Audiophile links
May 5, 2006 3:29 PM   Subscribe

The audio toolbox for the audiophile:
CD ripper - Exact Audio Copy (Windows)
Media Player - Foobar2000 (Windows)
MP4 Encoder - Nero MP4 command-line encoder (Windows, Linux soon)
Audio techology forum - Hydrogenaudio [more inside]
posted by Sharcho (56 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The lastest beta of Exact Audio Copy uses AccurateRip
The philosophy behind AccurateRip is quite simple - each time an audio track is ripped (recorded by computer) it is compared with rips from other people, this allows a confidence report to be generated.

Foobar2000 0.9.1 is the new version of the media player. It features: Unicode, advanced tagging capablities, renaming, converting, ReplayGain (to normalize volume between songs), highly customizable and has many plugins.

The Nero encoder is arguably the best MP4 encoder, and it is now free. It usually gets the best results on the Listening Tests. The new encoder also supports multichannel, high sampling rates and 2-pass encoding (the quality boost of VBR with the deterministic size of CBR). Note that some players do not support HE-AAC MP4 files correctly (recent versions of Foobar2000 and Winamp do).
posted by Sharcho at 3:30 PM on May 5, 2006

I'd just like to chime it to say that I loves me some foobar. It's my favorite audioplayer of all time. light, and a dead-easy interface.
posted by lumpenprole at 3:47 PM on May 5, 2006

The terms mp4 and audiophile are incompatible.
posted by caddis at 3:48 PM on May 5, 2006

What, nothing for Mac?

xACT - barebones audio conversion tool
Max - fancyshmancy audio conversion tool
Cog - player for various formats
iTunes LAME - convert MP3's in iTunes using LAME

Hooray for freeware!
posted by anarcation at 3:51 PM on May 5, 2006

…a dead-easy interface

This is why I will never understand Windows users.
posted by designbot at 3:53 PM on May 5, 2006

designbot: That's a programmer's interface, not a designer's interface, obviously. Not a windows/mac thing so much.
posted by beerbajay at 3:56 PM on May 5, 2006

True, true. But anybody who let this monstrosity loose on a Mac would be taken out and shot. [derail]
posted by designbot at 4:02 PM on May 5, 2006

I'd like to point out that foobar2000 is more linuxy than windowsy
posted by pantsrobot at 4:14 PM on May 5, 2006

designbot: foobar2000 is really more linuxy than windowsy
posted by pantsrobot at 4:15 PM on May 5, 2006

dammit, I could have sworn that I hit Preview not Post
posted by pantsrobot at 4:15 PM on May 5, 2006

I have a CD-R with some WAVs on it, but the CD-R has a glitch. Could Exact Audio Copy possibly help me recover the WAVs?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:16 PM on May 5, 2006

As long as we're plugging tools, I've been a fan of dbPowerAMP for a long while now.

Integrates into the windows shell extension - right click to convert audio. Add your own constellation of codec plug-ins.
posted by porpoise at 4:20 PM on May 5, 2006

Don't let the RIAA know we're here.
posted by StrasbourgSecaucus at 4:23 PM on May 5, 2006

Don't let the RIAA know we're here.
posted by StrasbourgSecaucus at 4:23 PM on May 5, 2006

That was neat, but I'm pretty sure I hit the "post this thirty times" button, not "post it twice".
posted by StrasbourgSecaucus at 4:24 PM on May 5, 2006

WOW - foobar : the worlds first media player without a fucking volume control.
posted by sgt.serenity at 4:31 PM on May 5, 2006

ooops my apologies - just found it
posted by sgt.serenity at 4:31 PM on May 5, 2006

Here's a real audiophile link, to Philip Greenspun's article on absurdly expensive stereo gear.
posted by sindark at 4:44 PM on May 5, 2006

Foobar: Interfaces can have Down Syndrome, too.
posted by Mikey-San at 4:49 PM on May 5, 2006

Before people start bashing foobar's UI, they'd best take a peek at the Foobar Appearance Thread. Most people who actually use the software will find/copy/modify a configuratioin that's been posted there.

