This tutorial is meant to help improve the quality of artists' mp3s.
Typically, people assume that since most mp3s are encoded in 128kbps CBR (Constant BitRate), it's fine to use that as the standard for all mp3s in an internet stream format. For rock music, this just isn't reasonable. It's truly a waste to have the only version of one's recording with digital compression to the point of unenjoyment. The arguement against this is that 128kbps CBR saves disk space and bandwidth. However, there is a feature of mp3s today that will solve your quality issues, and still save disk space and bandwidth. This is known as VBR (Variable BitRate) encoded mp3s.
With VBR, the mp3s are encoded with a variable bitrate, which is determined by how much needs to be encoded. At a quiet or silent spot in a song, there's not much that needs to be encoded, therefore the bitrate doesn't need to be very high to maintain quality. With CBR, at spots like this, the bitrate remains the same, resulting in wasted space. The solution is to have more say into how the quality is determined with your mp3s by selecting the parameters of the quality you want. You can specify exactly the lowest and highest bitrate you want to use.
So how do encode with VBR? It's simple. But one thing you should realize is that encoding with shady encoders such as the multitracking program you're exporting your project from (Cool Edit, Sonar, etc), you can't be guaranteed the best quality available. The best known encoder for mp3s is known as Lame. To encode with Lame, you can use a frontend of it with a nice program called RazorLame. It's free, simple, and does the job great. Most mp3 encoders come bundled with Lame, but these don't always have the latest version, and sometimes they don't even use Lame.
After you've downloaded and installed both (you can unzip the Lame zip to your Program Files folder), open RazorLame. Go to Edit-->Options. Under "LAME", locate the exe of the Lame executable you downloaded. Then press OK. From here, all you need to do is specify the encoding settings. So go to Edit-->LAME Options.
Like I said before, the encoding parameters are entirely up to you. Listening and hearing the fidelity of all the different bitrates takes experience, and if you feel like you know what you want, I'm not going to argue with you. It's your music after all. BUT...if you don't feel confident in your choice of settings, I can help you decide the parameters.
I will not deal with CBR encoded mp3s here, as I simply don't believe in them, unless you're doing 320kbps, which is the maximum quality for mp3s. The preset I use is called "-alt--preset standard". It's a VBR preset that has a range of 128-320kbps, and uses 32kbps at dead silent parts. Many people think that 128kbps is the lowest quality they can hear without telling the difference, and 192kbps being the highest, as it's been declared as "CD quality". But, if you want that to be the average bitrate, then you're going to have to have it somewhere in the middle of your bitrate range. Here's a histogram of the bitrate distribution on my arrangement, "Ninjascape":
(Info gotten with EncSpot)
The most frequent bitrates utilized are 160kbps and 192kbps, both CBR bitrates held in high esteem. The only difference is that it kind of "trades" the fidelity of the low demanding sections of the wave to the high demanding sections so that it balances it out. You might say that my low and high bitrates are too high, and that you want to maintain an average 160kbps or 128kbps, but there's something you have to realize about mp3s. The compression algorithm with mp3s basically sucks at low bitrates, so it's absolutely pointless to use them. The best for encoding at low bitrates IMO is ogg, but that's a whole different thing. VBR uses 160kbps+ mostly, so setting the low bitrate any lower is pretty pointless. You can manually set the high bitrate lower than 320kbps if you want; it's up to you. If you even think that -alt--preset standard is too low, you can use -alt--preset extreme, for the audiophiles.
Now, to actually put these in the settings, if you want to use -alt--preset standard, click the Expert tab, then paste "-alt--preset standard" in the Custom options box, then check "Only use custom options". Then click OK, and you're ready to encode! If you don't want to use -alt--preset standard, go ahead and mess with the other settings.
So here's the steps you should follow when you're finished with your project.
1) Export a wave of your project
2) Add the wave in RazorLame (you can drag-and-drop)
That's all you need to do. But if you think I'm totally full of shit and you like your CBR bitrate, then screw you! Just think about who you're going to have listening to your song. Fidelity COUNTS.
by Dan Liss 'Ashane'