Tag Archives: mp3

Converting music to mp3

How do you encode your CDs into MP3’s?

Lots of people probably use iTunes or Windows Media Player.  You may think that it doesn’t matter – mp3’s are all the same.  The truth is it isn’t.  The quality of the music stored in an mp3 can vary depending on many factors.  Just think of it as this process:

1) Source music material – is the source a CD, tape, radio, etc?  Obviously, the cleaner and better the source, the better sounding mp3 you’ll end up with.

2) Read the source music material – if the source is a CD, is the CD defective or scratched?  There are specific programs for the PC that are better at reading and correcting bad reads from a CD than others. 

3) Encode the source music material – now that we have the source audio in raw format, the computer will need to encode it into an mp3 format.  The quality of mp3 depends on many factors here like the amount of compression (which affects the final output size), compression method (eg. variable bit rate, constant bit rate, etc) and especially the mp3 encoding algorithm.  Also not all mp3 software compressing tools are the same. 

4) Decoding the MP3 – playing back the mp3 means uncompressing the mp3 file and playing it back through your speakers/headphones.  The quality of music at the end will also depend on how the mp3 is uncompressed and processed to sound better.

Enthusiasts (read geeks) on the internet have played around with many mp3 encoding settings and performed many tests over the years to come up with the “best” settings for mp3 encoding.  The “best” settings have also changed over time as new combinations of mp3 encoding settings are found and tested.  (Anyone remember r3mix?).  “Best” of course is also a balance between file size and sound quality.  With large 1 and 2TB drives being common nowadays, there are many people who recommend just using a “lossless” format (basically an identical copy of the original music).  Unfortunately, portable music/media devices don’t have that much space, so compressing to a lossy format is a workaround we’ll need for a while more.

So what should you look out for?

  • You may want to change the program you use to encode mp3s to LAME.  It’s not the most user friendly program out there (being a command line utility), but there are other programs that use it, like EAC.
  • Use a Variable Bit Rate.   This means that the parts of the music that is more detailed will use space, but the parts of the music that is not so detailed will use less.   It’s also related to the frequencies in the music.   For example, if you’re encoding old recordings that had a limited frequency range, they will take up less space than a constant bit rate encoding.

I’ve been using this set of software and settings recently:

  • EAC (Exact Audio Copy) – this program has advanced algorithms to ensure that a CD is read as accurately as possible
  • LAME 3.97 – this is the latest recommended mp3 encoder


There are quite a few good guides on using these software on the net, but sometimes it’s not easy to find where to start.  Here are some links to start with:


Review: AirPort Express

A few years ago, I made myself a mini project to try and convert all our CDs into a digital format, like mp3s.  Why?  Imagine having all your music accessible immediately, at your fingers, never having to find a CD again.  It was a nice dream and I got part of the way there.

So, fast forward to today – I have gigs of music stored on some external hard drives.  But what now?

Listen to them on my laptop or through headphones on my laptop?  That’s not I wanted either.

I want to be able to listen to my music on my home stereo!!  But how?

There are many products and solutions out there that try to solve this problem.  For Father’s Day, I was fortunate enough to receive (with a little hint), an Apple AirPort Express!  Yep, no socks or ties – a piece of technology – w00t!!

Unboxing the AirPort Express
Unboxing the AirPort Express

The AirPort Express is a little box sold by Apple.  But what does it do?  Many things, but the thing that attracted me was that it basically is a “remote” speaker for your computer.  I’ve put it near my amp, and plugged the audio out of the AirPort Express into the stereo.  Then, by the magic of iTunes, wifi and some Apple technologies, it appears in iTunes as a “remote” speaker that I can output music to.  You’ll read that it enables you to “stream” audio from iTunes to an amp or speakers connected to the AirPort Express.

So, now I can play all my music that is on my laptop, and the sound comes out of my home stereo.  Not bad 🙂  Works fine as long as I want to control my music from my laptop/computer.

So here are some thoughts:

It’s SMALL!  Yes, upon unboxing the AirPort Express, I was surprised by how small it is.  It’s basically the same size as the power adapter for a MacBook.  Cool.

The AirPort Express
The AirPort Express

It looks SIMPLE!  It follows Apple’s simple yet stylish design philosophies that drive the iPod, MacBooks, etc.  I like how it’s white and smooth.  I like the power plug IS the device.  No extra wires to contend with.  I like the absence of buttons so I can leave it behind my stereo without needing to fiddle with it.  All the configuration is done remotely on a laptop (but see below for some problems I ran into).