And the statement "mp4 and audiophile are incompatible" has no more truth than "MP3 and..", particularly when either codec is used at those bitrates which have been determined to be 'transparent' to an overwhelming majority of listeners in blind listening tests.
posted by unmake at 4:49 PM on May 5, 2006

... wearing $10 earbuds.
posted by caddis at 4:55 PM on May 5, 2006

unmake: an overwhelming majority of listeners

but not audiophiles. which is the point that was being made. just because 90% of the population has tin ears, it doesn't make mp3 or mp4 any better, objectively speaking.

sorry, it's called lossy compression for a reason, casual listenability notwithstanding.
posted by cathodeheart at 5:01 PM on May 5, 2006

ABX listening tests - nothing casual about them. Of course, 'audiophile quality' means 'transparent' to me, not $15K interconnects and tin-hats - and whether or not someone considers themself an audiophile, if they can't discern a ~190kbs AAC file from its lossless counterpart, I don't see how they could consider one file inferior to the other.
posted by unmake at 5:45 PM on May 5, 2006

Great post, and thanks SO much for listing the operating system for each program!

I have a set of golden ears (which I've gotten very little use out of(*)) and yet I've moved entirely to mp3 (though, I intend to go FLAC or some other lossless encoding in a year or two -- I have over 100 gig of mp3s, the overwhelming majority of I either bought or created myself from scratch, and if I went to FLAC, I'd more than triple that space. I have the original CDs, of course...)

Why? Convenience.

I don't have a particularly pristine audio space; I have decent speakers (JBL studio monitors in here, M-Audio monitors in the studio) but the physical space is crowded with sh, er, stuff that makes for very weird standing wave patterns and resonances); and I really like to be able to randomize over my 43 days of music.

mp3 at some sort of reasonable rate are better than "casual listening". The first half of my life, more, was all LPs. LPs have a lot of nice characteristics, but on the balance they aren't as good as a well-encoded mp3, particularly in the bass and upper treble regions (the RIAA curve starts rolling off at 120Hz(!)).

So don't turn your nose up at "lossy" compressed music -- remember where we came from!

(* -- quote from a mastering engineer: "Well, you guys are the first two potheads I've ever met who could tell 1/2 dB difference at 20KHz.")
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:46 PM on May 5, 2006

Big DBPowerAmp fan too. I'll stick with good old WinAmp, but I will look into ReplayGain plugs though.
posted by Samizdata at 6:14 PM on May 5, 2006

unmake - that is just a forum. Please link to a test, I have not the energy to read an entire forum searching for a test. My own testing, on a very nice rig, showed very clear differences at low bit rates and smaller differences at higher bit rates. This was blind AB testing. I think we topped out at 160, but it was several years ago. At the higher bit rates the differences were subtle, yet still noticeable. Such things matter to an audiophile. On computer speakers or through an mp3 player and earbuds medium bitrates are more than good enough.
posted by caddis at 6:28 PM on May 5, 2006

ll stick to my 0.95 beta 3 version of EAC, I can't live without my "Retrieve Native TOC" option, the guy preventively removed it scared of being sued by some RIAA
posted by zouhair at 6:50 PM on May 5, 2006

EAC is really great. I use it to rip CDs that are so badly scratched the CD player won't play them anymore. It takes a while(hours, sometimes), because it has to read and reread sections, but in the end I have a tagged, systematically named, and ~160kbps VBR encoded set of tracks from the album, which can then be burned back to CD(using the WAV files, not the mp3s, of course).

Next time I start winamp, it finds the tracks and adds them to my library. I don't have to do anything but type a couple letters of the album name and press enter. I damn sure don't have to write some crazy regexp to display or select my files.

