Music Encoders, Formats, bitrates(VBR,CBR,ABR), codecs – LAME, OGG Vorbis, AAC.

High bitrates have become the fashion statement these days. Often you search for music online, you’ll end up with 320 kbps 180 mb albums. How much is actually enough? What gives you best compression? Time to switch to futuristic codecs yet? Free formats. These are few things we’ll discuss today.


Ripping their music CDs, people often want to have best quality that they have paid for. Now my point is most of times this high quality is often not perceived from an average quality sound systems or in a casual music hearings. I hear most of my music casually. Carrying 320kbps music, from hard drives to hard drives, players to players is too much of a cost for me for my casual music habits. Moreover high bitrate music end up taking precious space on my Ipod. They also suck more battery juice out of my poor little aging player. Having mega gigs of music doesn’t help either. So I encode most of my lesser music to lower bitrates. How much ? Hang on…

More often than not, your lesser music takes up the most space.

So what are my options. Considering the best compression abilities, most people would agree upton three viable options MP3, AAC and Ogg Vorbis.

I had been playing with these three formats and I felt ogg vorbis was the best of the lot. Moreover vorbis is an open standard and a free format. As it turns out the open and free formats often turn out to be best ones. That said, the problem with ogg is most portable music players do not support it. Even if they had, they would have struggled to decode highly compressed OGG formats. Ipod supports ogg with alternative firmware Rockbox. As its said, OGG requires more processing power to encode as well as decode. But that was the whole point of music formats. Wasn’t it.

AAC, yeah.. Its supposed to be better than MP3 and as was rumored(hyped) by apple that 128kbps is as good as 160 kbps MP3. I had tried AAC once but I wasn’t that impressed. Its a good choice. My ipod is made for AAC but somehow I have not embraced it as yet.

That brings us to mp3, and LAME,one of the free encoder for MP3. This has been my choice to encode most of my music. The free encoder concept is very different from ogg which is a free format. That means – to encode with LAME and distribute you could still be doing copyright infringement.

Ok, enough of theories. Lets do some encoding. All you need is LAME core libraries and a front end for the same. LAME supports a lot of options. The most important decision one has to make is with ABR, CBR and VBR. In most of cases VBR turned out to be a better option. CBR is a loss with most music having silent zones. Why to waste valuable bytes for no music zones. ABR is fine but VBR gives me some more options to tinker with.

After playing with most of options, i have been satisfied with these settings for most of my music encoding.

/usr/bin/lame -V5 --vbr-new -q0 --lowpass 19.7 -b128
(Try to type the above and not copy paste, As reported by some users a simple copy paste is copying in rich text creating problems for sound konverter)

Some important parameters that you might want to tinker with are :

-VX : Is to enable VBR – (0 <= X <= 9) – 0 means best quality, 9 is worst.
-bXXX : Minimum bitrate to be allowed.

For e.g. for -V5 will give you better quality and size than -V6. For a typical example I get an average bit rate of 150 kbps using these settings and I am very satisfied with the quality produced.

In ubuntu, Install soundkonverter, lame and lame-extras

sudo apt-get install soundkonverter lame lame-extras

Make sure you have selected, lame as backend
Lame as backend

In the main conversion window, choose “Detailed” and “Advanced Options” and use following as the command.

/usr/bin/lame -V5 --vbr-new -q0 --lowpass 19.7 -b128 %i %o
as shown:

Advanced Settings SoundKonverter

That’s it. Enjoy converting your music.

For windows users, try winLame or outLame as winamp plugin or razorlame

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