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MP3 Basics  by Nelson

What is MP3?

MP3 is a file format that stores music files in a computer in such a way that the file size is relatively small but the sound is almost perfect. The name MP3 stands for Mpeg Audio Layer 3, a compression algorithm. MP3 is a compression form (like a zip file). The size of an MP3 file is typically 1 MB per minute of music.

When compressing an audio file using MP3 you can set the level of compression you want. The higher the level of compression, the better the audio quality. MP3 condenses music files without a noticeable loss of sound quality. A five minute song on CD takes about 55MB of disk space if you use the WAV file format. With MP3 the file size is only 5MB, a ratio of 11 to 1. How does MP3 do it? It is simple, the MP3 encoding process removes sounds the human ear cannot hear. In other words, MP3 gets rid of the redundant and irrelevant parts of the sound signal. As a result the audio quality is still there but the size of the file is significantly smaller.
 
Playing an MP3 file

The minimum requirement for acceptable playback quality is a Pentium 75. You will also need an MP3 player. Some MP3 players are available for free download and others are shareware. Please see our software section for information on the most popular MP3 software. If you are going to create your own MP3's, you need a ripper and an encoder. You could download a player, a ripper and an encoder or simply download them all in one program (MusicMatch).

Download the software and install it in your computer. Open the file you want to play and you can begin enjoying high quality audio. When you play an MP3 file, you are actually decoding the digital audio data from the coded audio data. This is done by the MP3 player or decoder.
 
Making an MP3 file

You need a CD-Rom and the MP3 software (a ripper and an encoder). Put the CD you want to encode into the computer's CD drive. Open the software you have downloaded. Select the track that you want to make into an MP3 file. In a few minutes the track is encoded into the .mp3 format.

When you make a MP3 file you are transforming the digital audio data into a highly compressed form called bitstream (or coded audio data). This is done in two steps. The first step is to convert CD audio into WAV format; this function is performed by the ripper. The second step is to convert the WAV format into MP3 format; this is done by the encoder.

You can also download songs in the MP3 format from the Internet. Many web sites are available for thousands of legal FREE downloads. To make MP3 audio files, you need two basic software components - an MP3 player and a CD ripper.

MP3 Players

WinAmp from Nullsoft is the popular choice for most MP3 lovers. Many users like this shareware not only because it is free, but because it is very user friendly and downloads quickly. WinAmp's file size is relatively small(only 552,960k for the latest version). It requires just over 2 minutes to download using a 28.8 kbps modem. WinAmp is available from Nullsoft's webpage as well as MP3.com and tucows. Minimum systems requirements to play WinAmp are Windows 95/98/NT, 16MB of RAM, a sound card, and 256-color graphics.

Winamp is a high-quality MPEG audio player that plays all MPEG Layer 2 and Layer 3 audiostreams. Winamp has a full-featured playlist editor and a ten-band graphical equalizer with user-definable presets that can automatically load for specific files. In addition, it also has various skins for those who like their WinAmp player to appear different than the traditional look. All MP3 files can be played by WinAmp.

Sonique , another excellent MP3 player, was developed by Night 55, Inc. It has gained its popularity by providing users with a rich graphical equalizer look and ease of use. In addition, Sonique's installation file is relatively small. For the lastest version(0.92b), the file size is about 1.3 MB. It is shareware and requires a minimum of a Pentium-90, Windows 95/98/NT, 16MB of RAM, and a sound card. To download, like WinAmp, you can either go to Night 55's website or find it at MP3.com and tucows.

Sonique is an audio player capable of handling MP3 files, audio CDs, and more. Perhaps the most unique thing about this player is its dynamic windowless interface (see screen shot), complete with fully animated menu systems.  Additional functionality includes a full-featured playlist editor, a variety of output visualization modes, and a CD-player-like control set with pitch adjusting, jog and shuttle control, balance, and amplification. Sonique supports many audio formats, including MPEG, MP2, MP3, WAV, MOD, XM, IT, S3M, and CD audio. This version of Sonique adds streaming audio support and it loads quickly as well.
 
CD rippers

MusicMatch Jukebox is an all-in-one software package that includes an MP3 Player, CD audio, CD ripper, MP3 encoder, and Jukebox. This software is able to play MP3 songs, digitally record CD audio tracks into MP3 format, perform Real Audio(TM) encoding, and more. It records and creates CD-quality MP3 files at very high speed - roughly five times the normal play speed. It can also convert .wav files to .mp3 files and vice versa. Other distinctive features include the ability to make custom playlists and view album cover art and lyrics.

However, all these great features are not given away for free in the standard version. Users have to pay $29.99 to get the full version which comes with free lifetime upgrades; otherwise, after recording 5 tracks from the audio CDs, users won't be able to record anymore. The basic system requirements to run MusicMatch Jukebox 3.1 are Windows 95/98/NT, 16MB of RAM (32MB RAM required for NT4), 30MB of available disk space, a Pentium 166MHZ or greater and 32MB of RAM. The latest version can be downloaded at MusicMatch's website, MP3.com, or tucows. The size of this file is quite large at approximately 6.5 MB. It should take less than 30 minutes to download the program using a 33.6 modem.