artist, date, cover art info etc that your jukebox or player software can use. Meta data is essential to build a database of your CDs. All music guide is one of the big meta data service provider, dbpoweramp searches three other databases for the metadata and highlights any differences. after 30 days... you have to pay for the AMG service.

FLAC is FREE lossless audio codec. AIFF is Apples proprietary losseless format. Windows has their own lossless format. All these formats are compressed... think of a zip program for audio. FLAC format for PC's is widely recommended. It cuts the file size by half, gives you the error check and works well with the metadata tags.

tagging is the process of merging the metadata info from one of the web providers with the compresssed file of music.
into the archive on your hard disk

XP and Vista handle the music file info in two different ways. Bottom line, with XP you should avoid a kmixer process and this is done with a software package called ASio for all. Which when coupled with a USB DAC gives you high quality digital output. Vista uses a different process and you don't need the ASIO program to get top quality digital output.
The FLAC codec must be added to the windows media player and the metadata tagging program must also be added to get windows media player to work with FLAC files. Other media player programs like jriver media center or foobar are recommended players and also download the FLAC codec.

A critical feature of the media players is their database interface and functions. You should check out a few of them to find a good match for yourself.

dbpoweramp and jRiver were frequently recommended and I like and use both software packages.

Good luck

(I started this process a couple of months ago and sorted out these questions just as you are... Feel free to correct any critical errors.. I can always learn more)
AIFF: Apples Uncompressed format
ALAC: Apples Lossless Compression Format

Pick any format that saves the metadata in the files itself and which doesn't lose data. You will always be able to find a program that can convert to another such format since no information was lost (I had ripped some tracks in ALAC and just asked iTunes to convert to AIFF).