Switching from mp3 to ogg

When it comes to multimedia software most Linux distributions have one thing in common: no proprietary codecs – and this might include MP3 playback. I have no deeper insights in the license terms of the MP3 codec, but there is a whole website about it by THOMPSON, the company claiming to control MP3 licensing: mp3licensing.com. There are other proprietary codecs as well, i.e. “aac” which I think is the default file format for Apple’s iTunes and devices by Nokia and Sony. Wouldn’t it be nice to not care about this crap? The open source alternative is “ogg vorbis“, providing great quality audio files and high compression at the same time. So, how can you switch from mp3 to ogg?

If you already have a large collection of MP3 files I guess it wouldn’t make any sense converting them to OGG (though possible). Just keep them as they are. But you could start ripping your new CDs to OGG and go on with this format.

If you’re interested https://www.vorbis.com/ would be a good starting point.

Hardware players
Most commonly you like to play your music on portable players or mobile phones which provide such functionality. Most hardware players only provide playback for MP3/WAV/WMA. To find a player which reads OGG is a little tricky, but there are players by iRiver, Trekstor and Cowon which do. If you are the owner of a Symbian based mobile phone you could try and install “Symbian OggPlay“.

Windows
To get an overview about Windows software start here. If you like to stick to Windows Media Player you could install the directshow filters for Ogg Vorbis, Speex, Theora and FLAC from here. Sadly, WMP can’t read vorbis comments (like MP3 tags) without additional help, which comes as “WMP Tag Support Extender“. After installing this, the OGG files look just as your MP3s in WMP. My recommendation for Windows would be foobar2000 though, a very flexible and feature-rich audio player.
To create OGG files you could use Audiograbber for example or install OggDropXP.

MacOS X
Again you’ll find some useful software here. XiphQT provides Quicktime components so you can play OGGs with iTunes. Well, of course this solution isn’t perfect, because iTunes ignores track numbers of OGG files and thus plays them alphabetically. But there are alternatives such as VLC media player or Vox. You may create your OGG files with Ogg Drop or Max (the latter seems to be more powerful).

If you installed the XCode package onto your Mac you may even install the command line tools very easily. Get the following sources from here and then compile and install them in this order:

  • libogg
  • libvorbis
  • libtheora (optional)
  • libspeex (optional)
  • libao
  • gettext (get it from here)
  • vorbis-tools
  • vorbisgain (optional, get it from here)

Extract the sources by double clicking the .tar.gz files and then (this might be new to Mac users 😉 ) open a terminal (Programs -> Utilities) and change to the extracted source directories one by one, starting with libogg:

cd /path/to/libogg-1.1.3
./configure
make
sudo make install

Then continue with libvorbis and so on. This way all files end up in /usr/local and won’t interfere with Apple’s stuff. To use the command line tools, open a terminal, change to the directory were your ripped wav files reside and then

oggenc -q 8 *.wav

That’s all! (-q 8 defines the quality setting, type man oggenc to get more infos)

Linux
If you’re running Linux you most likely don’t have to do anything! OGG is the default format in almost all distributions. Install vorbistools and optionally vorbisgain with your packet manager to create OGG files via command line or use applications like Grip.

Settings

So much for the theory. There are a lot of settings you can play with to encode your music files. I personally want a good quality which of course takes a little more disk space. Remember: OGG (and MP3) are lossy formats! If you like to preserve the original quality of your CDs, this is not what you want! You might want to take a look at flac then.

As shown in the example above I tend to encode my music files with a quality setting of “8”. This results in OGG files with about 220 kbyts/s in VBR (variable bit rate) – good enough for listening to it on my MP3/OGG player while sleeping in the train on my way to work… 😉

Bedsides encoding I always add replay gain tags to those files. Replay gain aware players will adjust the volume of all tracks accordingly so they play at almost the same volume. To accomplish this you need vorbisgain. If your ripper/encoder application does not add this automatically you may do so via command line. Change to the directory of your OGG files (it’s best to create a separate folder for each album) and then start with

vorbisgain -a *.ogg

“-a” adds album gain to those files (that’s why you should have a separate folder for each album – makes adding album gain easier!). This way the volume differences between each track of an album stays the same. To clear those replay gain tags, run

vorbisgain -c *.ogg

Run vorbisgain without any switches and it’ll print out a small help. I’m pretty satisfied with my new OGG files and do not miss anything.

To manage vorbis comments (this is the same as MP3 tags) I use MP3tag (even on Linux via wine). You can easily adjust your meta information with this tool. Be aware though: vorbis comments cannot store album art – which is the only difference between them and MP3 tags I noticed. I don’t need this feature, as every album cover is stored within the album directory as “folder.jpg”. Most players can live with that – with the exception of iTunes…

By the way, I don’t like iTunes nor Windows Media Player a lot, they both tend to concentrate too much on what Apple or Microsoft think should be standard… I wish there would be something like Amarok or Exaile for every OS. I took a look at Songbirg 0.7 (version 1.0 is available now) though, which is available for all platforms. I had some problems on Linux and files with special characters in their names. On Windows I did not experience those problems but it was way too slow in starting up. But it’s a promising start.

If you like more infos about audio encoding in general take a look at Hydrogenaudio Forums.