Radified Guide to non-MP3 Encoders for CD Audio
Page 9 of 10
This page presents a handful of non-MP3 encoders for CD audio, and offers a
brief discussion of each. It is intended to give the uninitiated an idea of what
alternate encoders exist, their pro's & con's, and how things are shaping up
for the future.
currently the standard, universally accepted, but it is an aging format.
It is now possible to get better encoded audio quality with less bits.
Much research has been conducted, and much knowledge has been gleaned
about the science of audio encoding since the MP3 format was introduced
~10 years ago. This new knowledge has been incorporated in the development
of many of these non-MP3 audio encoders.
One of the problems that experts (not me) cite with the aging MP3 format is
pre-echo, which causes transients to suffer, making the music sound 'softer',
resulting in less-lively musical dynamics.
While Lame offers what most agree to be the best MP3 encoding quality currently
available, and the MP3 codec being developed most aggressively, some claim that
Liquid Audio, a proprietary encoding format, based on the AAC codec (discussed
next), is the *best* lossy encoder of them all, especially when bit-rates are taken
Admittedly, I posted this from mere hearsay. I had no formal comparison to
support this statement. Thanks to Gian-Carlo, I have since been enlightened. =)
Note: There is a 128kbps comparative listening test posted here (ff123.net),
in which 16 listeners participated (not me). Actually one file was 143kbps (MPC)
and three were 133kbps. Personally, I never use 128kbps, but the comparison is
The following encoders were evaluated, listed best-to-worst, with their score:
Results are posted here.
I have only recently encoded my first Liquid Audio files. The Liquid Audio encoder
is called the Liquifier. (Cool name.) Files encoded with the Liquifier receive either
an *.LQT or *.LAW extension. I tested the Liquid Audio Pro 5.0 beta 2 encoder
I encoded files at the max bit-rate that Liquifier offers, which is 192kbps. This max
bit-rate is referred to as Audiophile quality. The encoded files sound perfect to me.
Liquid Audio uses an AAC encoding format (low complexity version). See below for
information on AAC. This is the codec that is destined to replace MP3, so you
should become familiar with any encoder using it.
Most people feel that a 96kbps LQT file sounds the same as a 128kbps MP3. I
The basic free player will allow you to 'liquefy' up to 78kbps, and the Plus version
(US$20) will allow to to encode up to the full 192kbps. I think Liquid Audio uses
ABR, but not sure.
The free Liquid Audio Player, and the $20 Plus version, can be downloaded aqui.
Liquid Audio is
probably the most secure audio encoder. It allows the owner to
protect their music from unauthorized copying better than the other formats.
Ironically, this is why it's not very popular.
Few people I know have even a
single Liquid Audio file anywhere on their drives,
while they have literally thousands of MP3s.
Advanced Audio Coding (AAC). Their catchy motto is Store less, hear more.
AAC is what Liquid Audio uses (discussed above). Whereas MP3 is based on
MPEG-1 (layer 3), AAC is based on MPEG-2.
[Note: DVDs use MPEG-2 *video* encoding, but for audio, nearly all DVDs use
Dolby AC-3 for *audio* encoding.]
Some big companies are behind AAC. For example, Sony, AT&T, Dolby and
Fraunhofer, the people who invented the MP3. AAC was declared an inter-
national standard in 1997.
successor to MP3, and is not backwards compatible with previous MPEG
encoding formats. It's part of the MPEG-4 standard. AAC at 128kbps claims to
offer audio quality comparable to MP3 at 192kbps. More info here and here.
The conclusion from this (pdf) article says, "To expect AAC to overthrow MP3
overnight would be naive, but there is no question that Layer 3 (MP3) is living
on borrowed time."
You can find some AAC encoders, decoders & plug-ins here.
MPEG-Plus, the best audio quality?
I've heard some say that
(Living Audio Compression)
is better than
Liquid Audio. It is referred to as a subband coder, which breaks down the audio
into small frequency-bands. It's a pure VBR-encoder, containing no fixed bitrates
for each frame.
