The FezGuys
A Review of Audioactive's MP3 Production Studio
(Straight Outta Cleveland for the Darlings of Download)

[ No. 21 - July 1998 ]

"If you don't like the music go out and make some of your own." - apologies to Scoop Nisker.

The lovely, talented, entrenched and self-appointed power structure currently controlling the delivery of music to retail and radio knows the best defense is a good offense. Their crackdown (assisted by the RIAA) of illegal free MPEG Layer 3 (MP3) based music sites is only one example of a pointed and furious fusillade. Inefficient software search engines, such as BMI's charmingly named "Musicbot," have been commissioned by the tenacious Collection Socities. These "bots" cruise the Web at the speed of a banana slug, seeking out audio files created with known freeware MP3 encoders. The adorable beastbot then reports back to its trainer with a list of files that match the search parameters. Unfortunately, the results say nothing about the content of the files or whether the audio file is legally owned by its creator. It merely tells the trainer the name of the file and where that file is. Imagine the absolutely huge number of MP3 encoded files on the World Wide Web. Now cackle with glee, grateful you're not the drudge sifting through data to identify who's bad and who's good. Your dues at work! Let's do our part in shifting the balance from illegal to legal in the bots' master list of MP3 files. How can you do that? Let's try out a new, useful and fairly priced MP3 audio encoder.

Created by Big Brains at the privately-owned Telos company located in the resurrecting-as-we-speak urban opportunity that is Cleveland, the recently released Audioactive MP3 Production Studio (a software encoder) is a simple and workable tool for preparing digital audio files to be streamed and downloaded via the Internet.

The encoder is built on top of the expert Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft encoding algorithm. These are the same wacky German audio scientists who (while glaring balefully over their small rectangular glasses and pushing a lank lock of hair out of their eyes) were heard to intone: "One-percent packet loss is unacceptable!" The Audioactive MP3 encoder is at the top of a very short list of fully functional software encoders that make use of this algorithm. Other encoding engines may use lower quality algorithms, have slower processing time, a less common-sense interface and more limited feature set, or (horrors!) be illegal. You may experience some discomfort while using them. Do not operate heavy machinery. See side of package for details.

You can try the Audioactive MP3 encoder for 30 days, free, by downloading a copy from <>. That should be more than enough time to plaster every piece of music in your CD collection to the server in your closet. Just kidding! Despite our fingerpointing at the shortcomings of the traditional music industry, The FezGuys believe that the best way to effect change is through responsible application of the tools at your disposal. As Mr. Mackey, the school counselor on South Park, might tell you: "Kids... putting up audio files you don't own the copyrights to for free distribution on the Internet is bad. So don't be bad.... hmmkay?"

Here's how the little chunky-monkey works: The Audioactive MP3 Production Studio takes WAV files as input and converts them to MP3 files in a wide variety of bit and sample rates. You can batch-compress many files at once. Files can be "drag-and-dropped" into the application, or browsed-for and individually added from within the app. Once adding a WAV file to the encoder, settings can individually selected for the resulting MP3 file - a selection of bitrates ranging from small (16kbps, 18kbps, 20kbps, 24kbps - which will stream in realtime over modems) all the way up to the notsmall 128kbps (for the fabled "near-CD" quality that justifies actually charging money for musical downloads).

It's our experience that, at the afore-mentioned modem-streaming bitrates, the best sound quality is achieved with sample rates of 16kHz or higher. If you will use the lower bitrates; it's worthwhile sticking to the mono setting thereby applying every spare bit available to the sonic clarity of your music.

A default parameter setting is available and is easy to modify. This makes it a simple task to preserve the quality settings you have discovered after some initial time spent testing different combinations of sample and bit rates. Speaking of which, there's also a "Preview" option which allows for quick sampling of the sound quality for different compression settings on 1-10 second portions of your WAV file. It's particularly useful since you have the ability to select where in your WAV file the preview starts. For those interested in the size of compressed files at various bit and sample rates, the devoted Audioactive folks have also included a simple little "Stream Size Calculator" which allows you to set two variables and thereby compute a third variable of your choice using data rate, length of clip and size. That's a pretty useful feature. You ask: How did they come up with that one? You know that tiny indicator on the dashboard that tells you what kind of fuel mileage you're getting? Our guess is that they kidnapped that engineer from the car factory down the street and forced the poor deluded geek to twist megabytes instead of gas.

