- Encoding Audio into MP3 and VQF Formats
The next major step is to compress that whopping 250 Mbyte WAV file into a 6.5 Mbyte file, or maybe even smaller 2 Mbyte file. How do you such wonderful things? Simple, use either a MP3 or VQF encoder. You may be asking, "That sounds nice, but which one should I use - MP3 or VQF, and what's the difference?". That's a good question. Here's a few thoughts to help you decide.
MP3 versus VQF
First you must decide which audio compression/encoding format you will use. Both have the same basic idea: analyze frequency content of audio and compress by encoding only audible content. Unbelievably this can reduce a file size by 10:1 with virtually no loss in quality. And, if you are willing to sacrifice quality, one can achieve compression of almost 100:1 at the extreme. So what's the difference:
So, which one? That's up to you. I prefer MP3 because of its widespread acceptance. Also, the popularity of MP3 and the abundance of related software makes it much more attractive to the majority of people. If you would like to compare the formats, check out my site which uses MP3. The bottom line is that all of these will work, but you may have more happy visitors depending on which one you choose.
- MP3: The MP3 format, which stands for MPEG 2 Layer 3, has been around for a while. It is a part of the second generation of the standard MPEG format that is used to compress both audio and video. Most video capture boards save files in this format. It is by far the most popular format. Many expect it to take over the music business and revolutionize how we listen to music. Already many companies sell handheld or wristwatch players that play MP3 files from Flash Roms instead of CD's. In general (except really low sampling rates), MP3 has slightly better quality than VQF. Also, there is an abundant source of players, encoders, and other related software for the MP3 format because of its immense popularity. Check out the web site of the guys who invented the MP3 and MP3Pro formats.
- VQF: At one time, some expected this to become the encoding format of the future. However, it never gained popularity, and the MP3 format is easily the most favorite and popular format to date. For more info, check out the site of those who invented VQF and the site of those who are pushing it.
- WMA: The Microsoft format (Windows Media Audio) is a little bit better than MP3, but not nearly as popular, and and it is not nearly as well supported in hardware players. Although it has an almost 2x better compression ratio as MP3 for the same audio quality, its lack of acceptance prevents it from being a favored format. Why? The WMA format, like MP3, is not free. Although Microsoft currently gives away the encoders, many people fear that one day it may start charging.
- MP3Pro: The updated version of MP3 that is supposed to compete with WMA. Achieves a similar 2x boost. Again, it has not been as widely accepted, although it has some form of backwards compatability.
- Ogg: Keep your eye on this one! Although this format is not quite ready for prime time, the format has more potential and is absolutely free! Being developed by the open source community, this format has absolutely no strings attached. This format may eventually be the most popular.
Encoding the WAV file -
First you must download an MP3 or VQF compressor. First check Fraunhofer Institute's web-page on its official MP3 encoders, which are licensed. See the same web site, as referred to earlier and listed here (Vamp's Page on Encoders) about comparing MP3 encoding programs. I use AudioActive's Production Studio Lite which retails for about $35. They have been known to offer a free 30-day trial download, but it is currently discontinued. Cool Edit 2000 can also encode in MP3; therfore, if you use it, then you do not need a separate encoder. If you want a free VQF encoder, you can download a free 90-day trial encoder from Yamaha.
Once you have downloaded an encoder program, you can use this program to encode the audio file into either the MP3/VQF format, depending on which encoder you selected. Just to get you started, try setting the compression preferences to the 16,000 Hz sampling rate, 20 kbps, the Mono setting, and the MP3 output format (using AudioActive's trial version). Compress away! This will take a while too. Depending on the quality of your compressor, the quality and size of your final MP3 file will vary. Using this sampling rate (20 kbps, 16000 Hz for MP3 encoding) produces a comparably small file (6.5 Mbytes for 45 minutes), and balances well between file size and audio quality. This is what I use for all of my recordings. For the VQF encoder, try the 11kHz/8kbps setting to produce the small 2 Mbyte files. Stereo is not required, since most sermons are recorded in Mono anyway. Also, stereo would double the file size too.
If you are going provide streaming audio on your site, then your primary concern in selecting an encoding rate is the bits-per-second (BPS or "bit rate") parameter. You must make sure that the bit rate you select is below the modem connection speed you want to support. For example, any modem that connects at 28.8 kbps should easily be able to handle a streamed audio file at the 20 kbps rate. The 24 kbps rate should also be possible, but any momentary hiccup in the network may cause a slight pause in the playback, which is not uncommon. Because of this, I prefer the 20 kbps set of encoding rates. Typically the higher sampling frequency (22,050 Hz, 16,000 Hz, etc.) within a given bit rate is better. Also, it helps to plan ahead and choose the original recording rate (48,000 Hz, 44,100 Hz, etc.) such that the encoding rate is an integer factor of the original rate (48,000 / 16,000 = 3 - an integer, no decimal). This makes better encoding. Encoding rates that are not integer factors must be "resampled". That is why "Resample" is listed by some frequency choices, but not all, in the "Encoding Properties" window in AudioActive's Production Studio. Planning ahead so that resampling is not required produces superior results.
Once the encoder finishes crunching, try testing it to see if you are satisfied with the output. If not, try different compression levels to get the results you like - just don't forget to balance file size and bit rate against quality. Once you have completed the encoding step, then you are ready to update your web-site with your new audio files!
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