This type of encoder is tuned more for audio quality than small file sizes (like
MP3Pro for example, which is designed primarily for low bit-rates). Nearly everyone
in the community agrees that MPEG-Plus (known as MPC) yields better quality for
a given bit-rate, when compared to LAME. MPC encodes about twoce as fast as
Lame, if that matters to you.
MPC is not very good at encoding low bit-rate files, but excels, and takes the
lead producing high-quality files when using higher bit-rates (i.e. >180kbps).
Files encoded with MPEGPlus receive an mpc or mp+ extension. The encoder
supports both, but will write .mpc by default. The plug-in/decoder also supports
MPEG-Plus, which supports bit-rates up to 1.2Mbps, is a German college
student's (Andree Buschmann) project to rewrite & improve both the compression
& quality of audio archives.
Generally VBR, MP+ claims to offer better quality than MP3 for a given bitrate.
MPEG-Plus is where lossy audio archiving quality fanatics, who are moving
beyond MP3, are going. It would be worth your time to research the pro's &
con's of this format, especially if you have a large collection of CDs you're
preparing to archive.
I've heard it's best to use the "-xtreme" switch, and that "-insane" is overkill,
but that "-standard" may be insufficient in some cases.
By using MPC, you gain audio-quality-per-bit, but what do you lose?
MP+ is not a standard, like MP3. You may not be able to trade with your friends
as easily. The biggest drawback comes from the lack of hardware support. This
is only an issue if you have a home or car MP3 player, plan to get one, or have
friends who own one.
Some people have noted a high-frequency 'brightness' with MPC that is tiring to
listen to for extended periods - tho only a few. bAdDuDeX says that this may be
caused by the decoder.
Volume is raised by the decoding process (with all formats, of course)
and if you disable Clipping Prevention, it can sound harsher cuz it's louder.
The opposite could also be true if you have Clipping Prevention enabled.
It could sound dull cuz the volume is lowered to prevent clipping.
This is not to say that it's definitely caused by that, just that's what I
think, since nobody has shown any samples yet.
I read the ReadMe file that came with the encoder. It tells you
*not* to enable
Clipping Prevention, as that will make the music sound dull. It is disabled by default.
I'd like to thank Andree (who writes MP+) for taking the time to review this page.
He has this to say about the 'brightness' problem:
The problem he mentions is known by some testers. With some samples
the en/decoded files show a bit more brightness in the higher frequencies.
Sometimes this also leads to a wider stereo image. The effect is never-
theless very small to my and most testers ears. The problem is an
encoder's problem: in some cases there is too much quantization noise
allowed for the upper frequencies. This leads to a bit louder high-freqs.
This is on my "todo-list".
The better your hearing, the more likely you are to appreciate the improvements
offered by MPC. The question you need to answer is: Is the quality improvement
you get from MPC enough to offset the loss of compatibility with MP3, and the
loss of being able to use various MP3 hardware devices?
Only you can answer that question. The better your hearing, the more likely the
answer will be 'Yes'.
The decoder is open source, but the encoder is proprietary (tho currently free).
You can transcode an MPC file to MP3. MPC supports ID3 tags, but only v1.1
for the time being.
The whole ID-topic is not related to the MPC-format. ID-tags have to be
recognized by the decoder and/or plug-in. So, to support other ID-versions
only the decoders have to be changed (and these are open-sourced).
Monkey's Audio will work as a front-end for
MPC. The ReadMe for the
plug-in says: The plug-in will not play MP+ files created with EAC.
I encoded wav's with Monkey's that I ripped with EAC and they played fine. If I
was going to rip & encode in one step, I'd probably use CDex.
You can also find a good
MPC front end batch encoder
(Link comes compliments of spanky)
MPC's critics think its lack of open-source will lead it into obsolescence. Closed-
source means it might not be free in the future, which will dissuade some from
adopting it. MPC's strength lies is the quality of the files it encodes .. which is
all that quality-nuts really care about.
You can find more MP+ info here (MPEG Plus Central). Good site. They have a
good files page here where you can download everything you need.