The Audioactive MP3 encoder works very well. It's reasonably fast (about twice the processing speed of the common freeware encoders). The bench-chained Fez-Testers found encoding time for a one-minute, 18kbps, MP3 file on a Pentium 90 machine (*not* a huge powerhorse of a machine by today's standards) to be around one minute and twenty seconds. A one-minute, 44.1kHz, 16bit file encoded to MP3 at 48kbps and 24kHz took approximately two-minutes and thirty seconds. For those of you with experience in this field you know that's pretty respectable. You can batch-process a bunch of files, step away from your machine and go watch the docu-drama about the Rise And Fall of Milli Vanilli. When you're finished retching in sympathy for those deluded dorks your files will be nicely wrapped up and ready to go.

Audioactive also includes a "Processing Priority" setting to control how much computer power (CPU cycles) are being used, including a setting to only run when it's idle, thereby allowing you to batch encode a lot of sound files in a way which won't interfere with the normal use of your computer. This MP3 encoder is based on a well-respected and popular codec and, improbably enough, you can bug Audioactive for support on technical queries. They are proud of their little software darling and are eager to discuss improvements and field suggestions.

The Audioactive MP3 Encoder is a Windows-only product for the time-being. Overall, it's very good. The Lite version, at $59US, is very competitively priced. The Pro version, at $369US, seems a "leedle pricey" but, if the extra doodads and what they call "Higher Quality encode" (for squeezing that extra *oomph* in "quality") improves your sense of self-esteem, a few hundred dollars are certainly worth the investment. Casual users publishing samples to the Internet will be more than pleased with the Lite version. The FezGuys give the Audioactive MP3 Software Encoder three and a half Fezzes out of a possible four.

1 Fez - Pass
2 Fez - If there's nothing else
3 Fez - I'll take it
4 Fez - I'll kill you to get it

Letters To The FezGuys

Fez y Fez - I have a question that I can't seem to get answered by local geeks: I'm trying to download a sample video with music... It's a 900K file and when I try to play it, the message says it is an AVI file and I need an AVI to QT converter and it says I ain't got it. I'm running a Mac Powerbook 1400c with System 8 and all that came with that system. Any idea what I need to play this thing, and where to get it?? Thanks. The Fez is with me. - Bob Mithoff

Dear Bob,

This is not an uncommon predicament among MPEG users of the world! MPEG standards cover not only a number of different types and versions (Layer 1-3, MPEG 1, 2, etc), but they also include audio-only, video-only, and audio and video together. Since is no standard single application that can handle playback of *all* of the possibilities (though QuickTime is coming close), you need to stockpile your computer with players for each commonly used type. Here's how to make an intelligent guess on whether the file you are downloading is MPEG audio or video: if it ends in .mp2, .mp2a, .mp3, or .m3u, it is an audio file, if it ends in .mpg, it's likely to be a video and audio MPEG file. You should be able to view video MPEG files with the latest version of QuickTime. For the Mac, you can also search the Internet for "Sparkle" (if you have problems with QuickTime's Movie Player application.) There's still a lot of confusion stemming from users unfamiliarity with correct file extensions. In your particular case, it sounds like you have come across an AVI file (commonly named "file.avi"), which is a Windows video format. Quicktime 3.0 claims to be able to play AVI files, so if you don't have 3.0, take a stop over at for a free upgrade! -- The FezGuys



About the authors:

Jon Luini is a working technophile, a musician (bass player/singer) with full-blown facility and extensive experience on the Web and no free time. He is a co-founder of IUMA and MediaCast, co-creator of Addicted To Noise, and runs an Internet and music consulting and technology company, Chime Interactive (formerly Evolve Internet Solutions). <>

Allen Whitman is a working musician (bass player/singer/producer) with a keen, real-world interest in the practical use of the Web. Music credits include: The Mermen, "Brine-The Antisurf Soundtrack, biL, Deep Field South, Doormouse, Delectric and Drizzoletto. He has written for the San Francisco Examiner, Wired, EQ, Revolution, Yahoo Internet Life, Prosound News, Surround Professional, Replication News and others. <>

©1996-2003 The FezGuys™