Monthly Archives: October 2009

How to make a high quality MP3

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Making the perfect MP3 is still a challenge. When looking for an MP3 encoder, the software that creates the MP3’s, you’ll find an abundance of programs available. But not all of them get the job done.

In this edition of “make a high quality MP3” we go for encoding WAV files into MP3s using the LAME MP3 encoder. This encoder is widely accepted as the best free alternative for expensive commercial encoders. It’s very fast, it produces high-quality files and has many advanced features.

Unfortunately LAME is a command line utility. To get the familiar graphical user interface, we need a front end. A front end is a piece of software that communicates between you and a command line utility through a graphical user interface. Razorlame is exactly the software to get this done.

Setup is easy. Download Razorlame and extract it to a folder. No additional setup is required. We included a recent version of Lame.

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Now that’s done, let’s see at some basic features of Razorlame. RazorLame should be quite straightforward. LAME offers a great variety of options, so does Razorlame. To find out what an option does, hover with the mouse a few moments over the control and a hint will appear (most of the time).

Encoding settings:

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General:

  • Bitrate:: The higher the bitrate, the better the quality, but higher bit rates create larger files. Also note that not all devices can cope with hight bitrates. I suggest to use 128 kbit for portable devices, 192 kbit for car MP3 players and 256 kbit for archiving. The difference between 256 and 320 kbit is unnoticeable for 99% of the listeners.
  • Mode: Choose between stereo or mono. Joint stereo gives somewhat smaller files, but it distorts the stereo image.
  • Output Directory: Choose between storing the resulting output in the same directory as the source OR point the output to a specific directory.

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Advanced:

  • Optimization: Choose between speed or quality. Quality is slower, while speed results in (somewhat) lower quality.
  • Include CRC Checksum: Check this if you want some protection for bit errors. It makes the files larger. CRC does not protect for large errors, some believe CRC prevents corrupted MP3’s from playing all together, while without CRC the files plays, even when there is some minor corruption. I suggest you leave it unchecked.

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VBR:
Variable bitrate (VBR) files vary the bit rate in function of the complexity of the sounds it needs to encode. The advantage of VBR is a better quality-to-space ratio compared to a CBR, but the encoding is more complex (slower) and the results are incompatible with some hardware.

  • Maximum Bitrate: This is the maximum bit rate a segment can have. If a passage of music is very rich (high frequencies) it will switch to this bit rate during that passage. When the music becomes less complex, the bit rate drops to a lower rate. You can set the lowest bitrate in the general tab. I suggest setting this to 256 kbits and de general tab bitrate to 128 kbits.
  • Quality: When using VBR this setting sets the overal quality/speed, where 0 is highest quality and 9 the lowest. I recommend 4. Look at this table to see the different results for different settigs:
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  • ABR: ABR is variation on the VBR-style distribution of bitrate, but subject to an overrall target bitrate, rater tha an overall target quality irrespective of bitrate. Some hardware isn’t compatible with ABR.

Leave the Expert and Compression tabs as they are for now.

Encoding:
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Let’s encode a WAV file. It’s the kind of files you’ll end up with extracting audio from CD’s. The process is very simple. Just drag & drop the wav file into Razorlame. Then click the ENCODE button. You can drag multiple files to Razorlame.

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There you are. You now have a high quality MP3.

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More info:
jthz.com – How to encode top quality audio-files using Windows, LAME, Ogg Vorbis
www.mp3-converter.com – List of MP3 tools
lame.sourceforge.net – The Lame open source project

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