To use this encoder, I put a copy of of the encoder (mppenc.exe) in Monkey's
Audio (Program Files\Monkey's Audio\External), and used Monkey's to encode wav
files that I ripped with EAC.
You also have a put a copy of the dll (in_mpp.dll) in Winamp's Plugins folder if you
want to play MP+ files with Winamp.
As on 10mar2002, the best MPC encoder is Frank Klemm's version, which produces
more accurate low-end frequencies. Binaries here. You can get Speek's MPC batch
encoder here (the Netherlands). No ID3 tags for the batch encoder. Have to add
manually, or you can use EAC as a 'User Defined Encoder' with the
--xtreme %s %d switch (using Frank's version 0.90s or newer, not 'o' or older),
or --insane --nmt 16 --tmn 32.
You can usually get the very latest MPC files at musepack.org. I'm using v0.90u
(as of 10mar2002).
Be sure you're using a user defined compression method. It's located at the the
bottom of the drop down box, where you select the codec. Point it to mppenc.exe
and then enter the command line switches.
For what it's worth, I test encoded Bob Marley 'Positive Vibration' (live, Babylon
By Bus). --standard gave me 170kbps; --xtreme: 200kbps, and --insane: 235kbps;
--insane --nmt 16 --tmn 32: 320kbps.
has reviewed this page and provided valuable, clarifying
comments, for which I'm grateful.
is a new lossy VBR encoder receiving much attention. Vorbis is
not limited to VBR, although this is the only mode currently offered. The
Xiphophorus home page is here.
With a name like Ogg Vorbis, this encoder better be good. =) A brief FAQ is
posted here (Xiphophorus). A more thorough one is here (Vorbis.com).
Ogg Vorbis has two (big) things going for it:
Ogg Vorbis has been around for about a year, in beta format. Release
Candidate 3 for both the decoder and the encoder were released 31dec2001.
You can download them here. For those who like to live on the bleeding edge,
the very latest (unofficial) binaries can be downloaded here.
Realize that the encoder is still in relatively early stages of development.
Version 1.0 (final) has not yet been released. Many have high hopes for this
encoder. It has many cool features, such as bit-rate peeling. Wavlets may
also be included in future releases.
Everyone is wondering how vigorously the Ogg team pursue development.
If they keep going the way the have, Ogg could be TNBT (the next big thing).
Given the encoder's early stage of development, most are impressed and
encouraged by what they've seen (uh, heard) so far. But for the time being,
Ogg Vorbis still needs work.
The folks at DigitallyImported, home of the 'Net's most popular streaming music
site, used to host several Ogg Vorbis streams. But I noticed that the Vorbis
streams are no longer available. I asked DJ Ari why not, and he said, "They
were buggy, but will be back .. maybe in 6 months, not sure."
Note that a buggy streaming server does not mean a buggy encoder.
Some say the quality of files encoded with Ogg Vorbis is currently rated below
MP3 (Lame), while others say a 96kbps (VBR) Ogg file generally sounds about
the same as a 128kbps MP3. Judge for yourself.
I've heard that some files encoded with Ogg Vorbis exhibit harshness in the
Gian-Carlo says, "The high frequency harshness occurred with the RC2 release
at low bit-rates (not with previous versions, and also not with the tuned
encoders and new experimental versions)."
While MP3's version of VBR uses psycho-acoustic models, Ogg is based solely
on noise, masking, coupling and ATH thresholds. I have no idea of what that
means, but I read that's how I heard it works. =)
Note: In reference to the above paragraph, I receive an email from Beni who
offered clarification Ogg's psycho-acoustic models. I found it so helpful that I
copied & posted it here.
I've already added Ogg Vorbis to my encoding arsenal, and expect the format
to gain popularity as it matures and more people learn about it. Shouldn't be long
until the official v1.0 is released.
Using Ogg Vorbis with Windows:
Put a copy of Oggenc in the External directory
if you use Monkey's.
Note - in CDex, go to Setup and set the encoder to Ogg Vorbis. Select your
bit-rate, then select the tracks you want. Push the "MP3" button. Yea, I know
it's silly but that's how it is.