It does so many things!  Too many maybe.  Via software that you run on your laptop/computer, you can configure the AirPort Express to be:

  • A wireless bridge – if you want to connect wired ethernet devices to a wireless network.  I could’ve connected the Tivo into this maybe.
  • A wireless access point – if you want to add wireless capabilities to your network.  I didn’t need this as I already have a wireless router.
  • A print server – if you want to connect your printer directly on the network.  Would be good if you want to share a printer between multiple computers.  I might try this one day as we currently share a single USB cable.
  • A set of remote speakers for iTunes – if you want to be able to play music in iTunes and get the sound to be output via the audio jacks
Ports at the back
Ports at the back

I like the selection of jacks (ethernet if you want it to be wireless bridge, or a wireless access point), USB and analog stereo or digital stereo.

I like how you can decide whether it should join your existing wireless network or set up its own.

I would have liked an RCA plug and digital connection to be included.  I have optical inputs in my amp, but I now have to buy a separate cable.

I did run into a problem in setting it up though.  When I used the AirPort Utility on my Dell, it could not connect to the AirPort Express.  I didn’t bother investigating much, because wifey has a MacBook, and it worked perfectly on there.

Also, I’m now frustrated that iTunes is the only officially supported player.  I use Foobar2000 and Media Monkey to organise and play my music on the laptop.  With a bit of Googling, I’ve found these two things that could help:

  • AirFoil – http://rogueamoeba.com/airfoil/ – exposes the AirPort Express as a sound output to Windows, basically allowing you to output all sound/music from Windows and Windows applications to the AirPort Express.  Neat 😉  I guess I could even play games and hear the sound through the AirPort Express 🙂
  • AirPort Express remote speaker plugin for MediaMonkey – http://emilles.dyndns.org/software/out_apx.html – let’s MediaMonkey output its audio to the AirPort Express.

The main drawbacks I see to the AirPort Express is that the music has to be controlled through a computer.  What if I turn off my laptop?  What if I’m sitting in front of the stereo and want to play something?  I’m lucky for now that the laptop is in the same room as the stereo, but if they’re not, then what?

Luckily I’ve also setup my laptop as a Media Server for my PS3, but that’s a story for another time…

Recording more

I’ve had a think about the whole recording thing.  I want to do more and just post them up here on my blog.

I woke at 4.30am this morning, from a coughing fit and congested nose (yep, I’m sick) and couldn’t go back to sleep.  So I lay there, listening to the sounds from the road, thinking about my blog and my violin and the internet.

There are so many budding photographers out there, all displaying their work on the internet, some sharing it with Creative Commons licenses.  There are photographs of so many things in the world – all with different compositions, angles.  Sure, many of the photos from people on flickr and similar sites aren’t professionals – they aren’t doing it for a living.

So I was thinking, why can’t music be the same?  Surely there are millions of musicians out there, millions of kids learning instruments, learning all sorts of classical (and other) repertoire.  Why can’t all this classical repertoire be recorded and shared with each other?  Imagine if there was a site where people could upload their recordings of a particular piece, tag it like “Mozart”, “Clarinet”, etc.   Eventually, the end dream would be that as much of the classical composed repertoire out there would be able to be listened to, recorded by any number of people, all with different interpretations.   For free.   In the same way photos are stored and shared by flickr.

I think I’ll start recording my “back catalogue”.  That is, going back to all the pieces that I have already learnt and trying to get them back up to some standard and recording them.  In fact, I think it’s a shame I didn’t record them at the time I learnt them, as now I have no idea how well or badly I played them!

I did a bit of a search to see if anything existed that is like this.  I did find an article about Tasmin Little “giving” away some recordings (see here:  http://www.reuters.com/article/musicNews/idUSL089358120080111) , and did come across some sites with “free” mp3s of classical music, but nothing that has the central community spirit of flickr or similar sites.

Free Classical Music
* Piano Society – http://pianosociety.com/cms/index.php?section=1
* List of links to various free mp3 sites – http://www.dmoz.org/Arts/Music/Sound_Files/Classical/MP3/
* Royalty Free Music – http://incompetech.com/m/c/royalty-free/index.html?genre=Classical

If you know of any others, please let me know.