To Rip, Or Not To Rip ...|
[ No. 27 - January 1999 ]
Things That Are New
- Real Networks (claiming 85% market share of streaming audio on
the Web) is loosing itself from the Microsoft influence (MS is
divesting themselves of Real) and jumping deeper into the arms of
AOL and Netscape. The marketplace may have lost confidence in
Real (stocks went south fast) but Real hasn't lost confidence in
themsleves. "Woo-Hoo! Check us out!", they said.*
Microsoft's WebTV has given up on RealAudio and Java in the
hopes that people will opt for MS's own like-minded products: Media
Player and ActiveX. That's relevant to you content providers.
RealAudio-encoded music using any version after 3.0 is unlistenable
to the half-million WebTV users. Microsoft shoots itself in the
foot by limiting content available to WebTV subscribers. The
Headspace audio engine is part of the next version of Java. WebTV
users will be out of luck there, too. No Java! No Real! No way!
If you are a subscriber, let them know how silly they're acting.
Keep an eye out for an improved QuickTime streaming product to
be launched in January at MacWorld. QuickTime works with almost
everything. One publisher maintains that 80% of the Web's
multimedia streaming content uses QuickTime. Seems like everybody
is saying that...
Sony Music has a website called
Their brilliant notion is that you'll pay a fee to hear RealAudio
files streamed over phone lines! Sony, like so many record
companies, is trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Who will
pay to hear crappy audio when you can often hear the same crappy
audio for free elsewhere? Get real gang: The FezGuys celebrate
established music businesses using the Internet to distribute their
product. Now we'd like to see somebody step out of the box. It's
time to use this new toy in a new way, kids. Remember, you
marketing geniuses: Form Follows Content!
Amazon.com invites unsigned musical acts to join them at
for product distribution. Seems like a pretty decent deal, though
there are no guarantees anyone will find or hear you. You're still
responsible for your own marketing. The contract can be terminated
at any time by either party and all intellectual property rights
remain with the original rights holder. Seems pretty clear that
all they want to do is distribute physical product. Very
At the recent Webnoize conference in Los Angeles a so-called
verbal "fireworks display" was touched off during a debate between
members of the vocal MP3 community and a posse of representatives
from Liquid Audio, a2b Music, Real Networks and Microsoft. Go to:
to listen in either RealAudio or NetShow. Go to the Wed., November
4th, panel discussions and jump forward to 2:38:00 to enter that
exact conversation. Listen to pundits and CEOs ditz and waffle.
and see how some modern musicians are dealing with record companies
valiant attempts to use, co-opt, control or abuse the Internet.
Public Enemy's public voice, Chuck D., speaks frankly (as usual)
about the band's trials and tribulations as an Web-enabled music
group. Great, honest reading. No punches pulled.
And finally: we were gonna review the "final release" of Real
Network's new G2 player but it's still Windows-only. What's a Fez
gotta do to get a Mac app around here? After promising a Mac
version for many months, is RealNetworks using the word "final" as
in "you Mac-offs can kiss my bits?"
Ok. They didn't really say that. But we're sure they'd like to.
That's the question... and why not? Before the year 2000 kicks in,
there'll be plenty of playback devices for "ripped" MP3-encoded
files. So let's get a head start by firing up software
specifically designed to rip music from CDs and turn it into files
on your desktop, ready to transfer to any digital playback device.
The software we're talking about is AudioCatalyst from Xing
The term "ripping", is unfortunate because it fans the flames of
the raging debate over consumer playback technologies. Record
companies are concerned over the ease with which their intellectual
property can be transferred without payment from one listener to
the next in the same pristine condition the manufacturer first sold
the product. Music listeners want to easily transfer their
favorite songs from CD to computer to portable listening devices.
Who will win the debate? That's not our concern this month. We're
just going to explain how to create encoded files simply, quickly
and cheaply (and within our legal rights).
The Xing AudioCatalyst Encoder is available through an online
secure server for $29.95. Go to:
There is a free demo version available. The AudioCatalyst is based
on an encoder we reviewed recently (see FezGuys column #24
and is the software packaged with the ground-breaking RIO MP3
personal music player from Diamond Multimedia. Also, in keeping
with the ways of MPEG, Xing has released the source code for it's
MP3 decoder on the Web (go to:
indicates Xing's confidence in themselves, their technology and the
benefits of releasing source code into the public domain. People
who use the product on a daily basis directly contribute to its
improvement for all.
