The Perfect Replacement For MP3

Digital music is probably the only kind of music everybody is listening to these days. The reason being that its smaller in size and thus makes it easy to share and store. Imagine downloading a 4 minute track thats approximately 40 Mb in size in a place where access to the internet is terrible and costs a bomb (thats usually the case in most places in the world). Thankfully, compression algorithms exists that can compress the same audio track to one-tenth its size, thus we do not have to imagine the above.

Few weeks back I downloaded 2 albums, “My Dying Bride – A Line Of Deathless Kings” and “Slayer – Christ Illusion”. The Slayer album was ripped at a very low bitrate and was not sounding too good. The album contained 14 tracks and obviously it was ripped at a lower bitrate to reduce its size. Many thanks to all the people who shared the album with me, but it was just not to my liking. There was no quality and I was furious because it took me a long time to download the album as not many people were sharing it. Boy, what a waste of time and a killer of expectation. Well thats what made me write this.

Mp3 is an audio compression format that has taken the world by a storm. Mp3 is almost a synonym for music nowadays as Google is for search. Now, here comes the problem.. MP3 was good at one point in time, but not anymore. What’s better? OGG VORBIS. AAC, Lame, MP3Pro neither of ’em match up to Ogg Vorbis’ standards. Don’t take my word for it, you can do simple tests to prove it. Take your favorite audio cd, select a track that you have heard a million times and don’t mind listening to a hundred more and rip it to ogg vorbis as well as to mp3.
Compare the mp3 and the ogg file to the track on the cd by listening, well now you know what I’m talking about. The ogg file is a much faithful reproduction of the cd than the mp3. An ogg file of 80kbps (bitrate) is equivalent to an mp3 encoded at 128kbps. Hey, there is still one more issue called “size”. Ofcourse here again the ogg file beats the mp3 hollow. For the same size one can achieve a higher bitrate with ogg vorbis than with mp3. The best part ogg vorbis by default encodes in variable bitrate (which deliveres better quality than constant bitrate).

Isn’t this a great piece of information for any music lover? There are a more advantages in using ogg. Ogg is patent-free. Ok, we are just not bothered about patents here in India, but in this case we have to be because a lot of music that we listen to everyday is coming from outside India. Musicians who sell their songs in mp3 have to pay royalties. They could just save a bit more of cash by selling all over the world their songs in ogg vorbis. Not just does it benefit them but it also benefits listeners and fans. But do you think that they are seriously bothered? Music is become a business rather than an art form. Nobody cares about the quality of music their fans are listening to as long as they are minting big bucks and are being voted for the Grammy’s. Portable players like ipod’s also have to pay royalties but still are unwilling to support patent-free formats like ogg. Why? Because they too are doing well in selling their products. Neither the musician nor the manufacturers of players are bothered about the listener.

As a guy on one of the mailing lists puts it “if only all the music in china was ripped into ogg vorbis”, surely then a lot of players would be supporting it. There are a few portable players available that support ogg vorbis. Many of the game developers are using ogg vorbis and are very happy with the quality of sound and even happier because they are getting away without paying licenses. e.g. Doom 3.

Ogg is only the container just like avi. It can contain several data streams at once, like video and the corresponding audio. Vorbis is the name of an open source audio compression format. There exists Theora for video compression and Speex for speech. I haven’t really tried these though. If you notice I haven’t mentioned anything about Windows Media Audio (wma) and Real Audio (ra), thats because I find these to be very cheap proprietary formats. I would never recommend these to any music lover.

The best part about using ogg is that its open source. A lot of intense development will continue to take place to ensure that ogg vorbis remains the best. Its going to be literally impossible for any other proprietary format to beat ogg in the future. Almost all linux distributions play ogg out of the box. Things are looking bright for ogg, especially with all the Dell machines being sold with Ubuntu, we can expect a lot of vorbis encoded music from the US. Happy listening!

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6 Comments

  1. what’s the difference between vorbis n speex. where does speech come out from? :p
    most of my cd backups are in ogg format highest quality…they take quite some space but still far lesser than the whole CD would. i haven’t tried out mp3pro or aac.
    how is flac? i’ve seen it creates large files but i guess it focusses much more on sound quality….metallica vault used to sell live recordings using this format. what’s your take on the format?

  2. Speex is a compression format designed for speech. It is specialized for voice communications at low bit-rates in the 2-45 kbps range.
    what a fine move u have made by converting all ur music to vorbis. u do not have to even bother tryin out mp3pro or aac. gr8 work.
    most formats like aac, mp3, mp3pro and vorbis are all lossy formats. these are just suitable for hearing and sharing. flac on the other hand is a lossless compression its mostly meant for preserving and working with high quality live/studio recordings. there is a fine difference in size as compared to wav files. but gr8 for preserving music. simply superb. later a file encoded using flac can then be converted to mp3 ogg or any other format for sharing.

  3. i don’t understand in what way does vorbis fails where speex does a great job. is it for streaming data like voip which need not be saved usually to disk?
    another thing is ogg theora…. how is it better than an avi contained xvid n vorbis combination?
    i suppose flac format is useful for selling music tracks online at near original quality with a fine margin of space saving

  4. yes absolutely right. voip communications.
    theora is the replacement for xvid and divx, i have been using xvid for a while now but apparently people have been tellin me that theora is much superior than xvid/divx even at very low bitrates (about filesize i dont know). planning to encode all my music videos using theora and vorbis. then i guess the container has to be ogg. hey, ill surely try to fit it into an avi container. lets seee what happens.
    flac is not just for sellin good quality music, consider u want to record with friends over the internet by sending ur track across, flac would be the best option.

  5. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.


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