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MP3 Encoders & Players

I suspect this section will grow considerably over time.

Detecting Encoders - which encoder made this MP3?
There is a cool utility called Encspot that can be found at http://www.guerillasoft.co.uk/EncSpot/ which may be used to identify which encoder was used to create an MP3.  So if you are curious about an MP3 you encounter so that you can avoid or try an encoder, give this utility a try.
LAME
Hands down, the most popular encoder around our little corner of the planet at the time of this writing. It must have something going for it.  LAME is an acronym  that stands for LAME Ain't an MP3 Encoder. LAME can be found at http://lame.sourceforge.net/. LAME produces excellent MP3s reliably. People swear by it.A lot of software uses LAME.  Check out http://lame.sourceforge.net/links.html. Of special note are CDEX and EAC
Fraunhofer 
Probably held in the highest regard until overtaken by LAME, the individual Fraunhofer CODECs are not sold to the general public anymore, and they are getting really long in the tooth, but you can find them around.  Legend has it that they are useful under the following circumstances (comments provided by a regular):

  • L3Enc2.0 - This is great at 160bps and 2 channel mode for those 60s and 70s rock/pop tunes. This codec at this setting has proven over time to alleviate the phasing effect added by most other encoders when doing this kind of music. Downside: it's slower 'an molasses in January.In Audiograbber select External MP3 Program Name and browse to where you installed L3Enc2.o and select L3ENC.exe. Then check "use own arguments" and put in, without quotes
    "-crc -mod 2 -br 160000"
  • MP3 Enc3.1 -- Hands down best encoder for 128kbps encodes of any type music. In Audiograbber select External MP3 Program Name and browse to where you installed MP3Enc3.1 and click the mp3enc31.exe file. Then check "use own arguments" and put in, without quotes "-v -crc -no-is -qual 3 -br 128000". It makes a very good 160kbps encode also!
  • FHG Radium Codec v1.263 -- I find this encoder works very well on most modern pop and rock music, especially at 160kbps. (See MP3 Enc3.1 for 128bps encodes)This is a Windows internal codec. Read the Radium readme for more details. Once installed, you can open Audiograbber and in the mp3 settings part, select Internal MP3 or WMA CODECS and you should see Fraunhofer IIS MPEG LAyer-3 Codec (Pro) and bitrate choices up to 320.

Some of these CODECs have been updated and integrated into other, newer packages.

MusicMatch Jukebox
Not held in very high esteem by regulars for a long time, MusicMatch has used a good Fraunhofer CODEC for some time.  MMJB has lots of features, has good marketing and gets good reviews from MP3.com and mainstream publications. It is also considered bloated, nagging, and intrusive. To each his or her own.
EasyMP3 by Proteron Software
Venerable on the MacOS (N2MP3), this encoder is available for Windows.  Highly regarded by some. Download a trial copy and give it a listen: http://www.proteron.com/easymp3/.
Real Jukebox
Not held in very high esteem. They don't do much for the MP3 enthusiast. Available here: http://www.real.com/jukebox/index.html. Not recommended by many.
Blade
Pretty highly regarded by many at one time.  Blade's creator has stopped new development and has become an OGG enthusiast.  Generally recommended for acoustic music.  Try it at http://bladeenc.mp3.no/.  Use with an Audiograbber front end or another such as RazorBlade: http://www.dors.de/RazorBlade/. Blade has hit a dead end.
Audiocatalyst
Xing encoders are not very highly regarded for quality.  They have merged with Real, and are not recommended. If you must: http://www.real.com/accessories/?prod=audiocatalyst.
GoGo
Some rave about GoGo. You should give it a try, especially if you encode at low bitrates.  Gogo homepage with links to source code... http://homepage1.nifty.com/herumi/gogo_e.html. The latest GoGo Windows binaries usually show up on the Rarewares MP3 encoder page mixed among the LAME builds...
http://rarewares.org/mp3.html and sometimes can be found on Dmitry Kutsanov's page... http://mitiok.cjb.net/. 
Other Encoders 
We are soliciting objective reviews to enhance this section.  We certainly will not limit coverage to the Windows platform.  If you would like to contribute reviews of the packages below, please email the Webmaster.
Some general thoughts on encoders
Do your own testing.  Listen to your MP3s before uploading them. If you hear flanging or phasing (swooshing noises), try an encoder or setting that does not use Joint-Stereo.  Joint-Stereo has been a major culprit in creating unacceptable MP3s.  See [3.17] for more info on flanging.

There are a couple WWW sites that do encoder comparisons. 

http://fastforward.iwarp.com/ - Has encoder comparisons, but they are well over two years old.  All encoder comparison pages we've found are old, and technology changes fast.

http://www.pcavtech.com/play-rec/summary/index.htm - Not exclusively an MP3 site, but does compare some encoders. Also pretty dated material.

Evaluating MP3 encoders based on their speed or extra features (ability to rip and encode, automatic ID3 tags etc.) but in the a.b.s.m.* groups, audio-quality is more important than speed or features.  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.

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 consensus du jour appears to be, but ALWAYS listen to your MP3s before uploading them.

If you MUST have someone else tell you what is the best to use, use LAME.