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Chapter 5. Ripping and Encoding: Creatin... > General Encoding Principles

5.1. General Encoding Principles

Creating MP3 files is generally a two-step process: Extract your audio from the original source medium into an uncompressed format stored on your hard drive, then run that uncompressed audio through an MP3 encoder. However, many tools exist to help you rip and encode through a single interface, in a single pass. Before taking a look at the tools and processes, you may want to read these notes and suggestions on ripping and encoding principles.

5.1.1. Achieving Optimum Quality

As described in Chapter 2, MP3 is a "lossy" compression format, meaning that some audio information is discarded in exchange for smaller file sizes. The big question you have to face when encoding your own MP3 files is how much information do you want to discard. The more you throw away, the worse your files will sound and the smaller your MP3 files will be. The more you keep, the better they'll sound and the larger the resulting files will be. Only you can decide where on this spectrum you want to sit, but again, always remember that your computer may not be the only place where you play your MP3 files. Next year you may purchase an MP3 playback component for your home stereo, a better sound card, or better computer speakers. All of a sudden, you may discover that the MP3 files you once thought sounded just fine don't sound so hot after all. Always aim for a threshold higher than your current tolerances, and remember that disk space and blank CDs just keep on getting cheaper. Unless you'll be listening to MP3s in a noisy environment such as a car, or will be dealing with limited storage space (as you might with a portable MP3 player), you can probably afford the larger file sizes incurred by going with a higher bitrate. I recommend setting 128 kbps or approximately 50% VBR (VBR is explained later in this chapter) as your lower threshold, and going for 160 kbps, 192 kbps, or higher if you're serious about this stuff. Music with a lot of smooth, or synthesized tones (such as techno) will far better at lower bitrates. Note, however, that no matter how high you set the bitrate, Garth Brooks will still suck lemons.


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