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mpegx.com

MP3 Decoder Reviews by David Robinson

AudioActive MP3 Decoder

AudioActive MP3 Decoder by Telos Systems  

Decoder Source: Audioactive http://www.audioactive.com/download/index.html
Version: v1.1.2 © 1998 Telos Systems
Price: Free
Settings: none
Similar products: Included in Audioactive Production Studio 2.0. Audioactive are partnered with FhG.
Verdict: Good
VBR: Some
Full file: Always
Major Flaws: Some VBR files don't decode at all
Minor Flaws: 128kbps files have slight 16kHz+ error on one channel
Output level: correct
1-bit relative accuracy: Excellent
1-bit absolute accuracy: Excellent

Audio Active has worked closely with FhG, the developers of the MPEG-1 layer-3 format, to market a variety of mp3 tools. Their stand-alone mp3 decoder is easy to use: simply browse to the location of the mp3 file, and click decode. Unfortunately, it cannot handle certain VBR files, and has a slight high-frequency error in the output of one channel at 128kbps. Though this error is probably inaudible, one would have expected better from a company so closely involved with the creators of mp3.


SCMPX

SCMPX by Shinji Chiba  

Decoder Source: CH3 http://www.din.or.jp/~ch3/index_e.html
Version: v1.51 © 1999 Shinji Chiba
Similar products: none
Verdict: Poor
VBR: All
Full file: Always
Major Flaws: Default "Hi-Fi" mode adds aliasing, Audible low frequency problems with some files
Minor Flaws: Low level accuracy is poor
Output level: correct
1-bit relative accuracy: Fair
1-bit absolute accuracy: Fair

"SCMPX is a free independent MPEG audio player and encoder/decoder. To convert files, simply click the convert icon. The "Hi-Fi" mode adds distortion, so this was disabled for these tests.

SCMPX fully decoded all CBR files, and most VBR files, though there was a small skip at the end of one of the Lame encoded VBR files. It exhibited the 100Hz bug for lame encoded files, and also cut out at a number of frequencies during the sine-wave sweep, just like winamp 2.62.

Lame encoded files aside, SCMPX adds small errors above 15kHz to both channels of 128kbps encoded files. These are probably inaudible, but still undesirable. Finally, the low level mathematical accuracy of SCMPX, as revealed by the Least Significant Bit test is not as good as the best. The low level sine wave becomes more noisy when decoded by SCMPX than by one of the correct decoders.

For these reasons, SCMPX cannot be recommended as an mp3 decoder.

EXTRA NOTE: In "Hi-Fi" Mode, SCMPX would have been judged as one of the worst decoders on test. The audibility of the distortion added by the "Hi-Fi" mode depends on your system and ears. To some, it will sound like an improvement or brightening of the sound. To others it will sound as if the tweeter of their loudspeaker has been damaged."


Cool Edit Pro

Cool Edit Pro Plugin by Syntrillium  

Decoder Source: Syntrillium http://www.syntrillium.com/
Version: v1.0 © 1999 Syntrillium
Price: $29 (free demo available - 1 minute / 30 day restriction)
Settings: none
Similar products: Code sourced from FhG. Demo mp3 decoder CEP GNU is completely different.
Verdict: Good
VBR: Some
Full file: Sometimes
Major Flaws: Loose end of some VBR files
Minor Flaws: End of some files clipped by a few samples
Output level: correct
1-bit relative accuracy: Excellent
1-bit absolute accuracy: Excellent

"The mp3 capability provided for Cool Edit Pro by this plug-in is licensed from FhG. This includes a file filter that allows you to load mp3s into CEP, manipulate them, and save them in any supported audio format (In this test, we used Windows PCM .wav). When working, it produces identical output to Winamp v2.22 and the ACM 1999 codec.

Unfortunately the Cool Edit Pro plug-in chops a significant portion off certain VBR files, and also clips the end off files produce by FhG mp3 producer pro (the industry standard). If Syntrillium fix these bugs in the future, they will have a perfect decoder.

EXTRA NOTES:

  1. Version 1.1 of this plug-in has the same decoding problems.

  2. The encoding capabilities of the MP3 me plug-in were also used in this test. The same routines are probably built into Cool Edit 2000 (untested), available for $69."


