The Chronicles of Narnia by Focus on the Family Radio Theatre

Focus on the Family may be many things but I will always be impressed by the quality, competence and passion poured into the Radio Theatre presentations of each of the seven books in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.

When the first movie came out, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, I felt quite let down as someone who cherishes the books. When I found the complete “audio book” set (ISBN 1-58997-299-6), around the same time, I was delighted to find out I was getting much more than I bargained for. These things are the next best things to the books and, in some ways, they surpass the books. Don’t get me wrong, these aren’t just readings of the book: They’re full blown professionally narrated, professionally acted, theatrically scored “full cast dramas.” They are exceptional.

If you were wishing a little more magic from the books after all the years, you won’t be disappointed hearing Lucy, once again, delighted as only a child could be at discovering the magic on the other side of the wardrobe.

Audio Codecs – Enjoying Music vs The Audiophile Argument

In lossy compression formats, like mp3, aac, aac+, ogg, etc., everyone always tries a new format and listens extremely closely for audible quality problems. The problem here is how you listen to music normally and how you analyze music in detail.Everyone listens to music for enjoyment, not paying much attention to quality. But when it comes to thinking about an encoding format, everyone immediately becomes an audiophile and won’t let go of their high bit rate files.

In lossy compression formats, like mp3, aac, aac+, ogg, etc., everyone always tries a new format and listens extremely closely for audible quality problems. The problem here is how you listen to music normally and how you analyze music in detail. Everyone listens to music for enjoyment, not paying much attention to quality. But when it comes to thinking about an encoding format, everyone immediately becomes an audiophile and won’t let go of their high bit rate files.

The problem is that, yes, the average person can pick out subtle differences in sound quality if they listen extremely intently and repeatedly to a short portion of a song. But take that same music to your headphones as you’re walking down the road or in your car as you drive down the road and there’s no way you’re going to pick out the subtle differences, which may actually sound better or worse, subjectively speaking.

In real life listening scenarios, you don’t care about the little, barely audible quality differences. You’re just enjoying the music.

A few posts back I commented about AAC+. It’s an extension to AAC that provides some further data to enhance the main bands. A 32kbit clip matches the quality of one of my 192kbps oggs. At six times the space savings, that’s a game changing win.

It got me thinking and now, after a few weeks, I’ve re-ripped all of my CDs to lossless FLAC format and from those I generate any lossy format I want so I can put them onto small devices that don’t have a lot of space.

I chose 64kbit mp3s encoded with lame using its modern vbr algorithm. I would have gone AAC+ if it was supported on ipods. Anyway, I put the mp3s on my ipod and, in my car where I mostly listen to my ipod, it’s perfect. Two thousand songs on a tiny stubby ipod with great quality and, in the car, I’ll never be able to spot the differences.

So, next time you think about what format you’ll encode your music in, consider digitizing your music to a lossless format like FLAC and then trying out different bit rate formats. Just try listening to lower bit rate MP3s or AACs and I think you’ll learn to love your digital music collection again.

And, hey, if you do have a great listening space that requires quality, you have your FLAC files so go nuts!

AAC+: An impressive audio codec

High-Efficiency Advanced Audio Coding (AAC+) is a standard for encoding audio data that far exceeds existing formats for quality and space, including mp3 and ogg.

High-Efficiency Advanced Audio Coding (AAC+) is a standard for encoding audio data that far exceeds existing formats for quality and space, including mp3 and ogg.

Here’s a quote about people’s general perception of quality of AAC+ from the wikipedia article:

Scientific testing by the European Broadcasting Union has indicated that HE-AAC at 48 kbit/s was ranked as “Excellent” quality using the MUSHRA scale. [7]. MP3 in the same testing received a score less than half that of HE-AAC and was ranked “Poor” using the MUSHRA scale. Data from this testing also indicated that some individuals confused 48 kbit/s encoded material with an uncompressed original.

Try out this 32kbps example:

HE-AAC+v2 (44100Hz Stereo@32kbps) 1.1 MB (http://teknoraver.net/software/mp4tools/)

That example is about 4:30 in length and weighs in at 1.1mb. My 192kbps songs of that length come in at 6mb+. A 6x savings is downright impressive.

Audiophiles will surely detect difficiencies in the audio. I feel I can if I really listen. But just listening for enjoyment and considering the space savings, this is a real miracle of an encoding format. I say this because only a few years ago a 64kbps mp3 stream was worse than am radio quality.

High-Efficiency Advanced Audio Codin