Xorys' MP3 FAQ

Hello... and Welcome


This page contains a bunch of Frequently Asked Questions about the MP3 music compression format and related topics, and some basic answers to them.

A couple of disclaimers... This is not an "official" FAQ of any kind. And I am not an MP3 "expert". I work in software support, I fool around with MP3 quite a bit and take part in discussions about it, and I've been fiddling with computer music in one form or another since we used to send signals to the tape drives to make a tune by causing them to hum at different frequencies. Boy, have we come a long way! So anyway... what I'm trying to say is that I'm more or less just an unqualified mumbler. But since I found I kept answering the same questions about MP3 quite often, I decided I might as well try and keep the answers in one place. And once I tried to put the answers in one place, I decided I might as well put them up on the web. BTW, did I mention that I'm just a little bit obsessive / compulsive? ;-}

Enough introductory whiffle! I've finally reorganized the FAQ a bit to try to make things easier to find - more fixing up to come soon if I can find time (tightening up answers, removing duplicate information, and adding a Glossary, hopefully). Check out the list of main Sections below, and click on the name of the section you want to go to, then browse the questions, and click on the question you're interested in to go to the answer, such as it is. Or use your browser's find function (usually Ctrl-F) to search for a word or phrase you're interested in.

Obviously I've included facts and references here that I've picked up from various people, especially the participants in the usenet group alt.music.mp3 - my thanks to all those people... but of course any errors found here and the limitations of the answers are entirely my responsibility.

If you think an answer should be changed, or you have an additional question you'd like answered please feel free to email me at xorys@idirect.ca. Fair warning though - I get quite a bit of email, so I may not always be as prompt as I'd like to be about responding to or acting on messages sent to me.

Have fun!

Sections

Click on the name of a SECTION to go to the questions for that section.


GETTING MP3
Getting Hold of MP3

LISTENING TO MP3
Listening to MP3 on your PC

WHAT IS MP3?
General questions about the MP3 format, managing your MP3 files, etc.

RECORDING TO MP3
Making MP3 from your own CDs / Tapes / Vinyl etc (includes encoding)
(see also: WHAT IS MP3? and CHANGING MP3)

RECORDING FROM MP3
Moving MP3 off your PC to listen to elsewhere (includes CD burning)
(see also: CHANGING MP3)

CHANGING MP3
Converting and Editing MP3 files (includes streaming audio)
(see RECORDING TO MP3 for encoding)

MISCELLANEOUS
Questions that didn't fit into any of the other categories

Questions

Click on a question to go to the answer to that question.


GETTING MP3
Getting Hold of MP3:

How do I get hold of some MP3 songs???

How do I download MP3 files from newsgroups, joining all the parts and decoding them?

What is the best MP3 search engine?

What's a good MP3 search engine?

When I search for MP3, all the files are on FTP sites, and I get errors when I try to download them - what gives?

How do I get MP3 files from FTP sites?

What does a message like "New FTP site: 24.30.138.13 USER mp3 password mp3 port: 21 Ratio is 1/3" mean?

Can I access FTP sites using my browser?

I download MP3 files from the web, but they just disappear after a while - why?

I'm clicking a web link for an MP3 song and getting an ".htm" file instead - what's the problem?

When I click on an MP3 link in IE I get a message about "extended information" and no file downloads - why?

Is there a FAQ for Napster?

How does Napster link to MP3 files?

Is Napster safe to use?

I can't access the MP3 binary newsgroups - how do I get access?

Can I download MP3 files from newsgroups with Netscape?

Can I get MP3 files from multi-part usenet posts with Netscape?

How do I get an MP3 file from the all the separate parts in a newsgroup using Outlook Express?

How to I get an MP3 that has been posted in multiple parts, using Outlook Express?


LISTENING TO MP3
Listening to MP3 on your PC:

When I play MP3 files, can I mix one song into another?

Can I play the output from my computer MP3 player through my home stereo?

I downloaded MP3 files and they skip / play fast / make weird noises - what can I do?

Is it possible to get hi-fi output playing MP3 files from a computer through a stereo system?

Is it possible to play MP3 files from CD ROM data disks?

Will uncook95.exe fix the problems with my MP3 files?

How do I create a Winamp playlist containing a whole bunch of MP3 files I have on disk?

How do I put files on the Winamp playlist?

Why don't my Winamp playlists play in order?

How do I stop Winamp from skipping when playing MP3 files?

Winamp skips and stutters when playing MP3 - what can I do?

When I play MP3 through Winamp it plays too softly... what can I do?

When I play MP3 in Winamp it won't play loud at all - why?

Why does Winamp keep trying to go online and access "CDDB" when I play a CD? How do I stop it?

How do I use Winamp skins that I've downloaded?

How do I use new Winamp skins I've downloaded?

Will Winamp play MP3 on a 486?


WHAT IS MP3?
General questions about the MP3 format, managing your MP3 files, etc:

What do "sampling rate" and "bitrate" mean when describing MP3 files?

Is there an MP3 database to help me keep track of all my MP3 files?

What information is contained in ID3 tags, and how can I manipulate it?

What bitrate for MP3 files will give "CD quality"?

What is VBR and is it a good thing?

What kbps and kHz rate should I record at for CD quality?

Is there a "standard level" for digital recording?


RECORDING TO MP3
Making MP3 from your own CDs / Tapes / Vinyl etc (includes encoding):
(see also: WHAT IS MP3? and CHANGING MP3)

What do "ripping" and "encoding" mean?

Do all CD ROM drives support "ripping" of audio tracks?

My ripper program won't recognise my CD drive - what can I do?

Is it possible / ok to rip from CDs directly to MP3, or should I rip to WAV files?

When I rip tracks from CD I get static-like noises and skips - what can I do?

When I play an audio CD in my CD ROM drive and record a WAV file it sounds fine, but when I "rip" tracks from the CD they skip and have noises... what gives?

How is the volume controlled when "ripping" from a CD?

What's a good, free program to rip tracks from CD?

How do different ripping programs compare?

There's a file called CDFS.VXD which allows me to see my audio CD tracks as WAV files, so can't I use this instead of a ripper program?

Is it possible to rip tracks from a CD using Winamp?

Where can I get a good, legal, free MP3 encoder?

What is the best free MP3 encoder?

What is the best software to make MP3 files without losing quality?

Is there a free MP3 encoder that works under Windows NT?

Is there an encoder to encode multiple wav files in a batch?

Where can I get a version of the Fraunhofer codec?

How do I get BladeEnc to encode at a bitrate other than 128 kbps?

How do you record MP3 from Cassette Tapes?

How do I record from vinyl disks?

Is there software to remove noises (scratches etc.) from recording made from vinyl disks?

What software can I use to make MP3 files from tapes and LPs?

When I try to record from line input to my soundcard, I don't get anything - any ideas?

I'm trying to record from the line in socket of my soundcard and I can't - what gives?

When I try to record by connecting my stereo into my soundcard I get a hum - why?


RECORDING FROM MP3
Moving MP3 off your PC to listen to elsewhere (includes CD burning):
(see also: CHANGING MP3)

Can I put my MP3 tunes onto audio CDs to play on my stereo, in my car etc?

Can I create CDs to play in my car with my CD-RW writer?

How do I create audio CDs from my MP3 files using Winamp and Easy CD Creator?

How can I make a compilation CD with tracks from various CDs I have?

What format do I have to put my songs in to play them on my stereo?

Can I burn audio CDs from MP3 files at different bitrates and sampling rates?

I'm getting errors when I try to burn a CD - what can I do?

I have some WAV files and when I try to burn them to an audio CD, the burner software rejects them - why?

How do CDR's made with a burner compare to regular CDs in terms of sound quality?

What are the best quality blank CDR's on the market?

Can I record audio tracks to a CD-RW disk?

Can I copy my MP3 files to a CDR disk and play them that way?

When saving MP3 files to CD, is it better to use Direct CD with CD-RW disks or to burn CDR disks?

Is there a CD burner program that I can legally download free?

Does MP3 CD Maker work?

What affects sound quality in CD burning?

When I burn audio CDs my stereo plays them but won't skip to specific tracks - why?

I made an audio CD and it plays ok on my PC but won't play on my stereo - why?

I burned some audio CDs and they won't play on my CD player - how come?

How do I burn a CD without gaps between the tracks?

Can I adjust the volume level when making an audio CD from MP3 files?

How can I adjust the volume level of my MP3 files as I burn them to an audio CD?

How can I record my MP3 files to tape?

How can I record my MP3 songs to an audio tape to play in my car / walkman?


CHANGING MP3
Converting and Editing MP3 files (includes streaming audio):
(see RECORDING TO MP3 for encoding)

How do I convert MP3 files to WAV files?

How do I get WAV files from MP3 files using Winamp?

Can I record streamed audio such as web radio?

I've downloaded a song as a "zip" file - how do I get to play it?

How do I change the extension of a file (e.g. from "zip" to "mp3")?

Is there software for editing MP3 files?

If I convert MP3 to WAV for editing, won't I lose quality when I encode to MP3 again?

What is a good, cheap WAV editing program?

What does "normalization" mean? What's the difference between normalizing "peak" level and "average" level?

Can I normalize MP3 files (make them play at a standard volume)?

Can I change the ID3 tags on my MP3 files?

Is there a program to change the ID3 tags on an MP3 file through right clicking on the file?

Is it possible to "filter" MP3 files to remove noise etc?

How can I make an MP3 from the audio in an AVI file?

What is a ".viv" file?

How do I reduce the bitrate of MP3 files (e.g. to fit more songs into my portable player)?

Can I make all my MP3 files play at the same volume?

Can I convert Real Media files to WAV?

Can I convert WMA files to WAV using Winamp?


MISCELLANEOUS
Questions that didn't fit into any of the other categories:

What is SDMI, and will it stop me listening to MP3 music?

Where can I get MP3 Software for my Mac?

What is the HTML for making an MP3 file available from a web page?

Why buy a CD burner rather than just adding a bigger hard disk?

Can I buy a player to play MP3 in my Car?

Can I run an FTP server myself to share my MP3 files?

Which portable MP3 player should I get?

How do I link from a web page to a file on an FTP site?

How do I post MP3 files to a newsgroup?

How do I post an MP3 file to a usenet group?



Answers

GETTING MP3
Getting Hold of MP3:

How do I get hold of some MP3 songs???

Here are the basic ways of getting MP3 files:

1) Rip them yourself. You can create MP3 files from any recorded music you have. Programs such as Musicmatch Jukebox will rip tracks from audio CDs straight to MP3. I used to find Musicmatch's MP3 encoder less than great, so I used it to extract music from CDs, but I set it to extract to WAV files, and then used BladeEnc (a free program) to encode the WAV files to MP3. Subsequently I switched to using an excellent free program for ripping from CDs which includes the Blade and LAME encoders... this is CDEX, which you can download from:

www.cdex.n3.net

More recently, Musicmatch changed the encoder it uses to create MP3 files to one from Fraunhofer, so I actually switched back to using Musicmatch to rip directly to MP3. But you still had to pay to register Musicmatch in order to be able to encode at useful bitrates. Even more recently, Musicmatch changed their policies again - you can now download free a version of Musicmatch which will allow you to encode at all bitrates up to 320 kbps - and this version also includes functionality for burning audio CDs as well! CDEX is still a very functional free alternative.

You can also record from tapes or vinyl albums, but it requires a little more ingenuity. For tapes, you can connect the earphone socket of a walkman to the line-in of your sound card, and then use a program such as Goldwave (www.goldwave.com) to record to WAV files. For vinyl you need to take an audio line-out from somewhere in your stereo set up and run it into your sound card... running a turntable directly into your sound card generally won't work, since the level is wrong and the frequency distribution is distorted (this being normally corrected by the pre-amp circuits of an amplifier / receiver designed to accept magnetic phono input). You will then need to use an encoder to convert the WAV files to MP3 - again you can use CDEX, employing the WAV to MP3 option.

2) Downloading from web pages. There *is* lots of MP3 on the web.... but... there are also a lot of dead links. The most reliable MP3 on the web is stuff like www.mp3.com which is all straight-up fully legal MP3 authorised by the content providers. There's lots of good music there, but it takes time to find stuff you like, since you'll never have heard of most of the artists. There are search engines to help you find stuff. You can use regular search engines such as Altavista, hotbot etc. There are also special search engines such as www.audiovalley.com, www.scour.net etc. These will find some web posts, but the majority of what they find will probably be FTP (see below).

3) FTP. File Transfer Protocol. It's just another way of transfering files over the net. If files on an FTP site are freely downloadable without restrictions, you should be able to download them through you browser. But most FTP sites are "ratio" sites, meaning they won't let you download unless you first upload something. The "ratio" part refers to the ratio between how much you upload and how much you download - a 1:5 site ratio means you must upload 1 Mb for every 5 Mb you want to download. To use a ratio site you will have to work with an FTP client, i.e. a program specifically designed for doing FTP, such as Cute FTP, WS FTP. There programs allow you define FTP sites in a directory, along with the logins and passwords for them - when you get an FTP link from the web, it will look something like "ftp://mp3:grab@123.45.67.8/mp3z/thisfile.mp3" - in this link "123.45.67.8" is the address of the FTP site (this is an actual IP address - you way also see a textual address, such as joes.mp3.ftp), "mp3" is the logon id, "grab" is the password, the file name is "thisfile.mp3" and it is in directory "mp3z" on the FTP server... to put this into an FTP program, you'd specify 123.45.67.8 as the site address, "mp3" as the logon, "grab" as the password... then you'd hit the "Connect" button, and once you'd logged on, you'd change directory to "mp3z" to look for your file. Unfortunately, there are rather a lot of complications. Many FTP sites are only up at certain hours of the day (their owners use the computers for other things the rest of the time). When the sites *are* up, you often can't get in because they're too busy - most of these sites are just on desktop PCs, and to function they need to restrict the number of simultaneous logins to something like 3 or 4. If you get a "can't connect to site message" try at another time. If you get a "too many logins" message, just keep trying (it's kind of like a phone busy signal). Even once you get in, satisfying site owners' ratio requirements can be tricky - they may only want certain types of file, that you don't have. Really you almost need to establish a trading relationship with certain site owners to make this work.

NOTE: For downloading from the web, or from FTP sites that are *not* ratio sites, I would highly recommend getting a download manager program. The two main ones are Go!zilla and Getright. I use the free version of Go!zilla myself, and I'm pleased with it. These programs will intercept when you click on a download (http or ftp) link in your browser, and manage the download for you... they do it much better than browsers, which were not mainly designed for downloading large files... they can schedule downloads to take place while you're sleeping, and they will automatically restart interrupted downloads, resuming where they left off (if the host site supports download resumption, as most sites now do). You can obtain such software through the ZDNet software library (PC Magazine's free download zone) at www.hotfiles.com - you can also find FTP client software, MP3 encoders and pretty much anything else you might need through ZDNet.

4) Real time chat trading. You can trade MP3 files with others using the file transfer features of chat functions such as ICQ or IRC. I'm told that IRC in particular is a rich source for MP3 files. I haven't really done this myself. Since you're using icqmail, I guess you already have ICQ, so you probably know more about it than me. To use IRC, you'll need an IRC program - MIRC is probably the best known. Again you can find IRC software through ZDNet. I can't give you detailed advice on this, because I haven't done it... but you could try asking on IRC itself (which is principally a chat medium) or on the mp3 discussion newsgroup.

