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Making MP3’s

 

3. Making MP3s

On this page:

DAE Rippers Problems EQ Encoders
Best Encoders Mono Stereo VBR Tapes
Vinyl Naming Renaming ID3 Tags Recheck!

 

[3.0] I want to give something back to this group. How do I make an MP3?First off, sharing is great but don't feel obliged or obligated. If you don't know how to make MP3s or if you don't really have something new or different to post you really have no obligation to upload.

That said, making MP3s from scratch involves a couple of steps.  The first is acquiring the sound file (ripping) and the second is encoding the file into MP3 format.

 

[3.1] How do I get the music into my computer?The preferred method of making MP3s is to do it from a digital source (CD) and capture it digitally (Digital Audio Extraction: DAE).  This process is also known as "ripping".

First off, you must have a drive configured to support DAE. This was more of an issue in the past, very few drives produced in the last few years do not support DAE. Unless you have a vintage computer or older CDROM, the chances are your drive, (be it CDROM or CDRW) will support DAE.

NOTE: Unless you specifically state otherwise, those who download your MP3 will automatically assume that it was digitally extracted from a CD.  If your music source is a tape or vinyl record or something OTHER than a CD -OR- your capture process includes the use of a sound card or other non-digital methods, you really should inform people in your Subject line or in the zero-file of your binary post.  If you do not do this, people will definitely let you know that you should have.

[3.2] How do I determine if my drive and system support digital audio extraction (DAE)?Some software packages will test your system for you.  If you have Easy CD Creator, go to Tools|System Tests|Audio Extraction and run the test. If your software doesn't have a test method you can see if your drive is listed here: http://www.cdrfaq.org/faq05.html

If you are experiencing problems you might also try downloading a utility called aspichck, available from various places. This checks your ASPI layer to make sure it is installed and functioning properly. It is often accompanied by another program called ForceASPI which will install the ASPI layer. A Win95 or Win98 computer can't properly rip digitally without the ASPI layer and many ripping programs will simply default to other methods if the ASPI layer is not functioning correctly.

NOTE:WinXP does not have an ASPI layer installed by default and uses another method. Although you can still rip digitally using many drives and programs, some third party programs will default to using non-digital audio extraction and will produce files that are sub-standard at best. ASPI drivers for WinXP have been released by Adaptec and are easily found, downloaded and installed.

Some programmers and users believe that using the ASPI layer is the best way to get clean digital rips. As with anything else, there are many opinions both ways, these are simply suggestions aimed at hopefully getting you started in the right direction.

More details and download links: http://aspi.radified.com/
WinXP/ASPI: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q;=WinXP+ASPI

 

[3.3] I know my CD drive does DAE, but I'm having strange problems and I can't get it to work right. What do I do?You may be having compatibility problems with a specific piece of software.

Check: http://www.cdrfaq.org/faq05.html to see if there are any software issues with your particular drive.

 

[3.4] My CD drive supports DAE; what do I use to rip audio tracks?There are many different software choices, and each has its pros and cons as well as its fans and detractors.  Current rippers of choice are EAC, CDex, dbPowerAmp, Audiograbber and some others. Regardless of the program you use, current opinion has it that LAME is the best encoder to use. It has been optimized for quality over any other considerations. Some programs, like MusicMatchJukebox for instance, use an Fhg codec and they make perfectly good (some think excellent) MP3s but the consensus right now seems to strongly favor LAME. Your own preference may differ, just make sure you are listening carefully and using decent equipment to play your files back before making any judgements.

Download links for these and other rippers: www.mp3-faq.org/utilities

 

[3.5] Can I encode to MP3 straight off of the CD?Yes. Sort of. Many programs will do this in the background making it seem as if it is being done in one step but it is always being done as CD > wave > MP3. Most "all in one" programs such as MusicMatchJukeBox or even the newest versions of Winamp will do this. Using EAC or CDex it is simple to select "Extract to compressed file" and have it all done at one time. Some folks prefer to extract the wave files and then use a front end (such as RazorLame) or a command line encoder to turn all those wave files into high quality MP3s at a time when they are not using the computer for anything else.

Download links are on the Utilities page. 

[3.6] I've ripped the audio track but the .wav file is messed up.  It seems jittery and has pops or skips.  Why?It could be a number of things. Check your CD. You need a good clean source to start with. If the CD is in good shape, it may be jitter or it may be caused by trying to rip faster than your system is going to be able to or it may be a software incompatibility. Try slowing the process down if you can. Try a different piece of software if you continue to have problems. Read the Help file and see if your software specifically addresses things like jitter and offset (EAC, for instance, does). Spending some time reading the help file can solve a world of difficulties. If you aren't getting good wav rips though, you will never get good MP3s out of them. Keep trying until you find the problem and resolve it.

