Fastest cd ripper hardware?

Self-explanatory. My $79 apple external drive is slower than molasses in January…

Maximum ripping speed is x52, but usually this is (much) lower due to the software used: The combination of reading, doing error correction, comparing to existing signatures (AccurateRip et al) and encoding to the final format (ALAC/FLAC/whatever) all slow down the final rip speed, to about x10-x20.
You can’t go much higher, I’m afraid, and this is not so much a hardware problem.

The faster way is to attach multiple drives and rip in parallel.

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It is the software that determines how fast you rip. Basically, the slower the more accurate the rip because the software re-reads sectors until it is confident the read is accurate.

I assumed the software had something to do with it, but did not realize the mechanism. That makes sense. I guess there’s a rate of diminishing return, what maybe 8 or 16x?

It depends entirely on the software settings. You trade speed for accuracy. While the quality of the drive can have some impact its speed will simply be overridden by the software. I found slackening the software (EAC) to achieve the fastest rips resulted in unplayable first tracks on some CD’s. Good enough for some players but flagged as corrupted by Roon. The priority is a good drive. And dare I say an official Apple certified drive will be a good drive.