5) The MP3 newsgroups. I've probably obtained more MP3 music this way than any other. There are many MP3 newsgroups - just search the group list downloaded in your newsreader for "mp3". The single biggest one is alt.binaries.sounds.mp3 - warning: it's *huge* - if you have access to a decent newsserver just downloading the headers for alt.binaries.sounds.mp3 will take a while and involve something like 5 Mbs of data (and that's just for the headers). I don't know what you use for news reading. I'd highly recommend getting a proper newsreader, rather than trying to use your browser. Personally I use Agent from Forté software. I guess it's possible to get ok results with Microsoft Outlook Express, but I couldn't say how exactly, since I haven't worked with it much. There are also special programs specifically designed for retrieving binaries from newsgroups... I was experimenting with one called NewsShark recently (free - got it from ZDNet), and it did a reasonable job. Actually I've gone back to using Agent myself... but NewsShark is free and Agent isn't... and you could do worse than trying NewsShark, especially to experiment and see if you find music you like. MP3 files posted in newsgroups are posted in many "parts", which means an individual file will be split over anywhere from 5 individual messages to 200 or more. Programs such as NewsShark and Agent will join the parts together automatically for you (most of the time at least - a few weird posts sometimes don't get joined). With Outlook Express, I believe you have to sort the posts by subject then select all the parts belonging to a given file (you can tell from the header subjects - they'll be something like "Blue suede shoes - 1/12" "Blue suede shoes - 2/12" etc... meaning part 1 of 12, part 2 of 12), then right click on them and select something like "Join parts and decode" from the pop-out menu.

6) Napster is a new, web-based MP3 trading systems. I have some security concerns about it, since it is new, and involves allowing access to your hard drive initiated by third parties. You can find out more about it at www.napster.com or www.macster.com for the Mac version.

There are also now a couple of other "file trading" systems like Napster, CuteMX (from the folks who created CuteFTP - see ftp.cuteftp.com), iMesh (see www.imesh.com), Spinfrenzy (www.spinfrenzy.com), and MediaShare (www.mp3sharing.com).

How do I download MP3 files from newsgroups, joining all the parts and decoding them?

Forget Netscape for this. There are various programs you can use. Forté Agent is a good dedicated newsreader. Even Microsoft Outlook Express will do a reasonable job of joining and decoding posts. There are also programs designed specifically for retrieving binaries. I've been experimenting with a program called "NewsShark" recently. It's free - you can download it through ZDNet (www.hotfiles.com). It's a bit buggy (sometimes crashes when you exit it, for example), and rather clunky - it takes a *long* time to start up and shut down once you've loaded a bunch of headers into it. But it does join binaries fine, and it has at least one advantage over Agent (or at least, the version of Agent that I have) - if it's downloading a large binary and the newsserver kicks it off or locks up on it, it will automatically restart the download, keeping the portion of the binary that it has already downloaded... this can be quite a time saver when you're trying to retrieve large files.

***

You have to download all the parts. The parts should have a number somewhere in the header like "Moon River 12/25" - this means that this particular message is part 12 or 25 parts. If you're not using a newsreader that automatically joins parts (try Free Agent - download it from ZDNet - www.hotfiles.com - for example), then it's a good idea to sort the newsgroup by subject, so all the parts come together. Check that all the parts are present - if some are missing (e.g. it says /25 but only 22 parts are actually there), then basically you can't download and decode that song. If all the parts are present, you'll need to retrieve them all, combine them, and decode the result. Free Agent will join the parts and decode automatically, most of the time, so you just need to retrieve the joined message... occasionally it won't recognise the way the headers are formatted and you'll have to join the parts manually - by selecting them all, right clicking, and choosing "Join" from the menu. Outlook Express won't join automatically, but you can join by selecting all the posts, right clicking, and choosing "Combine and decode". Always make sure you have arranged all the parts in the right order by number before OKing the join operation. Netscape won't join posts at all, so you'd just have to save the posts to a text file in order and then decode it with an external UUdecoder program - you might as well just switch to a real newsreader program. Check out the FAQ for the MP3 binary groups at:

www.mp3-faq.org

What is the best MP3 search engine?

I don't know which the best is really - it depends what you're looking for and changes from day to day. But www.audiovalley.com provides access to most of the major engines all from a single page, so it's a good place to start. Actually I find kermit, audiofind and lycos are about the most likely to find useful results. Also sometimes just searching in general search engines such as Altavista and Hotbot finds stuff that the specialised engines don't.

What's a good MP3 search engine?

If you go to www.audiovalley.com you can access pretty much all the main search engines from a single page. Kermit, Lycos and Scour seem to produce the most results, usually...

When I search for MP3, all the files are on FTP sites, and I get errors when I try to download them - what gives?

If files on an FTP site are freely downloadable without restrictions, you should be able to download them through you browser. But most FTP sites are "ratio" sites, meaning they won't let you download unless you first upload something. The "ratio" part refers to the ratio between how much you upload and how much you download - a 1:5 site ratio means you must upload 1 Mb for every 5 Mb you want to download. To use a ratio site you will have to work with an FTP client, i.e. a program specifically designed for doing FTP, such as Cute FTP, WS FTP. Programs such as Getright and Go!zilla are useless for ratio sites, since they can't do the upload part. Actuall FTP client programs allow you to define FTP sites in a directory, along with the logins and passwords for them - when you get an FTP link from the web, it will look something like "ftp://mp3:grab@123.45.67.8/mp3z/thisfile.mp3" - in this link "123.45.67.8" is the address of the FTP site (this is an actual IP address - you way also see a textual address, such as joes.mp3.ftp), "mp3" is the logon id, "grab" is the password, the file name is "thisfile.mp3" and it is in directory "mp3z" on the FTP server... to put this into an FTP program, you'd specify 123.45.67.8 as the site address, "mp3" as the logon, "grab" as the password... then you'd hit the "Connect" button, and once you'd logged on, you'd change directory to "mp3z" to look for your file. Unfortunately, there are rather a lot of complications. Many FTP sites are only up at certain hours of the day (their owners use the computers for other things the rest of the time). When the sites *are* up, you often can't get in because they're too busy - most of these sites are just on desktop PCs, and to function they need to restrict the number of simultaneous logins to something like 3 or 4. If you get a "can't connect to site message" try at another time. If you get a "too many logins" message, just keep trying (it's kind of like a phone busy signal - many programs will retry automatically for you... see the setup options). Even once you get in, satisfying site owners' ratio requirements can be tricky - they may only want certain types of file, that you don't have. Really you almost need to establish a trading relationship with certain site owners to make this work.

How do I get MP3 files from FTP sites?

You can always try just clicking on the link as it is presented in your browser from the search engine... this might just work. However, it often won't work, for a number of reasons. One very common reason is that most ftp sites are "ratio" sites, which means you have to upload something before you can download something... a ratio site will have a ratio such as 1:5, which means, basically, that you can download 5 Mb for every 1 mb you upload. To use a ratio site you will probably want to install an ftp client (such as CuteFTP or WS-FTP) on your PC, if you don't already have one (although you *can* do it with your browser), and you will need some MP3 files of your own to upload. If you want to go ahead and try this, install your ftp client, then, if you have a link like:

ftp://mp34u:mp3@142.169.87.11:21/songs/thingummy.mp3

for example, specify 142.169.87.11 as the address of the ftp site, and mp34u as the login id and mp3 as the password. 21 is the port number, but 21 is the default ftp port, so you probably won't need to specify this. Then you have to try to connect to the ftp site. Many ftp sites don't operate 24 hours a day seven days a week, so if the site is unavailable, or if it's too busy, try logging in again at another time. If you succeed in logging in, you can try to find and download the file you want - using an ftp site is pretty similar to browsing through directories on your hard disk. If you try to download the file and get a message like "insufficient credit" or just "permission denied" then probably you need to upload first... there will usually be a directory called "uploads" or something similar into which you should transfer the song you are uploading.

To use your browser type:

ftp://mp34u:mp3@142.169.87.11:21

into the "Location" input box and press enter. There may be some kind of welcome information message on the main directory page, which will give you more info. To upload, you generally should change to the upload directory (look for a link with the word "upload" in it on the main directory page and click on it)... once your browser is showing the upload directory page, just drag and drop an MP3 file into your browser, and you should be prompted as to whether you want to upload it. Downloading is simpler - just click on the directory links to move from directory to directory, (in the example above the song "thningummy.mp3" would be in the directory "songs" found in the main directory) and when you see the link for the song you want, just click on it to download... but as mentioned above, for most sites you'll have to upload first.

It's a bit of an uphill struggle sometimes. Good luck!

What does a message like "New FTP site: 24.30.138.13 USER mp3 password mp3 port: 21 Ratio is 1/3" mean?

You either put this info into an FTP client such as WS-FTP or CuteFTP... in which case you'd enter "24.30.138.13" as the server name/address, "mp3" as the logon id, and "mp3" as the password; you wouldn't need to enter the port since 21 is the default FTP port; then you connect to the site (press the "Connect" button), and if you succeed in connecting (you probably won't, since the site will often be offline or busy), then you have to upload (that is transfer from your machine *to* the FTP site) 1 MB of song data for every 3 Mb you want to download. Uploads should normally be put into a directory with "Upload" in its name. There will often be a text file in the main directory or in the upload directory specifying what you are expected to upload and other stuff about the site.

You can access such sites using your browser (Netscape or IE). To use the above site, you would enter:

ftp://mp3:mp3@24.30.138.13:21

into the Location box in your browser, and then press enter. This will try to log you on, and if it succeeds you will see the contents of the main directory displayed with sub-directories displayed as folders and files displayed as text links. To change to a subdirectory just click on the folder. To upload, change to the upload directory then drag and drop a file from a Windows Explorer or My Computer window into the browser window. To download, just click on the link for the file you want.

Can I access FTP sites using my browser?

You can access FTP sites with your browser. If you type into the URL box in your browser the following:

ftp://userid:password@server.name/directory:port

where:

"userid" is the user logon id
"password" is the password
"server name" is the URL name of the server (may also be an IP number, eg 123.12.34.123)
"directory" is the directory path to access on the server
"port" is the port number to use (may be omitted if the default port of 21 is to be used)

this will log you on to the FTP server and display the contents of the directory (so long as a login is possible - FTP servers are often unavailable or impossible to log on to because maximum users are already logged on). You can download files by clicking on the file name in the directory. You can upload files by dragging them from a "windows explorer" or "my computer" window and dropping them into the browser window (with Netscape or IE anyway - I don't know about other browsers). Generally you should change to a directory with the word "upload" in its name before attempting to upload.

I download MP3 files from the web, but they just disappear after a while - why?

Probably what is happening is that you are simply clicking on the links to the MP3 files and you have a plugin installed for your browser which is capable of playing MP3... so your browser assumes you simply want to play the files, not to save them - so it downloads them to a temporary area under a temporary name (called Temporary Internet Files for IE or disk cache for Netscape). If you want to download the file permanently and keep them, try right clicking on the links and selecting "Save as" - then chose the directory you want to save in. Do *not* save in the Temporary Internet Files or Netscape cache directories, as files in these directories *will* be automatically deleted. You might also want to try downloading a program such as Go!zilla (available for www.hotfiles.com for example) - this program will intercept links to downloadable files from your browser and help you to schedule and manage downloads better than your browser can...

I'm clicking a web link for an MP3 song and getting an ".htm" file instead - what's the problem?

If you're winding up with an .htm extension, you're probably not dealing with links that point directly to MP3 files. I've never heard of *anyone* storing MP3 files with an htm extension (although they do use some strange extensions sometimes), and I doubt they would, as it would almost certainly result in improper downloads. "htm" is a standard extension for HyperText Markup Language files, i.e. basic web pages. Probably either the link is pointing you to another web page which will in turn pass you to the MP3 file, or the creator of the link if just trying to trick you into visiting some web page, or the MP3 files has been removed and the htm file you are getting is some kind of warning or notification from the server telling you that the file is not available.

When I click on an MP3 link in IE I get a message about "extended information" and no file downloads - why?

I think "extended information" is mostly just IE's way of telling you that it got a response that it isn't equipped to deal with. There are all sorts of other reasons an attempt to access an FTP site might fail - most commonly the site is busy so that login is denied, the login / password in the link are no longer valid, or the site has converted to browse only or ratio. If you're sure that you're dealing with non ratio sites I'd recommend using a download manager. The two best known ones are Go!zilla and Getright. You can download a free version of Go!zilla (it displays banners) from the ZDNet software library at www.hotfiles.com (search for "Go!zilla" or "download manager"). A download manager will show you clearer messages, retry automatically for you, allow you to schedule downloads for later, and resume downloads if they are interrupted. For ratio sites, I'd recommend using a real FTP client (also available from ZDNet), although it is possible to use your browser to work with ratio sites.

Is there a FAQ for Napster?

Try http://napster.cjb.net/

How does Napster link to MP3 files?

Well Napster doesn't really deal in 'links' at all in the conventional sense. It basically allows the people using it to access files on each other's hard drives. So you can get files which are on other Napster users' drives, and meanwhile other people can be getting files from your hard drive. You tell Napster which directories it is allowed to use. In some ways it's a good idea, but I worry a bit about the security implications of encouraging unknown third parties on the net to come in and access my hard drive without my having any detailed knowledge of or control over what they are doing (so I haven't personally used Napster - I'm just going by what I've been told about it, essentially, and what their own website says).

Is Napster safe to use?

Well that's certainly the *theory*. But how sure can anyone be sure that it's totally true? Certainly programs running on your computer *can* allow outside parties to do all sorts of things on your machine via a web connection... look at the Back Orifice software, for example, which worked exactly this way. So it's basically a question of whether you completely trust Napster:

a) not to have sneakily included any functionality into their software beyond that declared, and

b) not to have inadvertently left the potential in their software for exploitation by cunning hackers for functions beyond those intended.

Call me paranoid, but that's stretching the limits of my trust, so I haven't given Napster a try yet. When you run Napster, you *are* allowing file access tasks on your computer to be initiated by a third party through your web connection... and you have to *trust* that those file access activities *cannot* exceed read-only access to the files and directories you have specified.

I can't access the MP3 binary newsgroups - how do I get access?

If the binaries newsgroups don't appear on your server's list of groups, then this presumably means that your server doesn't carry them. Some don't, because they take up *lots* of space, and use tons of bandwidth. This basically means that you'll have to get another server. Either sign up with an ISP which provides a decent newsserver including binaries (I can't really recommend one in the UK - you'll need to ask around locally), or subscribe to a dedicated news service... there are quite a number of these, and they usually charge something around $10 US a month I gather. Newsguy is one that a lot of people use... but if you search for "news server" or "usenet server" or "usenet access" in any popular search engine you should come up with a bunch.

Can I download MP3 files from newsgroups with Netscape?


Basically no. You really need to switch to a different program for newsreading. Netscape is simply incapable of combining and decoding attachments spread over multiple messages. The *only* way you could do it might be to force Netscape to save all the parts as text files, then edit them together in the right order into one big text file, and then decode it using a stand-alone uu-decoder.