Some good helpful information and detailed explanations are here: http://www.teamcombooks.com/mp3handbook/15.htm

 

[3.7] I don't like the way the song sounds on the CD because I like more bass.  Should I adjust the equalization (EQ) on the .wav file before making it into an MP3 and uploading it?Please don't.  People generally want to hear an MP3 that is as close to the original CD as possible.  Even though you may feel that something helpful (like normalizing the songs) will make them better, that decision should be left to the final recipient.  If they want to tweak their MP3s, they can do it themselves.  If you have tweaked or adjusted the song before you encoded it, please make that information known when you post it.  See Section [4.9]and [4.10] for more information.

 

[3.8] I've ripped the track to my hard drive.  Anything I should do before I turn it into an MP3?Yes.  Listen to all of your files first.  Before you encode the file into an MP3 and possibly upload a problematic MP3, make sure your source file is clean and doesn't have any jitter, skipping, distortion or unwanted noise.

 

[3.9] I've listened to all my uncompressed files and they sound great, now how do I make them into MP3s?As mentioned earlier the codec of choice right now is Lame. There are a number of programs available to make MP3 using Lame. You can install Lame as the ACM (default) codec. You can use it from a command line if you prefer. You can use a front end such as RazorLame to access it easily if you prefer a graphic user interface (GUI). You can use fuller featured programs such as EAC, CDex, dbPowerAmp, and many others to make your MP3s.

More information on encoding software can be found in Sections [3.10], [3.11]

Information about Lame is here: http://www.mp3dev.org/

More info and download links to other programs mentioned here: www.mp3-faq.org/utilities

 

[3.10] I've heard that not all encoders/codecs give equal quality results.  Which encoder/codec is best?While there is no way to arrive at an absolute answer to "which is the best" the contributors the a.b.s.m.* groups at this time mostly use LAME. There are many places online where you can read technical discussions. Hydrogen audio is one, but the purpose of this document is not to tell you what to do but rather to help you decide what you want to do. In the end, all you can do is either trust your ears or go along with the consensus. There does seem to be more of a clear cut agreement as to which codecs not to use. This site has some interesting information in that regard: http://ff123.net/notrecomm.html

NOTE: Some people (and many journalists) will rank MP3 encoders based solely on their speed. In the a.b.s.m.* groups, audio-quality at reasonable size is by far the most important factor.  When you hear or read information regarding "the best encoder" you should try to determine what factors are being taken into consideration.

The quest for the 'perfect encoder' seems to be never ending.  It seems that certain encoders are better suited for certain types of music and not so much for other types.  There is also a subjective aspect that will become quickly obvious as soon as you post your question in a.b.s.mp3.d.  Check out the Encoders page in the Tips section where we will be collecting (subjective) reviews of various encoders. (Got an opinion? Contribute!)

The bottom line?  Use your ears and do some testing.  A good set of headphones can give you information that a set of computer speakers won't.  And if you don't have the time for that, then ask around in a.b.s.m.d and see what the current consensus appears to be, but always listen to your MP3s before uploading them.

 

[3.11] I don't have a lot of time or patience for testing, which codec do you recommend?LAME.

 

[3.12] What settings?More difficult. As previously mentioned, some people prefer CBR (constant bit rate) while others think that VBR (variable bit rate) delivers on its promise of the best quality at the best overall compression ratio. Whichever you use, don't make the error of going too low or too high. 160Kbps is pretty much the absolute minimum you will ever see requested with 192Kbps much more prevalent. When making VBR files with most programs using Lame you will have many choices. The combinations of parameters are almost endless and can be very confusing to a beginning encoder. The use of the presets (formerly alt-presets) such as preset-standard or preset-extreme will give you excellent quality files with no need to worry any further about parameters. The presets have been tuned at a code level in Lame and will arguably produce results far better than many (or most) of the different parameter combinations you run across. Like anything else, though, nobody but your own ears and your own taste can tell you what is best for you. 

One caveat: If you really think the highest bitrates (224 or 320Kbps or preset-insane) sound that much better and are worth the extra file size then perhaps you should consider checking into lossless encoding where the resulting files (.ape, .shn, .wvc, .flac and others) are larger than MP3 but the quality is exactly the same as the source file. These files are shared in the alt.binaries.lossless groups, not in the a.b.s.m.* groups.

