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Preface

Preface

This book has a simple premise: People want to build MP3 collections of the music they like and respect. To do justice to that music requires that the MP3 files constituting a personal music collection be of a high audio quality. But MP3 is generally considered to be a convenience format, not an audiophile format—its main advantages are its flexibility and its portability.

While the press generally refers to MP3 audio as being "near CD quality," audiophiles often point to anomalies in the fidelity of the typical MP3 download. But there's a big difference between the average MP3 file downloaded from the Internet and a file you encode yourself, at a decent bitrate, from your own source material, using the encoder you feel yields the highest quality. MP3 is very much capable of achieving CD quality—you just have to pay a little attention to the variables. As I began to research the MP3 scene in earnest, I found that only a small fraction of available resources were paying close attention to MP3 quality issues. As a hobbyist audiophile, I found this dissatisfying, and felt that it was important to provide readers with a "no-compromise" approach to MP3—you can have your convenience factors and a quality audio experience at the same time.

While this book provides plenty of introductory material that will coach any reader through the basic mechanics of MPEG audio, it puts quite a bit of emphasis on fidelity issues, in addition to some of the peripheral topics not covered in depth in other books and online resources. Beyond the basics, for example, we'll be taking a close look at the many legal issues surrounding the MP3 scene, the challenges of building your own MP3 playback hardware, the technical details involved in setting up your own MP3 streaming server, and more.

It was also important to me that this book not be overly Windows-centric. Microsoft Windows may be king in terms of both the number of users and the number of MP3 applications available, but I'm not convinced it's the best possible MP3 playback and creation platform, for reasons we'll go into elsewhere in the book. The number of MacOS users is increasing once again, Linux use is rising at an incredible clip, and BeOS is highly optimized for media content creation and consumption, with lots of built-in MP3-specific goodies. Accordingly, I've tried to balance coverage of non-Windows operating systems evenly throughout this book. Even if you use only one operating system, I hope you'll find reading about some of the alternative approaches illuminating.

It practically goes without saying that the amount and variety of available MP3 playback and creation software is growing at an incredible rate, as are the number of MP3 hardware options available. I don't pretend to have covered everything available in this book, and plenty of new applications and gear not covered here will undoubtedly be available by the time you read this. I've tried to structure the coverage of available products with an eye toward concepts, rather than specifics, so that the provided coverage will (hopefully) be applicable even to products that have yet to be invented. Please regard the coverage in this book, even where application-specific, as a guide to MP3 creation and playback principles in general.

MP3 is a truly amazing codec and a great feat of engineering. In conjunction with the huge array of "peripheral" technologies and tools available, MP3 has single-handedly ushered in a new era of file-based digital music distribution. It is my hope that this book will help you get the most out of the codec and its surrounding technology, so you can get back down to what this is all supposed to be about: enjoying the music you love.

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