MP3 is a proprietary format (there is no free ride)
BTW, all these media players have to pay for MP3 compatibility, and it is not cheap. MP3 patents are a licensed property of Thomson SA (France), which enforces in the US, Canada, Japan, and the EU; it is not open source -- you just get it as part of WMP, iTunes, Creative, and iPod products those companies paid Thomson SA for it, and passed the cost on to you.
I find MP3 to be good enough for music at 192 k, but I also find WMA a little "warmer" sounding, and like it at 160 k. I also like AAC at 256 k (iTunes will let you upgrade your 128k AAC files for a nominal fee as those become available), but the standabrd 128 k downloads sound a bit "thin."
All said, I would choose WMA Variable as the best compromise for ripping CDs with best possible quality and smallest possible size. It's not like WMA is going anywhere; it's the preferred format of the dominant operating system, and iTunes can import it.
On my PCs, WMP rips and burns CDs much faster than iTunes, too.
Ogg Vorbis and the other open source formats are cool, and technically superior... but I am unable to tell the difference on a reasonably home stereo (Yamaha CD player with optical to a Sony receiver and Mission UK speakers), so I find the hassle of going "off the reservation" (in terms of the built-in Windows app) not worth it.
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