 

[3.13] Winamp tells me that .wav files are 176kbps.  Why don't we just encode at THAT bitrate and get .wav quality MP3s?What Winamp is *really* telling you is that your .wav file is recorded at 178kiloBYTESps and not kilo-bits per second.

This has caused a fair amount of confusion in the past.  When you digitally extract a stereo song from a CD, there are 176,400 BYTES for each second of music.  That's 176.4 kBYTES per second . Noting the fact that there are 8 BITS in each BYTE, you arrive at a BITrate of 1,411,200 bits a second, or approximately 1411kbps.  Remember how a 128kbps mp3 should be ~1/12th the size of the original .wav?  Well 1/11th of 1411kbps is ~128kbps.

 

[3.14] Should mono material get encoded at the same bitrate as stereo material?No. Mono originals only require half the bitrate of a stereo recording to get the same quality. If you encode your Stereo MP3s at 192kbps, then the comparable Mono file would only need 96kbps.

For material with little high frequency content and waves with a 22050 sample rate, 64k is recommended. Some spoken word material with no special background effects can be recorded at a low bitrate without suffering loss of quality. Experiment with Joint Stereo, Mono, and VBR to get a good encode with a small resulting file size.  A useful rule of thumb: do not waste server space or force long download times by recording at too high a bitrate if the source material does not need it. On the other hand, do not allow quality to suffer by worrying only about file size, either.

 

[3.15] Who listens to mono any more?  Shouldn't I just encode my mono songs in stereo?No.  If the original recording was in mono, there is no reason to use stereo encoding which will only produce two identical channels using twice the space.

 

[3.16] What's the Difference between Stereo, Joint-Stereo and Dual-Channel?Well, a lot. There are other types being used now also, MS Stereo, Forced JS, etc. The differences and the technical aspects are beyond the scope of this FAQ. Much discussion is online, try reading some forums like the CDex boards, the Hydrogen Audio forums, the Audiograbber boards or sift through 66,000 Google hits here.

Suffice it to say that for the purpose of sharing your files in the a.b.s.m.* groups the choice of stereo mode is your own but as always, please make an informed choice based on what your ears in combination with a little research tell you. Don't make the mistake of listening to someone else's prejudices that may have been formed before the encoder you are using was developed. Make the best mp3s you can, listen to them to make sure they are the quality you want them to be, and then share them, posting them in sensible, clear and complete posts and you will be making a valuable contribution.

No matter which type of encoding you use, listen to your files before uploading them.

 

[3.17] I've made some MP3s with Joint-Stereo and I think they sound fine, but I'm not sure my $20 computer speakers are very accurate.  Is there a better way to tell if my Joint-Stereo MP3s are flanging?If you have used a recent implementation of Lame or Fhg to make your MP3 then you have little to worry about in this regard.  Some older encoders had trouble with their implementation of JS or joint stereo but that is largely a thing of the past.  Get yourself an updated version of whatever codec you have chosen to use and you should not have a problem.

More importantly, though.  If you have reason to question the quality of your mp3 files then you have reason to not post them.

 

[3.18] My MP3s sound good except there is a little POP at the very beginning of the song.  What can I do about that?First of all listen to the file a couple times.  Sometimes your MP3 player will make a sound that isn't necessarily in your MP3.  If the pop is really there, you can either remake the file or try and remove it without causing more damage.  There are a couple of software options, most notably MPTrim and MP3DirectCut.

Links to these and other options on the Utilities Page.

 

[3.19] What is VBR?  VBR stands for Variable Bit Rate.  VBR is a method to encode MP3s dynamically. Depending on the complexity of a particular passage, the bitrate (kbps) of encoding varies.  Generally, a VBR file will give better quality at a smaller size than a CBR (constant bit rate) file aiming for the same quality overall.  Like most everything concerning audio compression, though, opinion varies so you should do some experimenting and decide what youthink sounds best and best suits you.

Should I be using it?

Completely up to you.  If you do choose to use VBR there are a number of reasons why it is a good idea to include that information in your headers when you post the files.  The most important is that some hardware (albeit usually older models) is still incompatible with VBR and will have trouble playing back your files.

