Review: N2MP3 1.03
Company: Proteron, L.L.C.
Price: $34.95 (demo and volume discounts available)
Requirements: Power Mac with System 7.6 or higher
MP3 players are all the buzz right now , but to use them you have to get those precious ‘little’ MP3 files. Of course, one way of getting them is to download them from the Internet. Enter ‘mp3’ into your favorite search engine and you will find page after page of sites claiming to bring you the best in MP3 entertainment. Some are legitimate (like http://www.mp3.com), others are more or less illegal (at least for those uploading the files), and most of them are a hassle to use. Broken links, corrupt files, long waits and incomplete downloads are part of the MP3 way of life.
Your alternative is to create MP3 files from your existing CD collection. Why would you want to create MP3s if you already have the song on a CD? There are many good reasons. Maybe you love to keep that CD in your car stereo, but don’t want to miss the songs while surfing the Web. Or maybe you only really like a single song on that CD. In that case you could combine the MP3s from different CDs and play them all together without having to constantly swap CDs. Or maybe (like me) you want to take your favorite music with you when travelling but don’t want to carry 50 CDs with you. Just create a large MP3 library from your favorite CDs and bring it with you on your PowerBook.
There are plenty of possibilities for using MP3s. However, be prepared to pay a price for using them: storage. My collection of 550 MP3 files uses around 1.7 GB on my hard disk.
Creating MP3s from CDs used to be cumbersome. The recent influx of MP3 programs for the Mac has changed that. Four major products on the market are SoundJam, Audio Catalyst, MPegger (also known as MPecker), and N2MP3.
I like N2MP3 best. The reasons are simple. It’s easy to use, intuitive, fast, and powerful. N2MP3 is basically an extension that installs in the system folder and a control panel that controls some of the settings. After the installation, it creates an alias to the extension on your desktop.
To encode CD music into the MP3 format, all you do is drag the CD icon (or individual songs) on the alias, change or confirm the settings, and wait a bit for the encoding to finish. The whole process is well integrated into the Finder. Encoding can happen in the background, so you can work on something else while N2MP3 does its work. If you turn N2MP3’s Finder integration on, you can simply drag the CD music files to your hard drive and N2MP3 will automatically encode them to that location.
Despite being so simple, N2MP3 has some very powerful options. It can automatically download CD information from a CDDB database on the Net so you don’t have to type in song names and authors. It automatically sets ID3v2 tags (which communicate to MP3 players information such as artist, song name, genre etc.). N2MP3 can play the song while you encode, so it doesn’t become a waste of time (this only works on faster machines).
N2MP3 also supports various bit rates from 32kbps to 320kbps. The higher the bit rate, the better will the song sound, but the greater the file size. Most songs on the Internet are around 128 kbps, but for personal use, I prefer 192 kbps. The ideal number for you will depend on your tastes and storage space. If you have delicate ears and plenty of hard disk space, go with 192 kbps and higher. If you have little space and need to exchange files between computers a lot, try 128 kbps and below. N2MP3 also supports ‘Variable Bit Rate’ (VBR) encoding, which can increase quality or decrease the file size, but it is not supported by some MP3 players (such as QuickTime 4).
In addition to CD audio, N2MP3 can handle .wav and .aiff sound files. The manual explains the use of the program and gives a lot of background information surrounding MP3, ID3v2 tags, and bit rates and their use. N2MP3 uses an advanced encoding algorithm which yields superb quality. Encoding a song at 192kbps took about 20 seconds for every minute of audio on a G4 with 450 MHz (playback disabled). The Velocity Engine (also known as AltiVec) is currently not supported on the G4, but an update is in the works that will take advantage of it.
Proteron also recently announced the purchase of MPecker from @soft. MPecker is currently sold under the name MPegger but will be combined with N2MP3 in the near future. This is great news, as MPegger supports advanced features such as normalization, resampling, and improved file naming control. MPegger also supports MPEG Layer II (MP2). The combination of these two products in a single easy-to-use and powerful package will be unbeatable.