I got this mini-guide from gft. For a more thorough version, see his full-page
guide here. I've used it myself and found it helpful (thx, Jeff).
At the above link, you will find several files. The libvorbis files are for
Ignore them (unless you're playing with Linux, of course). You want the files
ending with .exe (for Windows). The _gt_ files are garf tuned.
The files with _drop_ in them are drag-n-drop GUI encoders. The _enc_ files
are command-line encoders. These are specially-tuned (improved) encoders.
Gian-Carlo says: For 160kbps VBR, download the gt1 file, otherwise grab the
gt2 (gt2 also contains the 160kbps mode but I did not test it). You enable the
160kbps mode in gt1 by asking for a very high bit-rate (-b 999). gt2 has modes
tuned for 128kbps and 350kbps.
Select 128kbps by using the switch/argument -b128, and likewise -b350 gets
you 350kbps. Garf is looking into a speech-optimized mode for the upcoming gt3.
A new encoder named MP3Pro
was released June, 2001. The
main problem with
MP3Pro is that the bit-rate is (currently) limited to 64kbps, which limits quality.
It sounds great for music encoded to 64kbps, and compares to files encoded
with a regular MP3 encoder at 112 or even 128kbps. But most people want/need
more than 112/128 kbps.
But if you have a need for 64kbps, MP3 Pro is the way to go. Most prefer it
over Windows Media Audio (WMA) and Real audio.
It doesn't look like they ever plan to offer bit-rates exceeding 96kbps. There is
no use to the technique at bit-rates higher than 96kbps. From 128kbps on, the
encoder can just store the info which MP3Pro would (often wrongly) predict.
MP3 Pro uses an encoding format called Spectral Band Replication (SBR) that
doesn't work well with higher bit-rates. SBR artificially generates lost high freq-
uencies. Files encoded with MP3Pro sound excellent for their size (64kbps).
Files encoded with MP3 Pro receive a regular *.mp3 file extension, but will only
sound good when played back with an MP3Pro player. If you play them back
with a regular MP3 player, they'll sound like crap.
These are the people (Fraunhofer) who invented the original MP3 format, so I
will not knock them. But it seems like this encoder is designed (only) for low
Official press release here (thomson multimedia). Download the player/encoder
here. More info here (CNET). No one I've talked to so far seems very excited
about the new encoding format. More info here (MP3 Newswire).
29aug2001 - Nero (Ahead) now supports MP3Pro. See here (Yahoo Finance).
Nero discusses MP3Pro here. Digit Life wrote a nice piece on MP3 Pro here.
developed by Yamaha, claims to make smaller audio files than MP3, with
better quality. Their motto is the new world of digital audio. MP3 vs VQF
VQF claims (here) to offer the highest fidelity format at the lowest bitrate
currently available, and that is will be used to create MP4.
(21aug2001), VQF only supports bitrates up to 96kbps. This will soon
be doubled to 192kbps. But for now, most people want more than 96kbps. I
have not heard anything good about VQF, so I wouldn't get very excited about it.
Windows Media Audio
Heard it has
good high-frequency response, but some complain of squishy
artifacts below 160kbps. Personally, I like the way WMA sounds. It sounds
'clear & alive'.
If you have a broadband connection, you can go to DigitallyImported and check
out their WMA streams to get a rough idea of how it sounds.
Most agree that it does not sound as good as MP3Pro at 64kbps. Download the
WMA encoder it here. More info here.
Highest quality at bit-rates below 64kbps. Real.com here. Their encoder is here.
Next => [Page 8 - Guide to Ripping CD Audio & MP3 Encoding] (Miscellaneous
items such as MP3 Managers, MP3 players, plug-ins, CD-ROM drives, CD burners,
burning CDs, CD labelers, sound cards, headphones, and other stuff you may
find interesting or helpful)
6 - Guide to Ripping CD Audio & MP3 Encoding]
SatCP & The Coaster Factory, configuring EAC & Lame)