[Review] Extract, Encode and Tag an MP3 in One Step: N2MP3 Reviewed
Contact And Other Information
|Product Home Page:
||N2MP3 Home Page
||MP3 Extractor, Encoder and Tagger
4233 A Street
Omaha, Nebraska 68105
Mac OS 8.0 or greater
|System Used For Testing:
||Power Computing Power Center Pro 210
Newer MaxPOWR 300 MHz G3 Upgrade
Mac OS 9
PowerMac G4 450
256 MB RAM
Mac OS 9
by John F. Braun
Although QuickTime has had the ability to extract and play raw CD audio file for some time, these raw audio files can take up quite a bit of space, typically 10 MB for each minute of audio. Despite the introduction of large hard drives, the disk space required for your entire collection could become prohibitive.
Enter the wonder of the MP3 audio format. This compression scheme removes audio data most folks won't miss. While audio quality is slightly reduced, the size reduction (typically 10% of the original) makes it possible to store large amounts of music in a relatively small space.
So now the space that used to hold a single song can now be used to store ten! It now becomes possible to transfer your entire CD collection, or at least a big chunk of it, to your hard drive. With an average CD now taking up 60 MB, you could store about 150 CDs on a 9 GB drive!
N2MP3 offers both online documentation, available at their web site, and a 37-page manual in PDF format, available once the package is installed. Although the PDF manual is thorough, it did have some minor mistakes, like directing the reader to the correct section number, but the wrong page number.
Although not expressly stated in the documentation, most users will be able to determine that double-clicking on the 'N2MP3 Installer' icon will install the package. There is only one option, Easy Install. You can select the location of the N2MP3 files. After all files are installed, it will be suggested that you restart your machine. Do it.
One your machine has restarted, you'll notice a 'Drop N2MP3' alias on your desktop. But this only hints at how the package has changed your machine. Rather than jumping right in and encoding audio, you should activate the N2MP3 Settings control panel, so you can get an idea of what the package has to offer.
General Program Settings
The Settings section lets you set general program options. You can choose to turn Finder Integration on or off. This is one of the coolest parts of the package, and will be covered shortly. You can specify an encoding bitrate between 32 and 320 kb/sec, with the default being 128. 128 provides a good balance between sound quality and file size. You can also choose Faster or Better Quality encoding. The tradeoffs of this choice are shown in the Detailed Results section below. You can choose the default MP3 player (we like Audion, which is the default) for your encoded files, and the location where they should be stored. Finally, there's a Play As You Encode option, which will let you listen to a song while it is being encoded.
The CD Info section lets you set options for using the CDDB system. Although a CD normally doesn't contain title, artist or song names, the CDDB system assigns a unique identifier to each CD, and can extract this information from a CDDB server on the Internet. In this settings box, you can specify the CDDB server and your e-mail address, set to default values which you can use right away. You can choose to look up this information Never, Only when Online, or Always. For full-time connections, Always is the best bet. For modem users, try Only when Online.
Standard Audio CD Finder Display, and N2MP3 with Finder Integration
Perhaps the coolest part of the package is that it ingrates its features with the Finder. Rather than getting a display of generic Track 1, Track 2 names, you now see the title of each song. And instead of a generic Audio CD 2, the title of the CD will be that of the CD-ROM. The time for the track is also shown.
To encode a file, you simply need to drag one or more songs from the CD-ROM window to another location. You will be prompted for encoding and other options, after which your songs will be encoded. Once the process is finished, you can double-click on the file and listen to it. That is, if you haven't activated Play As You Encode, which lets you listen to the CD while encoding. Note that processor intensive encoding options may result in the audio dropping out. But the file will encode just fine.
Finally, there are Advanced settings to control VBR (Variable Bit Rate) encoding, stereo mode, raw audio versus MP3 encoding, and the setting of various MP3 flags.
Encoding Performance Results
We decided to put N2MP3 through its paces and test encoding with various bit rates, quality settings, and VBR encoding. The source file was a 3:15 track named "There's So Much to See by The Wind," which resulted in a 32.8 MB file when encoded using no compression. The resulting encoding time and file size are shown.
Discussion of Results
Since using the Play while Encoding option always resulted in an encoding time of 3:15 (the same as the original track) we disabled it to get a meaningful measure of compression time. Many of the VBR (Variable Bit Rate) encoding sessions took longer than the length of the song. When using the Faster option, encoding took a little over a minute for all bit settings. When using the Better option, timing increased to between 2 and 2.5 minutes. The VBR settings took the longest, over 3 minutes, except when encoding at 256 kb/sec.
The selection of Faster versus Better had no impact on the size of the resulting MP3 file. As the number of bits used for encoding increased, so did the output file size. Although the files encoded using 32 kb/sec were the smallest, the resulting sound quality was unacceptable. Oh well...there's only so far you can push the MP3 algorithm! Since it took about the same amount of time to encode 128 and 256 kb/sec files, we would recommend 128 unless you really need the quality of 256 kb/sec.
A version of N2MP3 which takes advantage of the G4 Velocity Engine has been announced, but not shipped. But to give you a taste of what simply moving from a G3 (300 MHz) to a G4 (450 MHz) can do, we encoded the same song using the 128 kb/sec Faster and Better options. The Faster clip was encoded in 36 seconds versus 67 seconds, and the Better took 88 seconds versus 154. This is double the performance with only a 50% increase in MHz! We can't wait to check out the Altivec-enhanced version of N2MP3.
We couldn't find much not to like about N2MP3. The installation is fast, the program naturally integrates with the Finder, encoding times and output file sizes are very good, and an MP3 file can be created in one easy step. Compare this to the bad old days when you needed one program to rip raw audio, another to encode, and yet another for CDDB tagging. N2MP3 is a pleasure to use.
Final Score (Maximum Score is 5 Gadgies)
4 1/2 Gadgies
One Step MP3 File Creation
Play while Encoding
||Documentation has minor errors
Installation instructions needed