 

[3.20] Can I just sample the audio via my sound card instead of digitally ripping the CD?The general consensus is "no" due to the amount of noise that gets introduced into the file by that process.  You may not initially even hear the noise due to your computer fan, the quality of your speakers, etc., but inexpensive sound cards, in conjunction with your computer itself, introduce noise into the files.  However, if it's something that's unavailable anywhere else, or the requestor doesn't mind, then just make sure you make a note of the ripping technique in the Subject Line of your post.

 

[3.21] I don't have a CD-ROM in my computer, but I do have a CD player in my stereo; can I just hook that up to my sound card and sample it that way?You are going to be getting an analog copy by doing this and it is far from the best way to do it.  It may be fine for your own use but if you really want to share, you should either find a way to make digital copies or make it clear that your files are analog rips.

 

[3.22] I have some tapes that I want to post as MP3s.  How can I do that?MP3s originating from cassettes are very problematic.  If you have some cassettes that have something that doesn't seem available anywhere else then there are some good tutorials on line that detail the pitfalls and solutions for doing this.  One is on this site in the tips section, here.  Many more can be found with some Google searching.  Try putting <cassette to MP3> in a Google search box and prepare yourself to sift through about 1.5 million hits.

Most important, if you choose to go this route and post your results, please make the source of your MP3s clear when you post.

 

[3.23] I made an MP3 from a tape and it sounds TERRIBLE!  No, I mean a lot worse than the .wav file did.  Why?Many possible reasons, many possible solutions.  "If at first you don't succeed, try try again" and all that.  One thing:  please, do not post the file until you get a good result.

 

[3.24] I'm making some MP3s from a vinyl source.  Is there any easy way to make my files sound better?No.  When making MP3s from vinyl sources much time and effort are usually required to get the best sounding MP3 possible.  There are some posters who do a fantastic job at making MP3s from vinyl sources, and they take their time and make sure they're done right before posting their files.

Again it is important that if you decide to share files from a vinyl source they should be clearly labled as such.

For more tips look on the utilities page under "vinyl to mp3".

See also the tips section .

 

[3.25] Can I edit my MP3s directly without having to decode them into .wav files first?Yes, to a certain extent, you can.  There are some programs that will allow you to cut, fade in and out, alter volume, paste, and otherwise manipulate the MP3 files directly.  Some of these are MP3Cutter, MPTrim, MP3DirectCut & MP3Gain.  All of these are linked from our Utilities Page . 

 

[3.26] I've made my MP3s and it's time to name them.  Is there a naming standard?  What information should I include in the name?There is no current universally accepted naming standard. It depends completely on how you have your files organized and what you want to put in the file name.

What does matter here is that, however you choose to name the files, you make sure that when you post them the artist-album-track#-track name all appear, but appear only once, in your post headers.  If they are in the file name then they don't need to be repeated again in the header. If any of the artist-album-track#-track name information is not in your filename then it needs to be added to the post header.

If you have the correct information in the ID3 tags and you post the correct information in the post header then it makes no difference from the point of view of sharing how you choose to name your files.

 See Section [3.28] for more info on ID3 Tags.

 

[3.27] I don't like the way other people name their MP3s, and now I have a whole directory filled with MP3s that I want to rename.  Is there an easy way to do this?There are a large number of file renaming utilities available.  Also, most ID3 Tagging programs will rename files based on any number of criteria.  There are a number of such programs linked from the Utilities Page.

 

[3.28] What are MP3 ID3 tags? Should I bother with them?Yes.

If you are ripping your own CDs then most ripper/encoders will add the information to the tags for you and will even look up the information from CDDB or freedb so you don't have to type in a thing.  Check the settings and/or help files if you aren't sure how the software you are using does this.

If you are adding ID3 tags to files you downloaded that don't already have them or have wrong or incomplete tags, there are a number of tagging applications, many of them will do freedb look-ups of whole albums and fill in a lot of the fields, most will allow you to fill in a whole CD full of Artist or Album or other repetitive field with one entry.  Check the Utilities Page for links to some.

You do have two choices, ID3V1 and ID3V2*.  Either one is good as long as the information in them is complete and correct.

For more information about both you can look here: http://www.id3lib.org/id3/intro.html

Further questions about issues such as this can always be directed to the alt.binaries.sounds.mp3.d group where hopefully one of the regular denizens will provide you with helpful hints.

 

[3.29] Cool, I've IDed all of my MP3s and I'm ready to post.  Is there anything else I should know?Yes, a couple of things.  First of all, please listen to your files.  Are there any skips or pops in them?  Do they cut off before the song is over? Do they sound as good as you would like them to?
Secondly, see the "Posting MP3 files" section of this FAQ.