But honestly, it's really pointless. Just use a newsreader that can combine and decode messages properly. Personally I'd recommend downloading Free Agent, the freeware 'lite' version of Forté's Agent newsreader. It will certainly be a lot better for you than Netscape. Myself I use Agent, the "full" version... but Free Agent is pretty good. Microsoft Outlook Express will also allow you to combine and decode messages, although unlike Agent, it doesn't combine the messages automatically - you have to select all the parts, and then right-click and choose "Combine and decode". There are also programs designed specifically just for retrieving binary files from newsgroups. NewsShark is one - it's free, and it does work, although it's a little clunky (slow to start up and shut down, and sometimes when you go to shut it down it crashes - but other than that it works pretty well... and it can restart interrupted downloads, which is a good feature).

Can I get MP3 files from multi-part usenet posts with Netscape?

Netscape is pretty useless in that department. The only way you can do it is to save all the parts in the right order into a file on your hard disk, and then convert them with a separate program which can read UU encoded data and decode it.

I'd seriously suggest, if you have much interest in doing this sort of thing, that you switch to a real Newsreader program. You can download Free Agent, the free "lite" version of Forté's Agent Newsreader from most shareware / freeware sites (e.g. www.hotfiles.com) and it will do a much better job for you than Netscape. Heck, even Outlook Express will do a better job than Netscape on this front.

I suggest that you check out the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) for the MP3 Binary Groups at www.mp3-faq.org

How do I get an MP3 file from the all the separate parts in a newsgroup using Outlook Express?

You select multiple files in Outlook Express the same way you select multiple files anywhere else in Windows:

* Click on one file to start.

* Either hold down the Control key and click on additional files (if you select one you don't want by accident, you can remove it from your selection by clicking on it again, still holding down the Control key).

* Alternatively hold down the Shift key and click on another file - all the files between the first file you clicked and the second one will be selected. This works well for combining MP3 parts. First sort the headers by name... this should make the parts that belong to a single song all come together in order - then just click on the first part, hold down the Shift key, and click on the last part... and they should all be selected.

Then right click anywhere on the selection, and pick "Combine and decode" from the menu that pops up.

How to I get an MP3 that has been posted in multiple parts, using Outlook Express?

* Sort the messages in the group by name, so all the parts of a song come together.

* Select all of the parts of the song (click on them one by one whilst holding down the Ctrl key, or click on the first one then hold down the shift key and click on the last one, or whatever...)

* Right click anywhere on the selected parts, and from the menu that pops up chose "Combine and decode"


LISTENING TO MP3
Listening to MP3 on your PC:

When I play MP3 files, can I mix one song into another?

If you just want the songs to merge together somewhat, with a new song coming up as the old one fades away, you can use the Nullsoft Cross-Fader Plugin, which you can download from www.winamp.com under Plugins / Effects. You'll probably need to get the new version of Winamp also - but that's alright, it's free now. And BTW, when you download and install the Cross-Fading Plugin, oddly enough the cross-fading effect seems to be turned off at first - go to Preferences (Ctrl-P), select Output, and then select the Cross Fader Plugin, then press the Configure button... now check the "No gaps on stop or next" box to activate the cross-fading effect. BTW, I find the cross-fading plugin is just generally a better output plugin than the default Wave Out plugin, even if you don't want the cross-fading effect... it manages priorities better, and plays under load without stuttering better, and it gives you more control over the playing parameters (buffer size, read ahead, block-size can all be set manually).

Now if you're a purest DJ type and you actually want the beats of the songs synchronised, well the cross-fading plugin won't do that. There is a program called Virtual Turntables, from a company called Carrot, that will allow you to do actual DJ type effects going from one MP3 song to another... but it's essentially for DJing type uses, and requires manual control. Also it's not free, although I think there is a trial version...

***

Virtual Turntables from Carrot Software seems to do pretty much what you're asking for. Their web site is at:

http://carrot.prohosting.com/

There is also a Winamp plugin available free from www.winamp.com which blends each song into the next on a playlist (it doesn't match beats or anything through). It's called the Nullsoft Cross Fading Plugin (experimental), and I believe you'll find it under Plugins / Effects. BTW, oddly enough the "cross fading" effect is disabled when you install the plugin - select it as your output plugin, press the Configure button, and check the box for "No gaps on stop or next" to enable cross fading.

Another program that I haven't actually tried is Visiosonic's PCDJ at (available from www.mp3masterlist.com/sw/). It's supposedly an MP3 player which also let's you "mix two tracks like a DJ".

Can I play the output from my computer MP3 player through my home stereo?

Yeah, I have both the computers I regularly use connected to stereo systems by cables - I just bought cables from Radio Shack, with a stereo 1/8" plug on one end and two RCA jacks on the other, and I plug the cable into the "line-out" of my audio card and the "aux-in" of my equalizer / mixer. It works fine. I did look into finding some sort of wireless solution for one of the machines, since it wasn't convenient to have it really close to the stereo, but the cheapest wireless devices were around $200, and that seemed a bit much, so I just got a longer cable... it seems to work without a problem - I don't hear any interference or anything.

I've got 24 ft. of cable between my living room machine and the stereo, and it seems to work without a problem - the sound quality is pretty close to playing regular CDs on the stereo, so long as the bit-rate of the MP3s is adequate. I did use shielded extension cable though, not just speaker wires with RCA jacks on the end.

I downloaded MP3 files and they skip / play fast / make weird noises - what can I do?

Well it may be that you have MP3 files that are "cooked"... that is at some point they have been transferred using an incorrect MIME type and essentially processed as ASCII text files rather than binaries. There is a simple solution to this - get a program called "uncook.exe" or "uncook95.exe" (Win 95 version), and it will fix these files up. You can find the uncook utility through the ZDNet site - www.hotfiles.com - just search for "MP3 fix" and it should pop right up. Lot's of MP3 sites also have the program available for download.

Ah well... if you're getting the "underwater treble" effect, then quite probably the file you're trying to play is "cooked"... meaning that it got messed up by being treated as an ASCII text file during a file transfer. You need a program to "uncook" it. You can download uncook95.exe via the ZDNet software library (go to www.hotfiles.com and search for "uncook" or "MP3 fix"). Very likely, once you process your file with this program, it will sound ok. Sometimes, however, MP3 files get irretrievably messed up during bad transfers. Don't give up just because one file doesn't play properly!

Is it possible to get hi-fi output playing MP3 files from a computer through a stereo system?

Well... I do play my MP3 files through my stereo systems, both in my office and in the living room. But what I'm doing is not really "hi-fi". Well... it probably sounds better than what was considered "hi-fi" in my youth, but it wouldn't come anywhere near to meeting current "audiophile" standards, which is what I get the impression you are aiming for. We had a lengthy discussion about this in this group just recently. For me, the results I get by just using a shielded audio cable to connect the line-out of my sound card to an aux input on my stereo are perfectly satisfactory. But I don't have "audiophile ears" and my standards are not enormously exacting. As other posters in the original thread pointed out at length and in detail, there are various reasons why playing MP3 from a regular computer is unlikely to meet "audiophile" standards - apart from the possible quality limitations of the MP3 files themselves, a PC soundcard is unlikely to produce audio of the requisite quality. If you have a *really* good soundcard then maybe... but there's still the problem of isolating it from other components in your PC so no electronic noise intrudes. As I say, I get results which I am quite comfortable with myself, but if you're looking for "total audiophile hi-fi" I think you may be disappointed. How good does your soundcard sound to you when you plug earphones directly into it? That's a good guideline as to what you might expect, I would think...

Is it possible to play MP3 files from CD ROM data disks?

Yes, this should work fine, so long as your system is fairly powerful / not too overloaded. My living room system is a Pentium II and I never had a problem with that. The office system is an older Pentium 120 which I can't be bothered to upgrade at the moment. At first I had problems playing from the CD ROM on that - I kept getting skips in the playback. However I changed the Windows config to user the newer, faster hard drive in the machine for virtual memory, rather than the slower, original drive, and that seems to have fixed the problem, so long as I don't fire up something that really grabs all the resources.

Will uncook95.exe fix the problems with my MP3 files?

Uncook95 doesn't remove "pops" from MP3 files in any general sense. It does one, very specific task, which is to fix MP3 files that have been messed up ("cooked") by being transferred as if they were text files rather than continuous binary data. Files which have this problem can have problems ranging from periodic cracks, wibbles or pops to sounding totally scrambled, playing at the wrong speed etc. If the problem with the file is that it is "cooked" uncook95 will fix it. But if the problem is something different (e.g. the file was recorded from an old vinyl LP that was scratched) uncook95 will do nothing for it at all.

How do I create a Winamp playlist containing a whole bunch of MP3 files I have on disk?

Just click on the "+file" button and hold down your mouse button - you'll see that two other buttons appear above it labelled "+dir" and "+url". Slide the mouse cursor up to the "+dir" button whilst holding down the mouse button and then release the mouse button. A selector window will come up - navigate through it until you find the directory with all your MP3 files in it. If you want to put *all* your files in all the sub-directories into one playlist, then make sure the "Recurse sub-directories" check-box in the selector window is checked, then select you directory - all the files in that directory and in all the directories underneath it will be added to your playlist.

How do I put files on the Winamp playlist?

If your playlist isn't already displayed, click the "PL" button to display it. Then on the Playlist window either click the +FILE button and add the files one at a time or click the +DIR button (click +FILE and then slide up) to add a whole directory (and optionally its subdirectories) at a time. To start a new list, click the Load List button, and slide up to New List.

Why don't my Winamp playlists play in order?

Err... in the main window is the little green light in the "Shuffle" button on (change Skin to if you're having trouble finding the Shuffle button)? If so, click it to turn off Shuffle mode, then the list should play in order. Shuffle mode plays the list in a random order.

How do I stop Winamp from skipping when playing MP3 files?

There may be various causes, and some may be difficult to get around (e.g. some video drivers conflict with audio output in some circumstances, as do some modem operations, and these problems may be hard to fix, other than by updating your device drivers). Here are a few suggestions...

1) Turn off stuff in Winamp that's unnecessary, such as the scrolling title display and the graphic frequency analyser. (Right click on the corresponding part of the Winamp window to control these options...)

2) Get rid of any programs in memory that you don't need. Use Ctl-Alt-Del and then "End task" anything that shouldn't be there. Don't kill Explorer or Systray, or anything you're currently actually using.

3) If you have more than one hard disk, make sure your using the fastest one for Windows virtual memory - this can make a *lot* of difference. Windows will default to using the c: drive usually, but if you've installed a second hard drive later it will probably be faster, and using it for your virtual memory instead will give you better performance. Go to Control Panel / System and select the Performance tab, then press the Virtual Memory button, and do Manual Configuration.

4) Go to www.winamp.com and download the Nullsoft Cross-fading Plugin (Experimental). I believe it can be found under both "Best plugins" and "Output plugins". Despite its name, crossfading (bringing a new song up as the previous one dies away, rather than having a gap in between) is only one feature of this plugin (and oddly enough, despite the name, the cross-fading feature is turned off by default). It seems to do a bet job of managing output than the standard Nullsoft Wave Out plugin, and it gives you more control - if you select it as your Output plugin under Preferences and then press the Configure button, it allows you to set the buffer size, the thread priority, the pre-buffering percentage and the block-size. Actually the default values seem to work well... but if you still have skipping problems, tinkering with these parameters should help. Also, if you actually want the cross-fading feature (which I kind of like myself - it fades from song to song on the playlist rather as a radio station would in a song set), turn it on by checking the "No gaps on stop or next" box in the configuration window.

Actually, come to think of it, I'd probably do these steps in the reverse order I've listed them, more or less. Try the new plugin first - it may solve your problems. The virtual memory things is definitely worth doing anyhow if you have a faster hard drive, since it will improve your overall system performance.

Winamp skips and stutters when playing MP3 - what can I do?

Winamp will skip at times on the best of machines, especially when a dialup network connection is established, for example. But if skipping occurs more frequently, the problem is probably caused by one of two things:

a) Your PC is too weak to really handle playing MP3 whilst doing other things - that is the CPU is too slow, there is not enough memory, and / or the disk I/O is too slow... or:

b) Some other driver on your machine, most likely your video driver, is hogging the bus, and interfering with your MP3 player.

If the problem is case b, then MP3 will probably play ok if you do nothing, but will break up as soon as you start moving your mouse, scrolling, etc. About the only solution for this is to either fiddle with the settings in your video driver or to use a different video driver (either download a new one from the vendor of your video card, or use one of the Windows generic ones, which will reduce your video performance but probably fix your MP3 problem).

If the problem is case a, then you'll have to somehow increase Winamp's priority, reduce Winamp's requirements, reduce the load on your machine, or upgrade the machine. Here are some suggestions for dealing with case a:

1) Increase Winamp's execution priorities and buffering. Start Winamp and go to Preferences (Ctrl-P). Select Options at the left, then increase Winamp's overall process priority by moving the slider at the bottom towards the right, setting it to "High" or "Realtime". Still in Winamp Preferences, select Output on the left then press the Configure button - you should see sliders that will allow you to increase both the priority and the buffering of the output plugin. Now, still in Preferences, select Input on the left, and select Nullsoft MPEG Audio Decoder on the right, then press the Configure button - set the priority using the slider on the General tab (this should normally be set to "Highest").

2) Turn off stuff in Winamp that's unnecessary, such as the scrolling title display and the graphic frequency analyser. Go to the Mainmenu (click in top left corner) / Visualization / Visualization Mode and select "Off" - this will turn off the scope / analyzer display in the Winamp window, which will save some CPU. Also right click on the song title on the main menu and uncheck "Autoscroll song title" in the pop-up menu - this will also save a bit of CPU, and every little helps.

3) Get rid of any programs in memory that you don't need. Use Ctl-Alt-Del and then "End task" anything that shouldn't be there. Don't kill Explorer or Systray, or anything you're currently actually using.

4) If you have more than one hard disk, make sure your using the fastest one for Windows virtual memory - this can make a *lot* of difference. Windows will default to using the C: drive usually, but if you've installed a second hard drive later it will probably be faster, and using it for your virtual memory instead will give you better performance. Go to Control Panel / System and select the Performance tab, then press the Virtual Memory button, and do Manual Configuration.

5) If you try all of the above, and Winamp *still* won't play MP3 without skipping on your machine, then your machine is probably too weak to play MP3 at full quality, and you will have to reduce the playback quality in order to get it to play without skipping. Go to Preferences (Ctrl-P) and select Input in the left window and then select Nullsoft MPEG Audio Decoder in the right window and press the Configure button. Try changing "Decoder Mode" (on the Decoder tab) to 486, K5, non-MMX instead of Pentium or Pentium Pro. Also try setting the Quality to Half or Quarter. If you set enough of these options down, Winamp will certainly play MP3 fine even on a weak machine. OTOH setting the options down *will* decrease the quality of the sound, so the trick is not to reduce more than you have to.

When I play MP3 through Winamp it plays too softly... what can I do?

There are quite a few things you can do:

1) Don't use the Nullsoft DirectSound plugin for output - this creates a lower output volume (check using Ctrl-P for Preferences, then select Output in the left window and see what plugin is selected for output in the right window).

2) Check, obviously, what volume you are using. Do you have Winamp's own volume control enabled? (This is controlled by selecting the output plugin and then pressing the Configure button.) If so, turning it up to 100% will give you the maximum volume. Also, double-click on the little yellow speaker in the bottom right corner of your screen and check both the Master Volume (usually the leftmost slider) and the Wave Volume - both of these will affect Winamp's output volume, so you will need to set them *both* to maximum to get the maximum possible output (but if either of them were set low before, proceed with caution - you don't want to blow your stereo / speakers).