For MP3s, I use ~160kbps VBR --alt-preset standard. If it's good enough for this guy, it's good enough for me. Actually, he recommend different codecs for different bit rates and music styles:

  • >128 - Fraunhofer or LAME, depending on preference
  • 128 - 256 LAME
  • 320 BladeEnc

  • posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:12 PM on May 5, 2006

    Metafilter: your favorite variable bitrate audio compression technology sucks.
    posted by illovich at 7:46 PM on May 5, 2006

    Crap. I have to rerip all my CDs into MP4 now? Crap.
    posted by VulcanMike at 8:32 PM on May 5, 2006

    Ya, I'm not so sure about lossy compression either.. I haven't spent the kind of time it would take to be convinced one way or the other about it. ape/flac are only about double the size of a top notch mp3 anyway, so I don't see the point.

    What is missing from this post (other than ape, flac, and shn) is ASIO, which I have tried, and tentatively I think it made a big difference in my system.
    posted by Chuckles at 8:38 PM on May 5, 2006

    Is there an equivalent of Exact Audio Copy for Mac? I've been missing it since I "Switched."
    posted by Zozo at 8:54 PM on May 5, 2006

    Quite off topic, but I've always been on the lookout for a nice watering hole called "Foo".

    posted by spazzm at 8:55 PM on May 5, 2006

    I think audiophilia is hilarious. Makes me want to imagine a bibliophile only reading books written in a certain font.
    posted by danb at 10:18 PM on May 5, 2006

    Lately I've been toying with foobar a bit. I'd like to find a program to operate it remotely, so that I could for example use my laptop in my living room to control (via wifi) the foobar Ive got running on my desktop in the other room, which is plugged into my living room amp with a long wire. (All the files are stored on the desktop, of course).

    What program/plugin is best for this? Ideally it will allow me to fast forward and rewind ogg vorbis tracks as they play, not just skip back and forward.

    Any suggestions?
    posted by washburn at 10:38 PM on May 5, 2006

    The philosophy behind AccurateRip is quite simple - each time an audio track is ripped (recorded by computer) it is compared with rips from other people, this allows a confidence report to be generated.

    That's the most idiotic thing I've ever heard in my life.
    posted by delmoi at 10:48 PM on May 5, 2006

    That's the most idiotic thing I've ever heard in my life.

    I take it you haven't seen this thread yet, then:
    posted by Mikey-San at 11:16 PM on May 5, 2006

    I like foobar2000 on my Windows box because it's resource usage is about an order of magnitude less than certain other audio applications from major software companies. Okay, I exaggerate a bit -- 3x to 5x less. But still, I want my RAM and VM going into my productivity, not the background music.
    posted by moonbiter at 12:33 AM on May 6, 2006

    I'd like to find a program to operate it remotely
    See: FB2K Wiki. <a href="
    posted by unmake at 12:59 AM on May 6, 2006

    I have to say the sound of songs with foobar is lovely .
    posted by sgt.serenity at 2:22 AM on May 6, 2006

    Ditto what the Sgt. said—I’d not even heard of foobar till now & am grateful to Sharcho for bringing it up.
    posted by misteraitch at 4:12 AM on May 6, 2006

    spazzm said 'Quite off topic, but I've always been on the lookout for a nice watering hole called "Foo".'

    Fubar, once a famously deranged 'ardcore venue, now a sad shadow of its former self hosting 'Studio 54 tribute' nights. Depressing.

    Er, anyway, thanks for the Mac remix of the post, anarcation - I'd not heard of Max or Cog, both look interesting.

