LAME is still the best MP3 encoder, but further tests and conversations reveal that it just may not be the best for podcasting.
Variable bitrate (VBR) MP3s and LibSyn
Avoid using VBR (Variable Bit Rate Encoding) as it is not compatible with our system.
I exchanged several emails with top people at LibSyn and they confirmed that VBR files are absolutely not compatible with the iOS app they offer as part of their larger hosting packages. Extensive study revealed a few portable digital audio players that have trouble with VBR, and even some minor issues in iTunes.
LAME versus Fraunhofer
As I explained in more detail in episode 6, LAME is the best MP3 codec for quality, that is, when you use it with variable bitrate (VBR). LAME is terrible at constant bitrate (CBR). However, Fraunhofer, the creator of MP3 compression, has an MP3 encoder that is the best at CBR.
If you are an end user and would like to use the Fraunhofer mp3 encoder or decoder, please use Apple iTunes or Windows Media which integrate the Fraunhofer mp3 software. Please note, that although mp3 was developed at Fraunhofer IIS, we do not sell any mp3 products to end users and do not provide end user support for mp3 devices and software. [Emphasis added]
I’ve known that Fraunhofer was credited in iTunes, but didn’t realize until reading this that iTunes does use his actual MP3 encoder, not just parts of his technology. So if you don’t already have iTunes, download it now for free.
Encoding MP3s: convenience and potential incompatibilities vs. speed and hassle
The method I’m about to show you for encoding Audacity projects into MP3 via iTunes is more of a hassle, with several additional steps and some cleanup. But when you have everything set right, it may be a whole lot faster.
45-minute stereo podcast in Audacity on a Core i7 MacBook Pro:
- Export from Audacity as LAME, VBR quality 5, joint stereo: 8 minutes, 10 seconds
- Export from Audacity to uncompressed WAV, use iTunes to convert to 128 kbps CBR, joint stereo: 2 minutes
Although it’s a little more of a hassle to use iTunes, the above test revealed a 75% savings in time and produces a file guaranteed to work everywhere.
How to make an MP3 from Audacity and iTunes
1. Export as WAV
In Audacity, go to the File menu and click Export, name your file, change your format to “WAV (Microsoft) signed 16-bit PCM,” and then click Save. There are no options for WAVs
2. Drag into iTunes
I suggest for creating a playlist or smart playlist to hold your new files. But however you drag the WAV into iTunes is fine.
3. Configure iTunes for MP3s
Go to the Edit menu (Windows) or iTunes menu (OS X) and click Preferences, click Import Settings… under General, set Import Using to “MP3 encoder,” Setting to “Good quality (128 kbps),” then click OK and OK.
Right-click your imported WAV and click Create MP3 Version.
5. Find the MP3
Search your iTunes library for the new MP3 file, drag it out of iTunes back into your folder, and now it’s ready to be tagged and uploaded. You can also delete the uncompressed WAV and delete the files from iTunes if you want.
Although this is many more steps and leaves a little cleanup behind, it still took only a quarter of the time to use iTunes than to encode directly from Audacity. It’s still free, and this guarantees compatibility and high quality with everything.
This is where my friend, Cliff Ravenscraft of Podcast Answer Man, can say, “I told you so,” and ignore our conversation about all of this in his episode 125 in which I defended and explained LAME.
Taking a live-show break after August 25
I’m getting married in a short time! Although I will have prerecorded episodes still released on a schedule, Wednesday, August 25, will be the last live recording for a while. But you can still catch that live recording at 8:00 p.m. (ET) on our Live page. After I’m married, I may rearrange the Ramen Noodle™ and The Audacity to Podcast™ to be live on the same night.
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This post may contain links to products or services with which I have an affiliate relationship and may receive compensation from your actions through such links. However, I don't let that corrupt my perspective and I don't recommend only affiliates.