3) Do you have Winamp's Equalizer enabled? If so, do you have the preamp or the band sliders set down low. Note that you can also enable the equalizer and then use the preamp slider at left to boost the volume that Winamp plays at - again be careful... go up a little at a time, checking the results.

4) Make sure you're using the right output socket from your sound card - generally you'd want to use the Line Out socket...

Generally, if you go through these things, you should have no problem producing an output level suitable to feed an "Aux In" input on a stereo amp, equalizer or mixer... although it is certainly true that different sound cards can differ very substantially in the levels they put out - I don't have to use the Winamp Equalizer to boost the level on either of the machines I feed to stereos, but I do set the Winamp volume to 100% on the living room machine, whereas I'm mostly using in the 10-30% range on my office machine (I tend to control the volume of the office playback from the PC, whereas with the living room machine, I tend to leave Winamp at 100% and use the volume control on the stereo...)

When I play MP3 in Winamp it won't play loud at all - why?

Click on the top left corner to bring up the main menu, select Options, then Preferences. Select Output in the left hand window. You should see the Wave Out plugin selected in the right hand window. Click on the Configure button. There are two things to check in the window that comes up... at the top it will offer a choice of output devices - if there are several devices offered, try choosing "Wave Mapper" since this generally works best. Selecting an alternate device, such as your sound card's system, may result in poorer sound. Also it's possible that you had the "Direct Sound" output plugin selected, rather than the "Wave Out" plugin... this will also generally result in very quiet output. So... select the Wave Out plugin, and configure it to use the Wave Mapper for output. You might also try disabling Winamp's volume control by unselecting the "Enable Volume Control" checkbox in the Configure window for the Wave Out plugin... this will leave all volume control to you Windows system controls.

Why does Winamp keep trying to go online and access "CDDB" when I play a CD? How do I stop it?

Using the CDDB is an option in Winamp. It's actually very handy - it goes out over the net and accesses the CDDB site and, based on an ID which all commercial CDs carry, it retrieves the name of the CD you're playing and all the track names, so Winamp can display those, rather than just displaying Track 1, Track 2 etc. It won't work if the CD you're playing is home made or from a really obscure source, but it works with pretty much anything you'd buy in a CD store.

If you really don't want to use the CDDB it's very simple to turn it off - in Winamp go to Preferences (Ctrl-P), then select Plugins / Input in the left hand pane, select Nullsoft CD/LineIn plugin in the right pane, and press the Configure button... on the settings tab that pops up there is a check-box for "Use CDDB" - if you uncheck this, Winamp will no longer use the CDDB when playing CDs.

How do I use Winamp skins that I've downloaded?

With the latest versions of Winamp, you don't need to unzip the skins at all - just put the skin zip file into
{winamp install directory}\skins\

How do I use new Winamp skins I've downloaded?

It's *extremely* simple. Just put the zip files that you downloaded into the "skins" directory under your Winamp directory (e.g. C:\Program Files\Winamp\Skins) and then when Winamp is running press Alt-S to browse your skins - a list will pop up, and you can just click on each name and see the skin applied to Winamp.

Will Winamp play MP3 on a 486?

Yes it will. You will probably need to change some options to get it to play well. For example, go to the mainmenu / Visualization / Visualization Mode and select "Off" - this will turn off the scope / analyzer display in the Winamp window, which will save some CPU. Perhaps more importantly go to Options / Preferences and select Input in the left window and then select Nullsoft MPEG audio decoder in the right window and press the Configure button. Try changing "Decoder Mode" to 486, K5, non-MMX instead of Pentium or Pentium Pro. Also try setting the Quality to Half or Quarter. If you set enough of these options down, Winamp will certainly play MP3 fine on a 486. OTOH setting the options down *will* decrease the quality of the sound, so the trick is not to reduce more than you have to. Get rid of the visualisation first. Also right click on the song title on the main menu and uncheck "Autoscroll song title" in the pop-up menu - this will also save a bit of CPU, and every little helps.


WHAT IS MP3?
General questions about the MP3 format, managing your MP3 files, etc:

What do "sampling rate" and "bitrate" mean when describing MP3 files?

The sampling frequency is basically the number of times per second audio is sampled and stored as a number - CD audio is sampled at 44.1 KHz, which means 44,100 samples per second. CD audio uses 16 bit samples, so the bitrate of uncompressed CD audio = 44,100 x 16 bits per second (well x 2 actually, because it's stereo).

The "bitrate" on the other hand, when talking about MP3 files, refers to the transfer bitrate for which the files are encoded - i.e. an MP3 file encoded "at a bitrate of 128 Kbps" is compressed such that it could be streamed continuously through a link providing a transfer rate of 128 thousand bits per second. But most of us don't really use MP3 as a streaming medium (except for shoutcast, etc.) so really what the MP3 "bitrate" is a measure of is how severely the files is being compressed - the lower the bitrate, the more the file has been compressed... and the more you compress a file, the more of the original data is lost, and so the worse the playback sound quality will be. It's almost exactly analogous to compressing a JPG image with a higher compression ratio - you get a smaller file, but when you view it, it doesn't look as good.

Is there an MP3 database to help me keep track of all my MP3 files?

I think you're looking for a program such a MP3 Explorer. Actually there are (confusingly) two programs called MP3 Explorer, one from Trashsoft and one from another company. They can both be downloaded through ZDNet (www.hotfiles.com) I believe. Doing a ZDNet search for "MP3 database" will probably find others also. I think this is the kind of thing you want...

What information is contained in ID3 tags, and how can I manipulate it?

The ID3 tag format is basically standard, I believe... the data elements are Title, Artist, Album, Year, Genre, and Comment.

There are database programs for tracking and manipulating your MP3 collection. Try searching the ZDNet software library for "mp3 database" and you'll come up with a bunch. MP3 Explorer from Trashsoft seems to be quite a popular one.

What bitrate for MP3 files will give "CD quality"?

Aw heck... this is another of those questions that people debate *endlessly*. There really is no one answer - it depends on your ears, your equipment, etc. I think it's probably fair to say that 128 Kbps is a bit on the low side, although it may sound fine from some encoders for some songs under some circumstances, whilst 160 Kbps done by a good encoder should sound pretty good to most people under most circumstances.... *but* I know some people will insist on higher standards. Different encoding software really does make a difference - some encoding software produces results that sound pretty awful to me at 128 Kbps, whereas other software produces ok results... e.g. speaking strictly from my own experience, 128 Kbps files from the older versions of Musicmatch Jukebox which used the Xing encoder or from Audiocatalyst often sound *really* poor, whereas BladeEnc (which is free) produces files at 128 Kbps which are often quite acceptable. The LAME encoder, an open source project, is another good free alternative, probably slightly superior to BladeEnc. And the free download of Musicmatch Jukebox now lets you encode at all bitrates using a version of the Fraunhofer encoder. I mostly rip to WAV files, and then encode using either the LAME or Fraunhofer encoder at 160 Kbps at the moment. If I'm not happy listening to the results on earphones, then I'll try 192 Kbps...

What is VBR and is it a good thing?

VBR stands for Variable Bit Rate. It's a method of encoding audio to MP3 that allows for different sections of the file to be encoded at different bitrates, depending upon the demands of the source audio (some type of sound require a higher bitrate, others encode well using a lower bitrate).

I'd like to hear more expert opinions myself.

My own experience has brought me down against VBR so far - I found that it produced pretty large files anyway, since you need a fairly high minimum bitrate to get good quality, and then it seems prone to occasionally producing odd flanging or ringing sounds... so it seemed to reliably address neither filesize nor quality demands. Which is not to say, certainly, that some VBR encoded files do not sound good.

If someone has more experience with VBR and can make recommendations, I'd be interested. My previous experiences were with the Xing encoder. I now have the LAME encoder, which also supports VBR, but I haven't experimented with using VBR in LAME yet. The LAME documentation itself doesn't seem to be exactly terribly encouraging about it, from what I remember...

What kbps and kHz rate should I record at for CD quality?

Frequently asked question which people can discuss endlessly.

KHz measures the sampling frequency in kilo-hertz - that is it indicated the number of thousands of samples per second which make up the sound file. CD audio is in 16 bit stereo at 44.1 KHz, which means it has 44,100 samples per second, each sample consisting of two 16 bit elements, one for each channel of the stereo.

OTOH kbps is actually a measure of data transfer rate - it means kilo bits per second, i.e. the number of thousands of bits transferred per second. When applied to MP3 files it refers to the rate at which the file would have to transferred for the audio data to be transferred in real time (i.e. for 1 seconds worth of audio to be transferred in 1 second of elapsed time). Essentially this means it is a measure of how much the audio data has been compressed in creating the MP3 files. Uncompressed CD audio data requires a transfer rate of 1,411.2 kpbs (16 x 2 x 44,100), so MP3 data encoded for 128 kbps is compressed by a factor of 11.025.

As to what MP3 encoding rate can approximate to CD quality data to the satisfaction of a listener - well that's the part people argue about endlessly. It depends on the individual listener, and on the playback equipment and the circumstances. I think it's fair to say that few people feel that a rate of lower than 128 kbps is adequate. A lot of people find 160 kbps good enough, but some still hear problems and go for higher rates. Also all encoders are not equal, allowing more room for discussion (that is encoder X may produce much better sounding files at 128 kbps than encoder Y).

Is there a "standard level" for digital recording?

Well it's a tricky question. In one sense, a standard might be to adjust the recording process so that the highest peak in each song uses 100% of the sample capacity - and it's quite common to find songs recorded like that. But of course, this will result in the *average* amplitude of songs varying enormously, and it's the average amplitude that mostly determines how "loud" the song sounds to you (although the frequency distribution has quite a bit to do with it too - perceptual audio is complex). If you make the songs all the same average amplitude, you will probably end up "clipping" the peaks of some of them, unless you aim for a pretty low average amplitude. This is why I prefer to adjust each song manually in a good wave editor. I might add that I don't think a little clipping is necessarily the end of the world when you're dealing with rock... ultimately perception is everything, and most automated "normalisation" doesn't account for perception very well.


RECORDING TO MP3
Making MP3 from your own CDs / Tapes / Vinyl etc (includes encoding):
(see also: WHAT IS MP3? and CHANGING MP3)

What do "ripping" and "encoding" mean?

"Ripping" refers to the process of extracting audio data from an audio CD (generally via Digital Audio Extraction, rather than via an analogue recording link) and storing it as digital audio data of some form on your PC hard disk.

"Encoding" refers to the process of taking uncompressed digital audio data (e.g. WAV files on a PC, AIFF files on a Mac) and compressing them according to a particular compression scheme, such as MP3.

So "ripping" would take a CD track and make a file on your PC hard disk. "Encoding" would take, for example, a WAV file on your PC and make, for example, an MP3 file from it. If you take a track from an audio CD and create an MP3 file on your hard disk from it directly, then you are ripping and encoding in one step.

Do all CD ROM drives support "ripping" of audio tracks?

Unfortunately not. Any CD drive can play audio CDs, it's true. But the term "ripping" is mostly used to refer to Digital Audio Extraction (i.e. extracting the audio data digitally to the computer, rather than converting it to analogue data in the drive and playing it through the soundcard directly, which is what happens when you "play" an audio CD on your computer drive). Not all CD drives support Digital Audio Extraction... and even for those that do support it, the speed and reliability vary enormously from drive to drive. If your drive absolutely won't do DAE, then you can fall back on "analogue ripping" - i.e. just playing the CD and then recording the analogue signal back through your soundcard... but the results won't be as good as a proper digital rip. Musicmatch supports analogue recording from CDs, for example, or you can just play the CD and then record using a WAV recording program (such as Goldwave from www.goldwave.com).

How do you tell if your drive supports DAE? Well if you have Adaptec Easy CD Creator it has a nice little option in it (under "System tests") for testing your drive to see if it performs DAE, and if so, at what speed. Also other ripper programs, such as CDEX and Exact Audio Copy, give various diagnostic messages if there are problems with the ripping process. I'm afraid I don't know of a free standalone program for testing drives.

My ripper program won't recognise my CD drive - what can I do?

One thing I'd suggest is that you go to the Adaptec site. Adaptec have a little program called aspichk.exe, which is available in the download area of their website (http://www.adaptec.com/) - this program will check on your installation and report back. When I run it on my system, it reports version 4.60 for all files and says that ASPI is installed and fully operational. If this program identifies errors or version mismatches in your ASPI installation, you may need to reinstall these programs to get your burner working properly. The driver files themselves are also available from Adaptec's website. Go to:

http://www.adaptec.com/support/faqs/aspilayer.html

From this page you can download both the aspichk.exe program, and a program to update your ASPI layer if it is not up to date. I think that might be a good step towards getting Easy CD working properly.

Is it possible / ok to rip from CDs directly to MP3, or should I rip to WAV files?

There certainly *are* programs that rip to MP3 files. Musicmatch Jukebox and CDEX are two well known examples. MP3 Wizard is another.

It is true that sometimes problems result from trying to encode on the fly, mainly because the digital audio extraction from the CD ROM drive is to some extent a time-sensitive task. If it works, fine. If you have doubts as to whether it's working properly, then try ripping to WAV files first and then encoding afterwards. Ripping to WAV files is the simplest, since it involves very little manipulation of the basic PCM data ripped from the CD.

When I rip tracks from CD I get static-like noises and skips - what can I do?

It sounds as if you're having some problems with your digital audio extraction. Exact Audio Copy is a good, free ripping program which seems to be perhaps the best at producing good, clean rips in difficult situations (tricky hardware, CDs in poor condition, etc.) It may be a little slow, but if you're getting poor results with other programs, you might want to try it. You can download it from:

http://www.ExactAudioCopy.de/

When I play an audio CD in my CD ROM drive and record a WAV file it sounds fine, but when I "rip" tracks from the CD they skip and have noises... what gives?

OK, there are a couple of different issues here. When you play a CD player with the CDPlayer and record it with a WAV recoding program you are doing an analogue transfer of sound - that is you are playing the CD on your drive and producing an analogue output stream, and then reading that back in and converting it to digital through your soundcard and recording the results. This will not give you as good a quality WAV file as a digital "rip", which transfers the digital data from the disk via digital audio extraction (DEA). However, if you are satisfied with the results of analogue extraction, there are a number of options open to you which will get around the limitations of Windows Sound Recorder, for example. Download Goldwave from www.goldwave.com for example - it will allow you to record WAV files of any length from your soundcard, and to edit them (well, providing you have enough disk space, of course). Or you could use Musicmatch Jukebox which has a option to record tracks from CD via analogue transfer.

However, I would advise you to give digital extraction more of a try. If you are having problems ripping I strongly advise you to try Exact Audio Copy which has a high level of error checking and correction built into it - it may be slow, but it should produce good results. EAC is free and can be downloaded from:

http://www.ExactAudioCopy.de/

How is the volume controlled when "ripping" from a CD?

If you're using Digital Audio Extraction (which is what is usually meant by "ripping"), then I don't believe anything "controls the volume" - you are simply taking the digital PCM data from the audio CD and transferring it to digital PCM data in a WAV file on your PC (well, you may also be doing MP3 encoding, but that's actually a second step). The "volume" is simply a direct transfer of the sample amplitude from the CD...

What's a good, free program to rip tracks from CD?