    As for the 'audiophile' qualities of compressed formats: I've been buying a lot more CDs and CD-Rs of late (now about 40% of my spending on music, which used to be close to 100% on vinyl) and the plunge in quality when ripping to MP3 or AAC has been pretty shocking. Obviously, these files are just fine for the iPod, but if I switch to streaming MP3s over Airport Express after a period of listening to vinyl and CDs, they grate horribly a lot of the time. It's not anywhere close to the drop of switching from vinyl to cassette used to be, but that's how I think of compressed files - convenient and portable, but temporary and disposable. (I don't really care whether this is a matter of snobbish perception that wouldn't hold up to blind testing - I can still hear, or, perhaps, 'hear', the difference!)
    posted by jack_mo at 4:57 AM on May 6, 2006

    Alright, mefi music making masses -- how about a decent, free mp3 IDx tagger? Preferably one that isn't ridiculously complicated but isn't ridiculously crippled over-'user-firendly' either?
    posted by Drexen at 5:16 AM on May 6, 2006

    drexen, I use mp3tag and most likely will never use anything else.
    posted by ashbury at 5:41 AM on May 6, 2006

    Thanks, ashbury - actually after looking through AskMefi and finding this question I got hold of MusicBrainz and Tag and Rename, which are pretty much just what I was looking for.
    posted by Drexen at 7:22 AM on May 6, 2006

    Drexen: fb2k's also a very good multi-format tagging tool, on top of playback and arbitary format transcoding.
    posted by Freaky at 8:30 AM on May 6, 2006

    Please link to a test, I have not the energy to read an entire forum searching for a test.

    The most interesting blind test on mp3 quality I've ever come across is from a german magazine circa 2000. There's no foil hattery and no $15k interconnects but how about a $12k tube-drive pair of electrostatic headphones, B&W speakers and marantz cd player and amp (total cost ~$18k)? They ripped and encoded them with musicmatch (which has a terrible encoder) and burned them to CD to avoid differences from the DACs. Results? Not too surprisingly, zealots on either side will be left crestfallen. Individuals could detect samples with varying accuracy and the style of music had no apparent correlation to quality (or the lack thereof). Overall, 256k samples were rated on average the same as CDs. 128k samples were rated significantly lower on average, but for some songs, the 128k samples were rated higher than CD. Read the whole thing; it's excellent and very thorough.

    With linux/FreeBSD I'm still a fan of xmms, which I run with the plugin for the high-quality MPEG Audio Decoder. Grip is a good graphical CD ripper that supports a variety of encoders (any command-line ones) and uses the excellent CDDA paranoia library.
    posted by nTeleKy at 8:40 AM on May 6, 2006

    My favorite tagger is The Godfather.
    posted by muckster at 8:56 AM on May 6, 2006

    sindark - great article.

    The best part is the comments! What a nice bunch of folks...
    posted by Blip at 9:05 AM on May 6, 2006

    That's the most idiotic thing I've ever heard in my life.

    I'm struggling to imagine why. CDs are not bit perfect every time on every player.
    posted by felix at 9:53 AM on May 6, 2006

    delmoi says: That's the most idiotic thing I've ever heard in my life.

    Are you high? What's your problem? If you get the same results when ripping a CD image that several other people have gotten, the confidence that you all got an accurate rip is much higher. The first principle of accuracy is repeatability; if you have high repeatability across multiple hardware types, inferring accuracy is not at all stupid.

    More generally:

    Lossy compression is good for when you don't have enough storage space to hold all the music you want. A 192kbit-average VBR MP3 gives quite good quality, and cuts the space needed to store a file by about 80%. Generally, unless you have very good equipment, you're just not going to hear much, if any, difference between good MP3 and lossless.

    Don't bother with MP4 or Ogg. They don't work everywhere, and they don't give that much of a sound improvement. Recent versions of the free LAME encoder will keep up with all comers at higher bitrates. You can't compress quite as much, but space is rarely at that much of a premium anymore, and MP3 works absolutely anywhere.

    If you want to rip just once and be done with it, use FLAC. Myself, I had three goals for ripping: A) achieving a bitperfect copy of the original CD, B) taking as little space on the server as possible, given requirement A, and C) giving me a set of MP3s of the same files.

    The approach I took was to generate CUE/WAV files on my Windows PC using EAC. Then I mounted that image with Daemon Tools, and did a quick rip to individual WAV files.. this let me check with AccurateRip that I'd gotten a good image. (this rip takes under a minute, as it's just file-copying from hard drive to hard drive.) If I had a good image, I deleted the individual WAVs and reripped to MP3. Finally, I dumped the files on a Linux server, and started on the next CD.

