MP3: Audiophile Audio File Compression

PLEASE NOTE: This article has been archived. It first appeared on in July 1998, contributed by then Contributing Editor Pete Leoni. We will not be making any updates to the article. Please visit the home page for our latest content. Thank you!

Hey Ted? How about laying down some funky rythym guitar on this track, I’ll zip it over to you.

Hey Pete? Could y’all put some of that New Orleans/Dr. John style piano on this file, using that 9 ft Baldwin at your place? I’ll e-mail you the rough track and oh, by the way, I need it back in LA in an Hour.

Huh? What am I talking about?

I’m talking ’bout MP3 compressed audio, and I’m here to tell you that it’s better than you may think. Imagine taking an entire stereo 2 track mixdown file (usually about 25 MBs) and compressing it down to less than 2 MBs with barely any audible degradation of the sound quality.

Are you getting the picture?

The time is coming when we can all collaborate over the e-mail, and I’m not talking about MIDI files, I’m talking about that ’63 Fender Strat plugged into that Mesa Boogie.

MP3 is capable of compressing audio at a 12 to 1 ratio and still producing very fine results. The question is “how dey do dat?” And the answer is your ears are playing tricks on you, in fact right now they are playing tricks on you.

There are sounds all around you that you can’t hear because they are being masked (covered up) by another sound.

Think of it this way: suppose I took a photo of a man standing behind a house. Of course we wouldn’t see the guy ’cause the house is in front of him and effectively “masking” him from view. He was behind there all right, but we don’t need to know that, all we need to know is “picture of a house.”

It is a fact that we can do the same thing with audio, that is, only record the part that we can hear, and ignore the part that we can’t hear!

Of course I am oversimplifying this, but the fact is it works, and we have already been living with it. Every time you hear a Minidisc, or watch digital TV you are experiencing compressed audio. Why not take advantage of what it has to offer us?

I have been using a program called Mp3 Producer from a German firm named Fraunhofer ILS. Once installed on your system it gives you the option of several sample and bit rate coversion choices in varying degrees of quality from low quality (but very tiny file) to a quality level that is almost identical to what we are used to hearing from a CD.

The best news is that a 12 to 1 ratio is possible without signifigantly altering the the quality of the file. True, you might not want to send your record project to the mastering plant through E-mail, but for adding guitar tracks, background vocals etc, this may indeed prove to be a invaluable option.

Once installed on your system, Mp3 Producer will intall codecs in your system that allow the files to be opened in the standard Microsoft Media Player, auditioned, then re-saved in the uncompressed state as standard wave files, which can then be opened in your DAW software. It is a great way to collaborate, to put your songs on your website, and for pros, a commercially viable way to offer your talent and services.