I'd suggest trying CDEX. You can download it from:

www.cdex.n3.net

Another useful program, if you have hardware which presents you with difficulties in the area of Digital Audio Extraction, or if you are trying to rip from CDs in poor condition, is Exact Audio Copy, available (free again) from:

http://www.ExactAudioCopy.de/

Musicmatch Jukebox is also a good program, especially now that the latest version includes the new Fraunhofer MP3 encoder. You can download it from:

http://www.musicmatch.com

And Musicmatch Jukebox now let's you encode at all bitrates, right up to 320 kbps, using the free downloadable version, which can also burn audio CDs... you only have to register the program to get access to features such as an advanced equalizer for playback and support for higher CD burning speeds.

How do different ripping programs compare?

Well I did some comparisons using Musicmatch Jukebox (which is what I used to use), CDEX and Exact Audio Copy a while back. Basically they all worked fine... but this was on a Pentium II 450 with a good drive and clean CDs. I ripped to WAV files, and then did digital compares, and the files were all identical, except for a few bytes at the start and end added on by some rips.

I used to recommend CDEX over Musicmatch because:

1) It was free. (But so is Musicmatch now, almost - the free version encodes at all bitrates, and burns audio CDs...)

2) It came with the Blade and LAME encoders, both of which I prefered to the Xing encoder which Musicmatch used. CDex also comes with an MP2 encoder. (But Musicmatch now uses a version of the Fraunhofer encoder, which performs pretty comparably to the LAME encoder, and is actually faster...)

You might as well download both programs, and see which you like best. CDex has a simpler interface, and is maybe a bit slower. Musicmatch is fast, and fairly flashy, but also seems a bit flaky, prone to occasional crashing and unpredictable or unwanted behaviour.

Exact Audio Copy is always worth having around for cases where it's hard to get a good rip (e.g. scratched disks)... it does its best to get a good copy by error correction techniques including extracting multiple times and comparing the results.

There's a file called CDFS.VXD which allows me to see my audio CD tracks as WAV files, so can't I use this instead of a ripper program?

Well, you can certainly use it, but in essence, CDFS.VXD *is* a ripper program, even though it is disguised as a device driver. After all, device drivers are just programs. And what it is doing is ripping, inasmuch as it is allowing you to digitally extract audio data from an audio CD (so far as I know, that's the definition of "ripping"). True you can't "execute" CDFS.VXD per se - you have to use some other program, such as Windows Explorer, as a front end... but CDFS.VXD is performing the digital audio extraction and passing the data to whatever program you make the request through, so I'd say it's a ripper. And presumably it's bound by the limitations applicable to all other rippers (i.e. its performance will depend upon the ability of your CD ROM drive to support digital audio extraction, and it may have the same problems as other rippers in terms of inexact data resulting from the lack of provision for digital error correction on audio CDs).

Is it possible to rip tracks from a CD using Winamp?

Not using the normal Nullsoft CD / Line-in Plugin, no it isn't, because using this plugin Winamp doesn't actually read in the sound from the CD when 'playing' CDs. Like Windows CD Player, Winamp simply tells your CD drive to play in audio format and which track to play, and the sound then goes via the audio cable which connects your CD drive to your sound card - this can be simply verifified by disconnecting this cable... if you do, you won't hear any sound when you 'play' a CD in Winamp. To create WAV files from an audio CD you need to use software designed for ripping.

Where can I get a good, legal, free MP3 encoder?

If you download CDEX (from www.cdex.n3.net) and unzip it into a directory, then execute the main file, cdex.exe, it has options to go from CD to WAV, CD to MP3, WAV to MP3, and MP3 to WAV. For the options which go to MP3 you need to go to Options / Settings, and on the MP3 Encoder tab select which encoder you want to use, and the parameters (bitrate, stereo mode etc...) that you want to use. The LAME and Blade encoders come with CDEX, as does an MP2 encoder.

What is the best free MP3 encoder?

It depends exactly how you define "free" and how you propose to determine the "best". I wouldn't presume to make an authoritative statements about the best, but if you download CDEX from:

www.cdex.n3.net

it includes the Blade and LAME encoders, both of which are very good at bitrates of 160 kbps or higher. And yes, it is free.

The various versions of encoder produced by Fraunhofer are very good, but about the only version that's legitimately "free" is the one included with Microsoft Netshow (downloadable from www.microsoft.com) and that only works up to 56 kbps, which is pretty useless. If you download a program called L3encwin, which so far as I know is still available from various shareware sites (I believe I downloaded it from www.winfiles.com), it includes the old Fraunhofer encode and decode programs that work up to 128 Kbps. L3encwin itself is just a Windows front end you can use, since the old Fraunhofer programs just work from a command line.

What is the best software to make MP3 files without losing quality?

Aargh! This is an *endless* conversation. Try searching on Deja News for group alt.music.mp3 and topic "best mp3" - you'll find tons of stuff. Also search for "bitrate" and you'll find relevant stuff.

The very short answer is - yes you will lose something when you encode to MP3... what encoder and what bitrate and other options you have to use to get to the point where what you lose is not noticeable to you or doesn't bother you anymore is a question open to endless debate, and depending much on your personal hearing.

Just to state my own conclusions to this point in time (which are entirely personal and subject to ongoing change):

* Stay away from Xing at least for lower bitrates and VBR - which means don't encode with older releases of Musicmatch (4.2 or before) or Audiocatalyst.

* Use Fraunhofer for sure for bitrates 128 or below.

* Blade and LAME both seem good at 160 or higher.

Is there a free MP3 encoder that works under Windows NT?

CDEX, available from:

www.cdex.n3.net

will convert WAV files to MP3 using either the Blade or the LAME encoder (both included). It does not require any special install - you simply unzip the programs into a directory. It supposedly runs fine under NT, although I haven't tried it on an NT machine, only in Win 95 and Win 98 (its documentation specifically says that it works under NT, though).

Is there an encoder to encode multiple wav files in a batch?

Yes, BladeEnc, available from:

Homepage: http://bladeenc.home.ml.org

It doesn't have a pretty GUI interface - you either just drag files and drop them right onto the exe in explorer, or you run it from a command line... but it does a good job, and processes batches as you requested. And it's freeware.

Where can I get a version of the Fraunhofer codec?

If you go to www.winfiles.com and from their search page search for a program called "l3encwin", you can download it, and you will find that it has the old Frauenhofer l3enc.exe and l3dec.exe included with it (l3encwin is a front-end for the Frauenhofer codecs... but it can't access all the features). If you put these files, as instructed by the "readme" that comes with l3encwin, into your windows directory or any directory on your default path, you should be able to use them.

How do I get BladeEnc to encode at a bitrate other than 128 kbps?

You just put it in as a parameter. You *must* execute BladeEnc from the command line if you want to use a different bitrate - the "drag-and-drop" method *only* supports the default 128 Kbps. To encode a bunch of WAV files at 160 Kbps, open a DOS window and then type, for example:

c:\bladedir\bladeenc -160 c:\wavdir\track*.wav

This assumes that:

* "bladedir" is the directory you have bladeenc.exe in - if that directory is on your default path, or is the current directory, then you don't need to type it

* wavdir is the directory where you have your WAV files

This command will encode all WAV files whose names start with "track" at 160 Kbps and place the resulting MP3 files into wavdir.

How do you record MP3 from Cassette Tapes?

Just plug the output from your tape player into the "Line In" socket on your sound card... I use a Sony Walkman with Dolby to do cassettes myself, and then all you need is a cable with 1/8" stereo miniplugs on each end - plug one end into the earphone socket of the Walkman, and the other into the sound card line in. Then turn the volume on the Walkman all the way down, fire up your system volume control and choose Options / Properties / Recording and select the the "Line" source. Then press play on the Walkman, and gently turn up the volume until you get a level which registers well but doesn't clip (shown by the red "lights" in the volume control level indicator) during the loudest parts. To record the WAV files you'll need a program capable of recording large files... GoldWave (available from www.goldwave.com) is a good program which will also allow you to edit your WAV files. If you want "CD Quality" be sure to set the controls in your WAV recording program to 44.1 kbs, stereo, 16 bit. Be warned that you'll need about 10Mb of hard-disk space for each minute recorded. Once you've recorded the file, use the WAV recording /editing program's "cut" function to trim off any extra stuff before the beginning or after the end of the song. If you just want to put it onto an audio CD, you can do that directly from the WAV file. If you want an MP3 file, you'll have to use an MP3 encoder to process your WAV file. BladeEnc is quite a good one, and is entirely free, or download CDEX from www.cdex.n3.net - it includes the Blade and LAME encoders.

How do I record from vinyl disks?

Well, connecting the output from a magnetic phono cartridge directly into a sound card probably is not going to work very well. The output from a magnetic cartridge is very low level. Not only that, but it also has some inherent frequency distortions, which the pre-amp circuits in your stereo are designed to correct for.

So... you either need to use some sort of pre-amp designed to take input from a magnetic cartridge and produce line level outputs (I have an old one I bought from Radio Shack, but I'm not sure that they sell them any more). If you can't use a pre-amp... then you don't have much choice but to run a line out from your receiver... or to record to tape, and then connect, say, the headphone jack from a walkman to the line-in of your sound card (those levels match pretty well - just turn the walkman volume right down at first, then turn it up gradually until you get a good level). If you have any kind of mixer laying around, they often have inputs for "Magnetic phono" also - so you could plug your turntable into the mixer "Magnetic phono" input and then connect the line-out from the mixer into your sound card...

Once you get a connection that works, you'll need a WAV editing / recording program to record with. Goldwave (www.goldwave.com) is a good one.

You may also want to use specialised software to clean up the effects of scratched on your disks - there are several program to do this. The program names that I am aware of are:

LP Cleaner
Groove Mechanic
Popfix
Glitch Eliminator

You can download all of them through the ZDNet software library at www.hotfiles.com - just search for the names.

Then you'll need an MP3 encoder to actually change your WAV files to MP3 files. You can download CDEX from www.cdex.n3.net and it will let you encode WAV files to MP3 using either the Blade or the LAME encoder.

Is there software to remove noises (scratches etc.) from recording made from vinyl disks?

There are several program to do this. They actually work with WAV files, not MP3, so if you have problem MP3 files, you'll have to decode them to WAV files, fix the WAV files and then re-encode (unfortunate... but because of the way MP3 compression works, trying to do any editing directly on MP3 files is very tricky). The program names that I am aware of are:

LP Cleaner
Groove Mechanic
Popfix
Glitch Eliminator

You can download all of them through the ZDNet software library at www.hotfiles.com - just search for the names.

***

A good general program for editing WAV files is Goldwave, available from www.goldwave.com - it allows various forms of filtering and manipulations which may help with noise problems. There are also some programs specifically designed to help in removing vinyl record noises. The program names that I am aware of are:

LP Cleaner
Groove Mechanic
Popfix
Glitch Eliminator

You can download all of them through the ZDNet software library at www.hotfiles.com - just search for the names. Use them with caution, as the results may not always be satisfactory. Listen and see if you think the results are an actual improvement...

What software can I use to make MP3 files from tapes and LPs?

Well there are many ways you *could* do it. But simply, what I'd recommend is:

1) Download Goldwave from www.goldwave.com it's an excellent shareware program which allows for the recording and editing (with a comprehensive range of functions) of WAV files. You can try it free, and the registration fee is reasonable. Connect your tape player into the line-in of your sound card and record to 44.1 Khz 16 bit signed stereo WAV files. Note that you have to be a bit more tricky for LPs - you'll need to take a signal after pre-amplification and correction, since the output from your phono deck itself is not suitable. If your stereo has an "aux out" you should be able to use that. Another possibility is to record your LP tracks to cassette and then play the tape into your sound card (but obviously it's better to avoid this if you can, since it's likely to introduce some additional quality loss).

2) Edit the WAV files to get them sounding the best you can. There are programs such as "popfix" designed specifically the remove from WAV files the pops created by scratches on vinyl Lps... you might want to try such a program if you have this problem. Once the WAV files is as good as you can get it, encode it to MP3 using encoder software. I recommend BladeEnc - it's free and it does a pretty good job. Popfix and BladeEnc can both be downloaded from the ZDNet software library at www.hotfiles.com


When I try to record from line input to my soundcard, I don't get anything - any ideas?

Bring up your Windows audio controlls (double click on the little yellow speaker in the tray) and select Options / Properties and then click on the Recording radio button... also make sure that in the window at the bottom the checkbox beside Line is selected - now click OK. You should see a mixer for your recording inputs. Things vary a bit depending on your Windows version and your sound card drivers, but you may need to either select or un-mute the Line source, and set the slider for Line to a reasonable level. *Then* try your recording - hopefully you should get something this time.

I'm trying to record from the line in socket of my soundcard and I can't - what gives?

Well... you might need to fiddle with your Windows volume controls - I know I do (I imagine it depends on your sound card drivers exactly how this works). In my case, I double click on the little speaker in the systray to bring up the main volume mixer, and then I select Options / Properties and click on the "Recording" radio button. Then, after making sure that "Line" is among the selected controls in the little window at the bottom, I click the OK button. This gives me the mixer for input controls. Then I select the checkbox under the "Line In" slider, and adjust the slider itself (with some music playing through the connection) until I get a good level. *Then* it's possible to record ok from the line in.

When I try to record by connecting my stereo into my soundcard I get a hum - why?

If you get a "loud humming sound" I'd be inclined to suspect some sort of ground loop between the equipment - which could be very dangerous (i.e. could trash your sound card, easily). Are both your stereo and your computer properly grounded (earthed)? If all you equipment is properly plugged into wall sockets using three-pin plugs, and the earth wires are properly connected to the equipment, and you still get a hum when you connect the two systems, I'd almost suspect that there is a problem with your house wiring. You might try separately grounding both systems by connecting the frames to a good ground (metal water pipes, for example). Or just plugging both pieces of equipment into the same wall circuit might eliminate the problem. It really is important that your equipment is earthed properly, and also that the polarity is correct (i.e. the line and return wires are actually connected up the right way round).

Another way to get around the problem to some degree might be to use something like a walkman as a source, which doesn't need to be grounded or to use mains power at all. If you still get a hum, especially if you get a hum only when you touch the walkman, then your computer is not grounded properly (the hum being the mains AC cycle frequency making its way through the sound card circuits...)

RECORDING FROM MP3
Moving MP3 off your PC to listen to elsewhere (includes CD burning):
(see also: CHANGING MP3)

Can I put my MP3 tunes onto audio CDs to play on my stereo, in my car etc?

There are programs that claim to be able to take MP3 files and decode them and burn them to an audio CD all in one operation... MP3 CD Maker is one such program. I believe Nero can also do this. I tried MP3 CD Maker, and I couldn't get it to even burn a single track successfully, and many other people seem to have had problems with it as well... but I suppose *somebody* somewhere must have got it to work. Nero I haven't tried.

Personally I still use a two step process... well I guess three step really:

1) Decode the MP3 files to WAV files. Generally any MP3 player will do this. E.g. in Winamp Ctrl-p for Preferences, select Output, select Nullsoft Disk Writer plugin, and press the Configure button to choose the directory for your WAV files. Then just "play" the songs you want to convert. Don't forget to go back into Preferences and set Output back to Nullsoft Wave Out plugin when you're done, so Winamp will go back to playing audio rather than producing WAV files.

2) Edit the WAV files as required... trim out bits you don't want, adjust the level as required, etc. Goldwave is a good shareware program for doing this (www.goldwave.com). If the files are sampled at a rate other than 44.1 KHz you will also need to resample them to 44.1 KHz before they can be burned to an audio CD.