Installation of the Windows-only AudioCatalyst is easy, with one
exception: if you are running an NT system you might need to
install specific drivers for your CD-ROM drive. Documentation
within the app explains exactly how and where to do this. The
AudioCatalyst allows for a wide variety of encoding parameters.
You can create MP3 files optimized for streaming on everything from
33.3kbps modems to dual ISDN and up. You can encode from 32kbps to
320 kbps, in any of several mono or stereo modes. You can rip to a
WAV file independently and then compress to an MP3 or just rip
directly to an MP3. Ripping to a WAV file is useful because a
normalize option in AudioCatalyst is available to optimize source
audio for MP3 encoding. Also, some CD-ROM drivers won't allow
direct encoding to an MP3. Making a WAV file first also allows you
to bypass that occasional limitation.
For our demonstration purposes we're going to use a
legally-purchased copy of the Ultimate Rock Album: Pink Floyd's
"The Dark Side Of The Moon" (digitally remastered - catalog number
#CDP7460012). We're going to rip the album directly to individual
MP3 song files.
After launching AudioCatalyst and slapping the CD into the
computer's CD-ROM drive we click on the AudioCatalyst's CDDB
button. The CDDB interface
is pretty cool. CDDB allows programs like AudioCatalyst to locate
our Ultimate Rock Album (or any other album) in a database on the
Web. Instead of having track "one" through track "twelve" listed
in our window we get the album title, band name, song names and
running times in one click. Obviously it's necessary to have an
open Internet connection while doing this. It's so exciting to be
multi-tasking on your home computer! The next step is to click on
the MP3 settings button to select encoding parameters. We're
choosing to rip to an MP3 file, instead of using the intermediate
step of creating a WAV file. We're using their 128kbps, stereo
(near-CD quality) encoding default parameter. We check the box to
include an ID3 Tag which puts appropriate track info in each MP3
file. Then we select which tracks we'd like to encode. In this
case: all of them.
Encoding to a WAV file is very fast (depending on the speed of your
drive and computer). But ripping directly to an MP3 file involves
the computer reading off the CD-ROM and encoding simultaneously,
and that translates to the approximate running time of the source
audio. It's too bad we can't listen to the music while encoding
but the process is worth the wait. The encoded file sounds great.
But wait: there's more options! While digging around inside the
AudioCatalyst we find that it's possible to choose start and stop
times from within your source audio (very useful if you only want
to encode portions of material). There are dialog boxes to enter
your own file names and, conveniently, any WAV file can be your
source audio (instead of reading from a CD). Amusingly, you can
set the AudioCatalyst to shut down your computer after finishing a
The compression algorithm in Xing's AudioCatalyst, MP3, is a great
standard because (unlike Dolby's AC-3; the algorithm behind Liquid
Audio and most of RealAudio) the source code is easily available to
any programmer to create their own encoder. This way everyone
contributes to the evolution of the code and that means better
code, in the long run. Over the past couple of years MP3 has
morphed into the most user-friendly, high-quality software to
digitally encode music. All the common MP3 players (WinAmp,
MacAmp, FreeAmp, Audioactive, even Shockwave) can play your encoded
files. An MP3 encoded file created on a Windows machine with
AudioCatalyst can be listened to by Windows, Mac, or even UNIX
users. MP3 is a real-world standard that works on almost
everything and with almost everything.
Xing appears to have learned a lot about user interfaces over the
past year. Much more attention is being paid to documentation and
troubleshooting. Comprehensive support is provided for a plethora
of drives and drivers. There's even a Windows-like "Tip of the day"
option available to help you learn about other AudioCatalyst
This is an intuitive, flexible, powerful and reasonably-priced
product. There's a wide array of parameters to choose from, it
sounds great and, as encoders go, it is very fast.
Xing Streamworks AudioCatalyst Encoder - FOUR FEZZES (Get Up On
The FezGuys should welcome your comments, but we know better.