    When I was done ripping (a couple of weeks, actually), I batch-compressed the CUE/WAVs to FLAC. The batch script files were more complex than I expected, so if you want a copy, drop me a note. You'd probably have to edit them for your setup, but they'll get you past several issues, spaces in filenames being one of them.

    This is a little complex to set up, but it was the fastest approach I found to achieve my three goals.

    I rip to a single image file because it provides a bitperfect copy of the original music, including gaps/spaces/whatever, and allows seamless transitions from one track to the next... no track pop, which I find annoying as hell. But the CUE format also supports multiple individual files, which is a little more flexible for re-ripping to MP3. If you're not as anal as I am, you may prefer that approach.

    If you have lots of space, you can just leave your CDs as CUE/WAV files. This isn't compressed at all, so most CDs will take between 600 and 800 megs. This lets you mount the images with freeware like Daemon Tools... it makes all your CDs immediately available. (DT can't mount CUE/FLAC files. You have to uncompress them first, which is kind of a pain.)

    For instance, if you happen to fall in love with iTunes/iPods, you can mount your CD images and then 'rip' to AAC with iTunes. Note that iTunes is explicitly programmed to detect the default name of Daemon Tools' virtual drive and refuse to rip from it, so you have to change the default name during the install. Other than that, it works flawlessly. It's very fast... the actual ripping time is practically instant. The compression can take awhile, but I _think_ iTunes puts that off in another thread so you can rip like crazy.

    I realize this this whole process is a big PITA, but I'm all done now, except for the occasional new CD rip. It takes only a couple of extra minutes to rip this way (and a bit more attention), and I end up with both bitperfect images AND mp3 files. My CDs are all stored away... if I'm careful with my backups, I should never need them again.
    posted by Malor at 10:32 AM on May 6, 2006

    Note that some players do not support HE-AAC MP4 files correctly (recent versions of Foobar2000 and Winamp do).
    I don't understand why anyone would want to use HE-AAC for anything but streaming.

    LAME -V2 --vbr-new 4 lyfe.
    posted by darukaru at 11:03 AM on May 6, 2006

    I found that 128kbps/256kbps/CD comparison test very interesting.

    The main observation I would make: if I read correctly, the listeners were comparing 3 lots of 1 minute samples of 17 different tracks. This seems to me a fatally flawed experiment set-up, as it is very unlike actual listening conditions, where people listen to the music they enjoy, a whole albumn at a time.

    When listening to an albumn I like, I often tend to become quite engrossed in the sound, my consciousness fairly consumed by it's primary input. In this manner I am able to hear all manner of subtleties totally absent when listening either casually, or with intentional focus.

    For instance, in my own very limited randomised testing, with my own fairly cheap (though not dirt cheap) equipment, I am able to tell the difference between 192kbps .ogg and CD, when listening to whole albumns. When taking an individual track, out of context, it is much harder.
    posted by MetaMonkey at 12:22 PM on May 6, 2006

    Is there a freeware Windows tool for ripping the audio from a DVD?
    posted by pracowity at 1:29 PM on May 6, 2006

    Lots of great information here. Despite my snarky comment about mp3s and audiophiles I still rip to mp3 now and then and appreciate having good tools. It may be time for me to make a new batch of test CDs to see how a 256k on the latest version of LAME compares to the original WAV file.

    However, who needs lossy compression? I just heard a McIntosh Music Server today - 300 gigs, room enough for 1,000 CDs worth of music using lossless compression. By the time that is filled you know there will be terabyte versions available.
    posted by caddis at 2:42 PM on May 6, 2006

    pracowity, I have a slightly clunky solution (Windows). Use SmartRipper to extract each chapter to a separate .VOB file. Then use DVD2AVI to extract and convert the audio of each .VOB file to a .WAV file.
    posted by smiffy at 4:50 PM on May 6, 2006

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