3) Burn the edited WAV files to an audio CD. I use Adaptec Easy CD Creator (it came with my burner, and it works). Pretty much any CD burning program should be able to burn an audio CD from WAV files sampled at 44.1 KHz without a problem. Make sure that you choose the "Audio CD" option - you don't want to just copy the WAV files to a data CD. Also, if you want the disk to play and select tracks without a problem in various audio CD players, you might want to try and use the "Disk at once" option, which burns the whole CD without turning off the laser (selected on the "Advanced" tab just before you do the actual recording in Easy CD Creator). CDs burned in "disk at once" mode will generally be handled better by audio CD players. CDs burned in "track at a time" mode, where the laser is turned off between each track, will generally play ok, but many audio CD players can't successfully skip to any track other than the first on such disks, which is kind of a pain.

For Mac users a similar process can be used, but things are just a little different. On a Mac you want to decode your MP3 files to AIFF files (rather than WAV, which is a Windows format)... Mpecker Decoder (from www.anime.net/~go/mpeckers.html) will do this for you. Then you can use a Mac CD Burning program, of which the best known is probably Toast from Adaptec, to burn the AIFF files to an audio CD.

Can I create CDs to play in my car with my CD-RW writer?

You can write disks for use in your car on your CD-RW writer, no problem, but *don't* use CD-RW media - use regular CD-R disks (which are cheaper anyhow). Most audio players simply won't recognise a CD-RW disk at all, no matter how you burn it. Use a CD-R disk, and use the "create an audio disk" feature of your software (i.e. don't just copy the files to the disk as data).

How do I create audio CDs from my MP3 files using Winamp and Easy CD Creator?

Convert your MP3 files to WAV files first. This is easy to do - almost all MP3 players can do it.. e.g. with Winamp, press Ctl-P to get Preferences, then select Output in the left hand window, then select Nullsoft Disk Writer plug-in in the left window... then press the Configure button to choose which directory you want your WAV files saving in. After you do this, every time you "play" a file in Winamp, it will actually be output to a WAV file in your chosen directory. To go back to actually playing files, bring Preferences up again, and select Output and Nullsoft WaveOut plug-in, which is your normal sound playing output plugin.

Once you have converted the songs you want to WAV files, fire up Easy CD Creator, and select the Audio CD tab (*not* the data CD tab), and drag and drop your WAV files into your CD layout, arranging them in the order you want... then select Create CD from the main menu to burn the CD.

That's pretty much it. There are a couple of wrinkles:

1) You have to have enough hard-disk space available for all the WAV files you want to go on your CD... this will be over 700 Mbs for a full audio CD.

2) To be burned onto a CD the WAV files must be 16 bit stereo sampled at 44.1 KHz - Easy CD Creator will reject them otherwise (well maybe it accepts mono... but the sampling rate has to be right). If you are unfortunate enough to have MP3 files for which someone has used a different sampling rate (e.g. people recording off TV seem to use 48 KHz a lot for some reason), then you will have to "resample" the WAV files before they can be burned onto CD. You will need an audio editing program to do this. I would recommend Goldwave (www.goldwave.com)

How can I make a compilation CD with tracks from various CDs I have?

Two good (free) ripper programs are CDEX from:

www.cdex.n3.net

And Exact Audio Copy (good if you have hardware which presents you with difficulties in the area of Digital Audio Extraction, or if you are trying to rip from CDs in poor condition) from:

http://www.ExactAudioCopy.de/

Musicmatch Jukebox is also a good program, especially now that the latest version includes the new Fraunhofer MP3 encoder. You can download it from:

http://www.musicmatch.com

And Musicmatch Jukebox now let's you encode at all bitrates, right up to 320 kbps, using the free downloadable version, which can also burn audio CDs... you only have to register the program to get access to features such as an advanced equalizer for playback and support for higher CD burning speeds.

You can actually make compilation disks with Easy CD without using a separate ripper. Just open an Audio CD Layout, then insert each CD from which you want to take tracks in turn, and drag the tracks you want into the layout. If you do this, and then select "Create Disk" from the File menu, Easy CD will copy the disks a track at a time, prompting you to insert the source CDs as needed. A better way to do it, if you have enough hard disk space, is to right click on each track after you drag it into the layout and select "Pre-record track to disk" from the pop up menu - this will record the track on your hard disk as a WAV file temporarily... but this takes about 10Mb per minute of music (so around 740 Mb for a completely full audio CD). If you can do this, then when you select "Create Disk" you won't need to reinsert the source disks, and also you will be able to use the "Disk at once" mode (selectable from the "Advanced" tab at recording time), which produces CDs which are better compatible with audio CD players (audio players often have trouble searching for individual tracks on a disk that was recorded in "one track at a time" mode).

What format do I have to put my songs in to play them on my stereo?

To actually play on an audio CD player the music has to be recorded in standard audio CD format, which is different to the format used for data CD ROM disks. The audio data is actually stored as uncompressed PCM data at 44.1 KHz sampling rate, 16 bit stereo samples. This is similar (although not exactly the same) to the format of uncompressed WAV files on your computer. To play songs on an audio player you will have to burn them to CDR disks using burner software that supports the creation of audio CDs (most do). For many burner programs you will first need to convert the MP3 files to WAV files, which can be done using Winamp (select the Nullsoft Disk Writer plugin as your output and then "play" the songs).

Can I burn audio CDs from MP3 files at different bitrates and sampling rates?

The bitrate is not relevant to the CD format - the bitrate is a measure of how severely the data was compressed, but once the file has been converted to a WAV file (and hence decompressed) the bitrate is gone. However, files which were compressed to a lower bitrate (and hence compressed more) will not sound as good as ones which had a higher bitrate... I would listen carefully to a 96kbps file before burning it to CD and ask yourself is the quality really good enough?

However... if the *sampling* rate of your MP3 files is something other than 44.1 KHz, you *will* need to resample the files before they can be burned to CD. The sampling rate is quite distinct from the bitrate... it is essentially the number of times per second a sound sample was captured as part of the original recording process. CD audio only supports a sampling rate of 44.1 KHz, so any files that you put onto an audio CD *must* be as that rate. If you have files at a different rate, you will need to use a WAV editing program (such as Goldwave, www.goldwave.com) to change the sampling rate.

I'm getting errors when I try to burn a CD - what can I do?

There are several standard things you can try:

- Always reboot your PC before burning a CD.

- Remove any unnecessary programs from memory (use Ctrl-Alt-Del to bring up the task list, and then use the "End Task" button to kill everything except Explorer and Systray... including your virus protection software, since this can interfere with CD burning).

- Unplug your printer before restarting your PC to burn disks - printer drivers that communicate with the printer can interfere with burning.

- Disable your screen-saver before burning - a screen saver firing up can easily wreck a burn. Go to Control Panel / Display and set Screen Saver to .

- Burn at 1x rather than a higher speed.

Of course all these precautions may not be necessary... but I'd try them all if you're having problems. Then if you get things working, you can discontinue them and see if problems come back.

Another thing you might possibly want to do is check your ASPI layer (unless you're using a SCSI or USB drive, in which case this is irrelevant). Adaptec have a little program called aspichk.exe, which is available in the download area of their website (http://www.adaptec.com/) - this program will check on your installation and report back. When I run it on my system, it reports version 4.60 for all files and says that ASPI is installed and fully operational. If this program identifies errors or version mismatches in your ASPI installation, you may need to reinstall these programs to get your burner working properly. The driver files themselves are also available from Adaptec's website. Go to:

http://www.adaptec.com/support/faqs/aspilayer.html

From this page you can download both the aspichk.exe program, and a program to update your ASPI layer if it is not up to date.

I have some WAV files and when I try to burn them to an audio CD, the burner software rejects them - why?

The problem is almost certainly that whilst they are indeed valid WAV files, they are *not* valid files for CD audio. CD audio *only* supports a sampling rate of 44.1 Khz and a sample size of 16 bits, in stereo (two channels). If your WAV file does not correspond with these parameters (most commonly because the sampling rate is different, e.g. 48 Khz), then a CD burning program will *not* accept it.

The process of converting MP3 to WAV simply undoes the MP3 compression... it does *not* change things such as the sampling rate. To make these WAV files you have produced suitable for burning to CD audio you will need to perform an additional step: use a WAV editing program (such as Goldwave, available from www.goldwave.com) to "resample" the WAV files... convert them to 44.1 KHz, 16 bit, stereo - then your software should accept them for burning to CD without a problem.

How do CDr's made with a burner compare to regular CDs in terms of sound quality?

There is no reason why a home-burned CD should not have the same sound quality as a store bought CD... *if* the music files you are burning onto the CD have that quality. Most of the reasons for quality loss are in the files, not the CD burning process - when audio data is compressed to MP3 some quality is lost... how much, depends upon how much the data is compressed (the lower the bitrate the more compression, and the more quality loss), and what encoder software is used (different encoders perform differently).

There are some problems you may encounter playing home-burned CDs in audio CD players, but generally they don't pertain directly to sound quality. Sometimes you will find that an audio player will not recognise a home-burned CD at all - this is either because an error was made burning the CD (not burned properly as an audio CD or whatever), or because that particular player cannot read the CD media used. Never use CD-RW disks when making audio CDs. If you have a problem with one brand of CDR disk, try another.

Another common problem is that audio CD players often will not select tracks / skip from track to track / perform random play on home-burned CDs. This is usually because there are small gaps between the tracks caused by the "track at a time" burning method which is the default in most burner programs. You can remove this problem by being sure to always burn your audio CDs in "disk at once" mode - this way the whole CD will be burned without turning off the laser, and audio players should be able to locate all the tracks fine, and support functions such as random play.

What are the best quality blank CDr's on the market?

Personally I have used Kodak, Sony, Fuji and Samsung without problems. I have had some problems with some other brands.

Can I record audio tracks to a CD-RW disk?

Well yes... you certainly can record it, and then later erase that stuff and record something else instead. The catch is that even if you use standard audio CD format you almost certainly won't be able to play a CD-RW disk in any of your audio CD players... I'm not too clear about the engineering reasons, but there's something about the way the recording on a CD-RW disk is done which results in it simply not being readable by most audio CD players, or indeed older CD-ROM drives - a drive must be "multi-read" capable in order to be able to read CD-RW disks, I believe. I've heard that some of the latest audio CD players *can* play CD-RW disks, but I've never found one that could myself.

Can I copy my MP3 files to a CDR disk and play them that way?

You can copy your MP3 files directly, without conversion, to a data CD, and that way you will get somewhere between 7 and 11 hours of music on a CD (depending on the bitrate of your MP3 files)... but you can't play such a CD in an audio CD player, however you can play it in a computer, using Winamp or whatever, and now a couple of different companies have come up with portable players to play such CDs - I just read a review of a new one, but I forget the name (sorry)... it was selling for $300 US, looked pretty much like a standard diskman, and could play CD ROM disks with MP3 files on them and also regular audio CDs. OK... I went and found the mag with the review - it's called the Pine SM-2000C D'Music Portable, and the manufacturer's website is at www.pineusa.com - yep, I just checked the URL, and they have a picture of it right on the main page... mind you, they say it's "coming soon". There's another company that has a similar unit, also "coming soon" - check out Vertical Horizons at www.evhi.com. And here's yet another one: www.mambox.com/.

When saving MP3 files to CD, is it better to use Direct CD with CD-RW disks or to burn CDR disks?

I got Direct CD with my drive, and you certainly can use it to copy MP3 files to a CD-RW disk. And I started out doing so. However, I have now switched to burning them to CDR disks instead. There are pros and cons both ways:

Direct CD pros & cons:

Pro -You can copy individual files easily whenever you want to. You can change or delete files after you copy them.

Con - You have to 'format' the CD-RW disk first, which takes an hour or more for a complete format. Any computer on which you want to play the disks must either have Direct CD installed, or have a driver file for reading Direct CD disks installed (there is an option in Direct CD to put the required driver file onto a floppy, so it's actually easy enough to give it to anybody who you want to read your disks). Even with the required software, many older CD ROM drives cannot read CD-RW disks (this is the biggest restriction for me). The disks are a little more expensive than CDR disks.

CDR pros & cons:

Pro - The disks can be read by any CD ROM drive without a problem. Also they hold a little more data, since the full 650 MB of the disk can be used for files, whereas Direct CD takes up quite a lot of space in overhead. The disks are cheap.

Con - You have to actually burn the disks in your burner program, and once the files are burned to disk they can't be changed in any way.

Is there a CD burner program that I can legally download free?

The only free burner programs that I am aware of are Feurio (from www.feurio.de) and Fireburner (from http://mariettabros.com/bob/CDRPortal/). I haven't tried Fireburner, and I really have no reports to indicate how good it is. Feurio seems to be a good little program - unfortunately it's not the simplest program to set up, and most of the help is only in German.

Does MP3 CD Maker work?

Well... MP3 CD Maker might be nice if it *worked*. I downloaded the current demo version (restricted to 4 tracks), and tried it out with my Hewlett Packard CD Writer + 7500, but it just kept giving assorted error messages ("cannot send cue card", "track following error", or some such things...) with no explanation at all of what they might mean, and no guidance in the help file or anything. For what it's worth, the drive seems to work fine with other programs, and I've cut plenty of disks with it without any problems (other than the occasional buffer underrun, if I'm not careful enough about resources, etc.)

Well... I'm afraid I can't really help much on this. I tried to use MP3 CD Maker myself, and didn't fare any better than you... all I ever got it to do was to produce a variety of essentially unhelpful error message - I never actually got it to write anything useable to disk, although I have no problems writing disks using Easy CD Creator. One thing I can say is that MP3 CD Maker seems to require you to turn off the "Auto Insert Notification" for your burner through the Control Panel, System, Device Manager, and then select your drive and click the Properties button. If you don't do this, the program won't even start to work with your drive. But that said, even after I did this, I still couldn't get MP3 CD Maker to do anything useful.

Yes, the normalization function can be selected in the window that comes up after you choose "record". However, I must add, I have *never* been able to get MP3 CD Maker to do anything useful... the normalization part works fine (takes an hour or so...), but when it comes to writing to the actual CD all I get is assorted essentially unhelpful error messages... and there's no help at all, either with the program or on the home site. I write audio CDs all the time using other programs, so I don't think the problem is with the installation of my burner (an HP).

What affects sound quality in CD burning?

Really, unless the burning plumb fails, the burning process shouldn't have much impact on the sound quality - the track burned on CD should sound just like the track played from your PC. The effect on the sound quality comes mostly from the ripping process (where problems may introduce unwanted noises or gaps) and from the encoding process (if the file has been transmitted as MP3 - some quality loss is inevitable, but it can be kept to a minimum by using good encoder software at a reasonably high bitrate).

When I burn audio CDs my stereo plays them but won't skip to specific tracks - why?

If possible, when burning an audio CD, you should try to use the "disk at once" option, if your CD burner software has it and your hardware supports it - "disk at once" causes the CD to be burned all in one continuous pass without ever stopping the laser, whereas otherwise the laser is turned off after each track and then started again for the next track - this starting and stopping of the laser causes slight discontinuities between the tracks, and whilst this generally shouldn't stop an audio player playing the CD through, it often will stop an audio player from being able to find individual tracks on the CD when you try to use things like programmed play, random play, or even just to manually skip to a track other than the first track on the disk.

I made an audio CD and it plays ok on my PC but won't play on my stereo - why?

Various possible reasons:

1) You recorded it on a CD-RW disk. Most newer computer drives read these fine. Very few audio players will read them at all.

2) You recorded the CD as a data CD or as a multi-session CD. Audio players will only read audio CDs, and even on audio CDs, they will only recognise the first "session". Computer drives, OTOH, can cheerfully read data CDs, and can read CDs recorded in multiple sessions.

3) If neither of the above is your problem, it may just be that the brand of CDR disk you are using does not work well with your audio player. This happens sometimes. Try a different brand. I have had no problems with Kodak, Sony, Samsung, or Fuji disks, whereas I have had some problems with Memorex, Maxell and noname disks (Maxell seemed OK at first, but the last box I bought were bad...).

4) Another thing to try is to burn at a slower speed. Try burning a disk at 1x (rather than 2x or 6x or whatever speed your burner drive supports). Sometimes audio CDs burned at slower speeds will work in audio players whilst disks burned at higher speeds won't - I think that the laser encoding is somehow "clearer" when burning at slower speeds and this helps audio players, which often have a problem with home-burned CDs, to cope with the disks.

5) If your CD won't play at all, this probably isn't your problem... but another tip is to try and record all your audio CDs in "disk at once" mode, meaning the whole disk is burned in one pass without turning off the laser. Audio players like disks burned like this better. If you burn the disk "track at a time" the laser is turned off between each track, and audio players often cannot find any track other than the first one on such disks, although if you just start them playing at the first track and leave them, they'll usually play all the way through fine.

I burned some audio CDs and they won't play on my CD player - how come?

1) Make sure you are using CD-R disks, not CD-RW disks - very few CD audio players can recognise CD-RW disks at all.

2) Make sure you are burning single session audio CDs with your software - audio CD players won't, for the most part, recognise data CDs or multi-session CDs.

3) If you are burning single-session audio CDs on CD-R media and they still won't play on your audio CD players, then I'm afraid it looks as if your burner just can't produce disks that your audio players can read. Audio CD players are notoriously temperamental about playing home-burned CDs. About the only other thing I can suggest is trying different types of CD-R disks - some audio CD players seem to like gold CDs better, whereas other players seem to do better with the green CD-R media. I'd recommend Kodak gold disks and Sony pale green ones over anything else myself, but I can't guarantee they'll work with your particular player. Verbatim are recommended by some people also, but I've never used them myself.

How do I burn a CD without gaps between the tracks?

Using the "disk at once" option which is available in most good burner programs will get rid of the major gaps between tracks. I would recommend *always* using this option when burning audio CDs, since CDs burned this way will play better in audio CD players (which can find the tracks better - with "track at once" disks an audio player will often not be able to locate individual tracks upon request). In Easy CD Creator, for example, after you've clicked "Create Disk" and before you click OK on the pop-up, there is an Advanced tab that allows you to choose the "Disk at once" burning method. To get really smooth joins though you will probably still need to decode the MP3 files to WAV and edit each WAV file (using an editor such as Goldwave, from www.goldwave.com), since when you decode MP3 files small amounts of silence tend to get added, especially at the end of the file.

Can I adjust the volume level when making an audio CD from MP3 files?

Personally I use Goldwave (www.goldwave.com) to edit the WAV files. There are programs that will do some kind of "normalization" during the decoding or burning process (e.g. MP3 CD Maker claims to do this - but I never got that program to work)... but you have much more control and sense of what results you're getting if you edit the files manually...

How can I adjust the volume level of my MP3 files as I burn them to an audio CD?

I'd use a WAV editor. There is a Winamp plugin called Audiostocker which is designed to "normalize" playback volume, but I don't know whether it can be used at the same time as the Disk Writer plugin.

Alternatively you could try and use a program that goes directly from MP3 files to burning an audio CD and had normalization functions built in. MP3 CD Maker does, but I could never get that program to work at all, and the help is useless (essentially non-existant). I believe Nero can burn directly from MP3 files, and may have a normalization function, and also perhaps the latest release (4) of Easy CD Creator.

Myself, I still decode to WAV files, edit them, and then burn...

How can I record my MP3 files to tape?

If you want to record the songs you have in MP3 form onto an audio tape for playing in your Walkman, car stereo, or whatever... you just need to connect the line-out socket of your sound card to an input that can feed you tape recording deck and then set the record levels and record.

How can I record my MP3 songs to an audio tape to play in my car / walkman?

Yes... just connect the "Line-out" from your soundcard to an "Aux-in" or something of the sort on your recorder. Don't use "Phono in" sockets though - they will be intended for connection from a turntable with a magnetic cartidge, which means that they will be expecting a very low level signal distorted in a particular peculiar way. Connecting a line level signal to those could even blow your amplifier, and will certainly sound horrible. If your receiver / amplifier is really old, it may have a phono input for "ceramic" cartidge - you can get away with connecting a lowish line level signal to those. But basically what you want is a "line in" or "aux in" connection. Sockets designed to take the audio from your VCR will work fine also - they might be labled "VCR Audio In" or something like that. Then put your tape on record and pause it and start your MP3 files playing - check the level indicators on your tape deck, and adjust the level (either the tape decks own level controls or the MP3 volume) until the levels move well with the peaks just going into the red. Now stop your MP3, start the tape rolling, and play your MP3 songs from the start (I'd suggest making up an MP3 playlist first, then just record the whole side of the tape in one go).


CHANGING MP3
Converting and Editing MP3 files (includes streaming audio):
(see RECORDING TO MP3 for encoding)

How do I convert MP3 files to WAV files?

Most MP3 players will convert MP3 to WAV, e.g. with Winamp, press Ctl-P to get Preferences, then select Output in the left hand window, then select Nullsoft Disk Writer plug-in in the left window... then press the Configure button to choose which directory you want your WAV files saving in. After you do this, every time you "play" a file in Winamp, it will actually be output to a WAV file in your chosen directory. To go back to actually playing files, bring Preferences up again, and select Output and Nullsoft WaveOut plug-in, which is your normal sound playing output plugin. If you're using something other than Winamp, check the menus and look for "Options" or "Preferences". I've never yet encountered an MP3 player program that won't output to WAV files.

How do I get WAV files from MP3 files using Winamp?

Press Ctl-P to get Preferences, then select Output in the left hand window, then select Nullsoft Disk Writer plug-in in the left window... then press the Configure button to choose which directory you want your WAV files saving in. After you do this, every time you "play" a file in Winamp, it will actually be output to a WAV file in your chosen directory. To go back to actually playing files, bring Preferences up again, and select Output and Nullsoft WaveOut plug-in, which is your normal sound playing output plugin. The plugins you need should have come as standard with your basic Winamp install.

Can I record streamed audio such as web radio?

One way to do this would be to use a program such as Total Recorder (from www.highcriteria.com), which will let you record *anything* which is playing on your system - then you could just play the stream, and record a WAV file with Total Recorder, and then encode the WAV file with any MP3 encoder. If you have a full duplex soundcard you should not even need Total Recorder - you should be able to record whatever is playing with a standard WAV recording program such as Goldwave (www.goldwave.com). If you try to do this, don't forget to bring up your Windows recording mixer (double click on the little yellow speaker in your systray), then select Options / Properties / Recording, then make sure the WAV slider is selected, not muted, and set to a reasonable volume (this may vary a little bit depending on your version of Windows and what sound card you have).

Total Recorder may actually give you better results, since it is intercepting the digital stream before it is sent to the soundcard, whereas recording the other way, you are probably recording output produced after going through digital-to-analogue and then analogue-to-digital conversion in your sound card, which will likely result in some quality loss...

I've downloaded a song as a "zip" file - how do I get to play it?

OK... there isn't one simple answer, because when you download a song and it has a zip extension, it could be one of two things:

1) An MP3 file, that has just been renamed to change the extension to "zip"

2) An actual zip file, i.e. one that has been produced by using a zip compression utility (although since MP3 is already a highly compressed format, putting an MP3 file through zip compression rarely makes much difference to the file size...)

Web site owners who post songs as "zip" files use both of these strategies randomly, so unless there's a note on the web page, you just don't know. The simple answer is just try to "unzip" the file with Winzip (or some other zip utility - downloadable from ZDNet or any popular shareware source), and if the zip utility tells you that the file is not a valid zip file, then just rename it, changing the extension from "zip" to "mp3" and try and play it...

How do I change the extension of a file (e.g. from "zip" to "mp3")?

Assuming you are running Windows:

1) Start up Windows Explorer.

2) Select View / Options (in Win98 it's "Folder Options") and make sure that the box beside "Hide MS-DOS file extensions for file types that are registered" is *not* checked. (This is a pernicious option, which will only confuse you by showing you something which is not the real name that the file is actually stored under).

3) Find the file in whatever directory you stored it in. Click on it once. Pause a second or two, then click on it again. You should see that the filename becomes enclosed in a little box and highlighted, with a bar cursor flashing at the end of it. This means that you are editing the filename. You can type an entirely new filename now, but if all you want to do is change the extension, press the end key to position your cursor at the end of the filename and unhighlight the name, then backspace three times to delete the characters "zip", type "mp3", and then press enter.

Is there software for editing MP3 files?

Editing MP3 files is tricky since MP3 is frame based, and frames may also have interdependencies. There are programs that will perform some basic slicing of MP3 files. Here are a couple:

MP3Cutter: http://members.tripod.com/~videoripper/mp3cutter/index.htm

MP3Trim: http://www.jps.net/kyunghi/mp3encod.htm

MannsMp3Edit: http://saturn.spaceports.com/~manns/

Or if these links don't work well, try searching the big download libraries (www.hotfiles.com www.winfiles.com etc.)

If you want to do more than simple snips, you will need to decode to WAV and use a WAV editor. Goldwave available from www.goldwave.com is an excellent shareware editor.

Xing have an MP3 editor, which they bundle with AudioCatalyst now. And several people have mentioned one from a company called Maya (I believe), but I don't have a URL for that. The Maya editor seemed to be able to do so many things that it sounded as if it was actually decoding the MP3 files, editing wave format, then re-encoding. Various programs will let you do that, such as Cool Edit 2000. But bear in mind that repeatedly decoding and re-encoding an MP3 is going to lead to progressive loss of quality...

If I convert MP3 to WAV for editing, won't I lose quality when I encode to MP3 again?

Yes, there is some additional loss of quality when you re-encode to MP3... so you should certainly try to avoid doing this sort of thing repeatedly. But if you re-encode at a reasonable bitrate (160 kbps or higher) with a decent encoder, then the loss of quality should not be very noticeable. And you really don't have much choice, unless the editing you want to do is fairly basic - performing complex audio edits on an MP3 file without decoding end re-encoding the data is pretty much impossible, due to the complex nature of the frame-based perceptual encoding used.

A fairly close analogy would be to JPEG and BMP on the graphics front. Like MP3, JPEG is a perceptual encoding scheme, whereas BMP is the direct, uncompressed way of storing the colour and intensity data, very much similar to the way WAV files store uncompressed PCM data (normally - admittedly the situation is somewhat complicated by the fact that there *are* sub specifications under which both WAV and BMP files can actually contain compressed data). Essentially whenever you do substantial editing on a JPG file in a graphics editor, the picture is being decoded to uncompressed bitmap data, similar to that used in an uncompressed BMP file, for editing, and then the JPEG compression has to be redone if you save the results as a JPG file. Hence if you want to do a lot of editing to a graphic, keep it as a BMP file until you've completed all your editing, then save the *final* result as a JPG, and similarly if you want to do a lot of editing to an audio file, keep it as a WAV file until you've completed all your editing, then save the *final* result as MP3.

What is a good, cheap WAV editing program?

Goldwave, from www.goldwave.com - it allows you to try it out without imposing onerous conditions, and it's quite cheap to register.

What does "normalization" mean? What's the difference between normalizing "peak" level and "average" level?

If you say:

"Normalize to 98%, but only if peak level is higher than 98% or lower than 90%"

This means than if the highest sound peak (sample amplitude) in the file is less than 98% and more than 90% then nothing is done, but if the highest amplitude is more than 98% or less than 90% then the file will be adjusted such that the highest amplitude will be 98%.

The other options mean the same thing, but based on the *average* level rather than the peak level. Generally the average level will have a closer connection to how "loud" the track sounds than the peak level will, so you will probably be better off normalizing based on the average level... but if you normalize the average level you may cause the overall level to be increased to such a degree than some "clipping" will occur (i.e. the conversion will try to produce levels higer than the maximum possible, so the peaks will be "clipped" off). This is all probably a bit clearer if you use a WAV editing program where you can actually see a graphical display of the file, showing the level as it varies over the length (time) of the file. There is often no perfect answer to the normalization issue. Theoretically, it might seem best to normalize to a low average level - that way you're mostly going to push files down in level rather than up, so you shouldn't cause clipping, and you'll end up with a bunch of uniformly fairly soft songs, so you'll have to play back with your volume turned up rather. To be honest, I never actually do this.

For classical music, or other music where very soft passages and large changes in dynamics are important, I'd go through all the tracks to be put together, and check their maximum levels - if none of them has a peak of 100%, then adjust the one with the highest level to have a peak of 100%, and then adjust all the others up by the same ratio (i.e. for each make the new peak op * 100 / omp, where op is the old peak of this file and omp is the old peak of the file with the maximum peak which you adjusted first). If one or more tracks already has a peak of 100%, I'd leave them alone.

For rock music, I tend to take a different approach. Basically I increase the average levels of softer tracks, not to make them equal to the average level of the loudest tracks, but to produce a subjective listening level which seems "in the same range". You can only really tell by listening. And yes, I probably cause some clipping when I do this, but quite honestly I don't think a little bit of clipping here and there is a big problem with rock tracks, in general.

Can I normalize MP3 files (make them play at a standard volume)?

Unfortunately you can't really normalize the data in the file in MP3 format. You can normalize the *playback* - for example, by using a Winamp plugin such as Audiostocker (available under Plugins - Effects from the Plugins section at www.winamp.com). Or you can decode the file to WAV, normalize the WAV, then re-encode it (but do any editing you want all in one go, or better yet, if you still have the CD, rip it again, since re-encoding will cause some loss of quality). Some wave editing programs, such as Sound Forge and Cool Edit 2000, now have MP3 plugins to allow you to read in and write out MP3 files... but make no mistake, you're still decoding and re-encoding when you do this, and you will lose some quality each time to re-save a changed file in MP3 format, and hence re-encode it.

Can I change the ID3 tags on my MP3 files?

Certainly you can change the ID3 tags on an existing MP3 file (so long as it is not a read-only file, for example something burned onto a CDR disk, in which case you obviously can't write to it). A simple way to change the tags on a file is to select the file in the Winamp playlist, then press Alt-3 ("File-info") - this brings up the ID3 tags for editing. If you need to do *bulk* changes to the tags on a whole bunch of files, there are special programs for that - try searching ZDNet (www.hotfiles.com) for "ID3 tag"...

Is there a program to change the ID3 tags on an MP3 file through right clicking on the file?

There are several.

MP3Ext (available for ZDNet, www.hotfiles.com) is an Explorer extension that adds a new page to the Properties menu of .mp3 files. At a glance you can see all the info about the .mp3 file, including the total time, average time, bitrate, layer, frequency, MPEG version, and mode. The program also displays ID3 tag information, which can be edited on the spot.

MP3-Info Shell Extension (available from http://tick.informatik.uni-stuttgart.de/~mutschml/MP3ext/MP3ext23b4.zip or through ZDNet) adds a page to the Properties tab when right-clicking. It allows ID3 tag editing, and also other features such as explorer icons based on bitrate, and pop-up info boxes when pointing at files. However, Occasional crashes have been reported when using this program.

Another program is MPTagger (available from surf.to/mptagger), which adds tag "guessing" and file renaming functions to the right click menu itself, or can be used as a standalone tagger.

Is it possible to "filter" MP3 files to remove noise etc?

Well, you can't really filter MP3 files. You can alter the *playback* by using equalizers and various plugins. But if you want to apply filters to the file, you'll have to decode it to WAV format. Any good WAV editing program can do all sorts of filtering, but I don't know exactly what you need. Try Goldwave (www.goldwave.com). Experiment with noise filtering or maybe even pass filters. However, if you're referring to the kind "flanging" sounds that bad VBR or joint encoding can produce, then I think you'll find them very hard to hit with filters...

How can I make an MP3 from the audio in an AVI file?

Goldwave (www.goldwave.com) has an option to extract the audio from an AVI file to wav audio. Use this option, save the results as a WAV file, then use an encoder to produce an MP3 file. Mind you, the audio in a lot of avi files is pretty bad, so the results may not sound much good.

What is a ".viv" file?

If you can't play the file in Winamp then it isn't an MP3 file (you don't actually have to rename it - even if the file is still called whatever.viv, if you open it with Winamp and it is an MP3 file, Winamp will go ahead and play it). So far as I know an actual ".viv" file is a Vivo interactive media file, and you will need a Vivo player to play it, which you can get from www.vivo.com

How do I reduce the bitrate of MP3 files (e.g. to fit more songs into my portable player)?

Well you'd have to convert them to WAV files (Winamp can do this - use the Nullsoft Diskwriter Output plugin, which comes with the standard Winamp install), and then re-encode them using an MP3 encoder (BladeEnc is a free encoder which I've found pretty good). But you will certainly lose some quality.

So far as I know, the only way of converting bitrates is to decode the files and then encode them at the new rate. I assume you're wanting to
encode them at a lower rate in order to make them smaller. (There's absolutely no point encoding them at a higher rate, since it won't improve the quality at all, and it will simply make the files bigger.) There may be a utility to do this in batches, but I don't know of one. However, you can easily do each of the two stages in batches, so long as you have enough hard disk space:

1) Use Winamp to create WAV files. Under preferences (Ctrl-P) select as Output the Nullsoft Diskwriter plugin, and press the Configure button to choose the directory for your WAV files - must be on a disk with plenty of space. Then put all the files you want to convert on a playlist and press play - Winamp will convert them all to WAV files in the chosen directory (so long as there's enough space - about 10 MB per minute of audio).

2) Use BladeEnc (or your encoder of choice) to re-encode the files. BladeEnc is free, and you can find it at ZDNet (www.hotfiles.com). To encode all your WAV files at 64 Kbps, for example, from a command line just enter:

bladeenc -64 c:\wavs\*.wav

- obviously using whatever directory you actually put the WAV files into. BladeEnc will convert them and put the resulting MP3 files into the same directory as the WAV files. MP3 files at 64 Kbps will take around .5 Mb per minute of audio. Warning - this will take a long time... plan to set it going when you are going to bed or going out and let it chug away in your absence. And don't forget to disable your screen saver, since many screen savers take such a chunk of the computer's resources that they'll slow BladeEnc right down once the saver kicks in.

Can I make all my MP3 files play at the same volume?

There are a couple of Winamp plugins for normalizing the volume of songs as you play them - they don't actually change the MP3 files on disk at all, they just try to make Winamp play at a "standard" volume. You can download these plugins from the main Winamp site (www.winamp.com). Strangely enough they are not under Plugins / Output (which is where I would have put them) - one is under Plugins / General and the other under Plugins / Effects.

As for making the actual MP3 files themselves standard... I doubt it. I think, if you want to do this, you'll have to decode them to WAV files, normalize the volume of the WAV files (which can be done, for example, using the Maximize / Normalize Volume function in Goldwave, from www.goldwave.com), then re-encode them.

***

There's a normalizing plugin you can download from the Winamp site (www.winamp.com) which will normalize your playback in Winamp. It's called AudioStocker, and you can find it under Plugins / Effects.

Some CD burning programs will normalize your MP3 files as part of the burning process. MP3 CD Maker has this feature (but I never got it to successfully burn a single track, myself). I believe latest releases of other programs may do it too (Nero?)

What I actually do myself is convert the tracks I want to burn to WAV files (using Winamp) and then edit each track using Goldwave (www.goldwave.com), and one of the editing functions I perform is to adjust the volume (using the Edit / Volume / Maximise function) if it seems appropriate.

Can I convert Real Media files to WAV?

I've never actually done it, but the program ra2wav, available from standard download sites, such as ZDNet (www.hotfiles.com) is supposed to be able to extract ".ra" audio data and the audio portion of ".rm" files to a WAV. RealJukeBox may be able to do this as well. Another program is Streambox Ripper, from www.streambox.com/products/Ripper/index.asp - this program converts Real Audio and Real Media to MP3 or WMA, and also rips from CDs, and decodes and encodes MP3.

Can I convert WMA files to WAV using Winamp?

If you have the 'full' version of Winamp it can play WMA files, and you can try writing to a WAV output file using the Nullsoft Disk Writer plugin... but sometimes it won't work - you get a message saying "Sorry, no .wav writing support for DRM enabled WRM streams".

This figures, I guess. Winamp is basically playing by the rules set by Microsoft et al. There's no technical reason for not doing this... it's a "policy" thing. One way around this kind of restriction is to use something like "Total Recorder" (from www.highcriteria.com)... this is a shareware program that basically defines itself to Windows as an audio device driver, so basically you pick Total Recorder as your default Wav output device, and it will record whatever you are playing (no matter what the source of it is), and pass on the data to your actual sound card drivers or whatever for playing.

If you have a full duplex soundcard you should not even need Total Recorder - if you play a .wma file you may be able to record it as it is playing with a standard WAV recording program such as Goldwave (www.goldwave.com). If you try to do this, don't forget to bring up your Windows recording mixer (double click on the little yellow speaker in your systray), then select Options / Properties / Recording, then make sure the WAV slider is selected, not muted, and set to a reasonable volume (this may vary a little bit depending on your version of Windows and what sound card you have).

Total Recorder may actually give you better results, since it is intercepting the digital stream before it is sent to the soundcard, whereas recording the other way, you are probably recording output produced after going through digital to analogue and then analogue to digital conversion in your sound card, which will likely result in some quality loss...


MISCELLANEOUS
Questions that didn't fit into any of the other categories:

What is SDMI, and will it stop me listening to MP3 music?

To try and give a very simple, quick answer...

The object of SDMI (Secure Digital Music Initiative) is to allow the "owners" of music, the copyright holders, to produce digital files which they can control, i.e. files which ideally cannot be passed on to anyone other than the person to whom they are originally supplied, and possibly which can only be used for a limited time or a limited number of plays. So there will be some mechanism built into the way the files are encoded which will either prevent a playable copy being made (difficult with a purely digital file), or will limit the file to playing on a particular machine. The problem with such schemes is they necessarily have to be based on encryption, and it's virtually impossible to produce a scheme that allows you to distribute files economically whilst being uncrackable. The most secure of such schemes generally involve a hardware component as well as software encoding (e.g. compare to software protection using "dongles"... but the software itself is still vulnerable to cracking). So... SDMI might create a scenario where you had to buy a "dongle" of some sort, a piece of hardware that you somehow attached to your machine, and then you would pay to download music files, and they would only play with your "dongle", not for anyone else. They might also automatically become unplayable after 2 weeks (or any other amount of time), or after you played them 50 times, or whatever.

In any event, SDMI is an ongoing initiative of major music industry powers which hasn't really produced results yet, and when it does produce results they will necessarily involve new file formats and will be distinct from MP3 files, per se (although some elements of MP3 encoding might still be included in the process - c.f. the MPX format which you have to use to load music files into the RCA Lyra player... that's a form of proprietary encoding imposed on top of the original MP3 encoding, basically for the purpose of restricting ongoing copy flexibility, which is the kind of direction SDMI is heading).

I can certainly understand why the music industry wants SDMI, perhaps even feels that it *must* have it... but somehow, the more I talk about it, the less likely it seems to me that it will actually succeed. Ah well, we shall have to wait and see.

Where can I get MP3 Software for my Mac?

Well I'm afraid I'm not a Mac user myself, so I can't speak to much about specifics, but a very good place to start is www.pure-mac.com/mp3.html - they have links to players, rippers, encoders and other utilities for the Mac, freeware, shareware and commercial, with little write-ups on the programs.

What is the HTML for making an MP3 file available from a web page?

You just create an <A> </A> Href to the MP3 file, eg:

<A HREF="mysong.mp3">This is a link to mysong.mp3</A>
Of course, if the MP3 file isn't going to be in the same directory as the HTML page, you have to include the correct path or complete URL in the quoted value for the href.

Also a lot of web-servers seem to have problems serving MP3 - I believe the problem is that the server software doesn't recognise "mp3" as a file extension indicating a MIME type requiring binary file transfer, so often the files end up being transferred as text files, which messes them up. There's not much you can do about this, unless you have access to the server configuration. One way around it, sort of, is to rename your MP3 files to some other extension which is generally recognised as a binary file type (e.g. "zip"), but this does mean that anyone downloading them will probably want to rename them. You could try just putting them up as "mp3" first and see if the downloads work. Also I should warn you that the Terms Of Service of many (if not most) web site providers forbid you from putting MP3 files on their servers. With "ra" files you probably won't have a problem...

Why buy a CD burner rather than just adding a bigger hard disk?

Having lots of hard disk space is great, but there are still lots of reasons for having a CD burner:

1) Expandability - if you collect a lot of MP3, no matter how much hard disk space you add, you'll keep filling it (to say nothing of other stuff...) A CD writer allows you to create an infinitely expandable library, with each disk holding about 650 Mb and only costing a couple of bucks.

2) You can burn audio CDs to play in your audio CD players.

3) Backup - hard disks can die... I know :( Writeable CDs make a pretty good offline backup medium.

4) Portability - you can burn disks and take them to machines you have at other locations, or give them or mail them to friends.

Certainly you want a decent amount of hard disk space, and adding a hard disk to an older machine can be worthwhile, if the machine looks like meeting your needs for a while in other respects. But adding hard disk space is not a direct substitute for having a CD burner.

Can I buy a player to play MP3 in my Car?

Check out http://www.empeg.com/ - they have a unit, but it seems to be hard-disk based, and I'm not quite clear how you're expected to get your MP3 files into the unit - it has a USB port, so maybe you take it out of your car and transfer from your PC, or take your laptop to your car. I would have thought it would make more sense to use a CD ROM drive to read data CDs with MP3 files on them, but I haven't seen a car unit like that advertised, although Pine (www.pineusa.com) have a "Discman" type unit coming out "soon" that plays data CDs full of MP3 files as well as regular audio CDs. There's another company that has similar units, a stereo component and a portable, also "coming soon" - check out Vertical Horizons at www.evhi.com. And here's yet another one: www.mambox.com/.

There are also a bunch of other units summarized and reviewed at http://www.mp3car.com/tethered.html - a lot of them look rather "home-built" though, and I've never heard directly from anyone who has actually used any of them.

And here's another maker's site: www.xeenon.com/xeenonweb/product/mp3/mp3.htm - they have a unit that plays CDs, and a hard-disk based version. Their stuff looks a bit "cobbled together out of spare parts" too... but at least the specs are clear.

Can I run an FTP server myself to share my MP3 files?

Well... you can run FTP server software on your PC, but there are a number of issues:

1) If you're on a dial-up connection your limited bandwidth will make it deadly slow, even if you only allow something like 3 simultaneous logins.

2) Also, if you are on a dial-up connection, your IP will almost certainly change every time you connect, so you won't have any permanent address - you'd have to let people know the IP after you logged on, and it would only be good until you logged off (or got kicked off)

3) If you have a cable connection, you're a bit better off, since you have higher bandwidth and a more or less permanent IP. Quite a lot of people do run FTP servers on desktop PCs with cable connections. But see below...

4) Obviously running an FTP server on your machine is going to severely restrict your own ability to use the machine and to access the net whilst the server is running.

5) Running an FTP server over your connection is probably against your ISP's terms of service, and you could get your account yanked if they find out.

The alternative is basically to pay for FTP hosting on a commercial server...

Which portable MP3 player should I get?

Well, I can't really answer this question. I don't have one myself yet. I'm holding out for the players which play MP3 from CD which are supposed to be coming out. Supposedly they will double as a regular CD "Diskman" type player, and also play CDR disks containing MP3 files in standard data CD format. Of course, these players will have a couple of disadvantages over pure RAM based MP3 players: they will have moving parts, they will be a bit bigger, and they will be susceptible (like a regular Diskman) to shocks, and so less suitable for jogging etc. But they will have some enormous advantages (for me, anyhow) - ease of transfer (instead of mucking around with cables, just put in an MP3 CDR - and I already make MP3 CDR disks anyway), and holding 8 hours of good quality music rather than 1 hour of rather poor quality music. Of course the snag is, such a beast doesn't exist yet. Pine have supposedly produced one, and managed to get it reviewed in several magazines, but it isn't actually released yet (see their site at www.pineusa.com). There's another company that has a similar unit, also "coming soon" - check out Vertical Horizons at www.evhi.com. And here's yet another one: www.mambox.com/. And several other companies have been talking about something similar. Anyway, this is what I want...

How do I link from a web page to a file on an FTP site?

You can create a link to an FTP object, no problem. The link will take the form:

<A HREF="FTP://log:pass@server.name/dir/path/filename">Click here to download</A>
Where:

"log" is the login id
"pass" is the password
"server.name" is the server url - you can use the IP instead (123.45.67.8 or whatever)
"/dir/path" is the path to the directory on the server
"filename" is the filename in the server directory
"Click here to download" is your display text - could be an image as well, or instead.

How do I post MP3 files to a newsgroup?

I seriously suggest that you check out the FAQ for the MP3 newsgroups at:

www.mp3-faq.org

It answers your question, and many related ones, quite comprehensively.

The short answer is that you post a message and "attach" the MP3 file to it. You may also need to specify some parameters in your newsreading software re such things as how to encode the attachment (use uuencoding) and what size chunks to split it into, etc.

I would suggest that you use a decent dedicated newsreader program, rather than attempting to use your browser. Free Agent from Forté software is a good place to start - you can download it free from any popular shareware / freeware site (e.g. www.winfiles.com www.hotfiles.com). Myself I use Forté Agent, which is the registered "full" version of this software... but the free version should do basic posting for you fine.

How do I post an MP3 file to a usenet group?

Well firstly, you don't post it in a discussion group... you post it in an appropriate binaries newsgroup, such as:

news://alt.binaries.sounds.mp3
news://alt.binaries.sounds.mp3.1990s
news://alt.binaries.sounds.mp3.indie

As to how to post it. You need to post it in multiple parts. Any sensible news program will do this automatically for you - you just specify what size each part should be (and even that should default to a sensible value which will be good for most purposes). You could start with Free Agent, which you can download from all sorts of places (e.g. ZDNet - www.hotfiles.com).

I also *strongly* suggest that you read the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) for the MP3 binary newsgroups at:

www.mp3-faq.org

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