Easy CD Creator Deluxe

Easy CD Creator Deluxe by Adaptec   MP3 Decoder Tests

Decoder Source: Adaptec http://www.adaptec.com/
Version: v4.02 (285) © 1995-2000 Adaptec Corporation
Settings: Disc-at-Once
Similar products: The none "Deluxe" version that is bundled with many CD recorders may not support mp3s.
Verdict: Very Good
VBR: All
Full file: Sometimes
Major Flaws: none
Minor Flaws: end clipped off many files
Output level: correct
1-bit relative accuracy: Excellent
1-bit absolute accuracy: Excellent

"Easy CD Creator from Adaptec is probably the most popular CD writing software, helped no doubt by the bundling of the basic package with many CD Recorders. For $99 you can buy the "Deluxe" version, which offers additional features, including the ability to record mp3 files directly to audio CD. The software decodes the files in real-time as you write to the CD, so no large .wavs are created on your hard disc. To test the quality of the decoding routine, the test mp3s were burnt to CD-R using the "Audio CD" program within Easy CD Creator Deluxe. For more details, see test methodology. Easy CD Creator is sometimes referred to as "ECD" for short.

Easy CD Creator deluxe uses the ACM 1999 codec to decode mp3s. This codec performs faultlessly, though be warned: If you have an older ACM codec already installed on your machine, the Easy CD Creator Installer may choose NOT to overwrite it. If this happens, Easy CD Creator will decode mp3s using your older 1997 ACM codec, giving slight high frequency errors. For more details, please see the notes on ACM mp3 codecs.

The only problem with ECD is that is often clips the ends off files. Typically around 2000 samples go astray (about 1/20th of a second). See the full decode test for more details.

In Conclusion, ECD can't be recommended as a perfect way of burning mp3 files to audio CD because it clips the end off many files. If this doesn't bother you, then Easy CD Creator is a suitable choice for on-the-fly mp3 to audio CD transfer. Please see the FAQ entry about recording mp3s to audio CD for more details."


MAD MPEG Audio Decoder

MAD MPEG Audio Decoder by Rob Leslie  

Decoder Source: Robert Leslie http://www.mars.org/home/rob/proj/mpeg/
Version: private beta © 2000-2010 Rob Leslie
Price: Free
Settings: various
Similar products: Winamp MAD decoder plug-in
Verdict: Very Good
VBR: not tested
Full file: Rarely
Major Flaws: None
Minor Flaws: Usually clips the last few samples off files
Output level: correct
1-bit relative accuracy: Good
1-bit absolute accuracy: Excellent+

MAD, the Mpeg Audio Decoder, has been programmed from scratch by Rob Leslie. He has made the source code freely and openly available, for others to compile and incorporate into their own software and audio devices. He has also written a Winamp decoder plug-in, based on the MAD decoder, which is reviewed separately.

The core MAD decoding algorithm yields 24-bit output, and can be optimised for "speed", "accuracy", or a combination of the two ("default" - as used in the Winamp plug-in). MADPlay provides a command-line front end to MAD, and can also convert its output to 16-bits, via dithering or truncation. Rob kindly provided me with DOS executables compiled with each of these options in place. All-in-all, a lot of things to test!

The MAD Winamp plug-in was tested thoroughly. The MAD/MADPlay combination, and its associated options, were tested for accuracy in the 24-bit test (16-bit results are also included).

So, the burning questions - First, how accurate is the MAD decoding algorithm. Secondly, does the 24-bit calculation, when dithered to 16-bits, really give us better sound quality than the standard 16-bit decoders?

As a reference, l3dec can output 24-bit accurate data. The 24-bit accuracy test revealed that the internal computation of l3dec was accurate to at least 26 bits. By contrast, MAD "accuracy optimised" gave accurate results up to around 23 bits, whilst a further 3 bits were present, but distorted. MAD "default" gave accurate results up to around 20-bits. A further 5-bits worth of information was present, but distorted, while the final bit of information I tested for was entirely absent. MAD "speed optimised", even in 24-bit output mode, only gave 16-bits of information. In 16-bit mode, this translates as being slightly less accurate than a good 16-bit only decoder.

The "accuracy optimised", and "default" versions of MAD are more accurate than a good 16-bit decoder. By dithering the results down to 16-bits, does this increase the perceived resolution? The answer is yes, but not as much as is theoretically possible. I believe that the dither used by MAD is not ideal. To prove this, I took the 24-bit output from l3dec, and used Cool Edit Pro to dither the result to 16-bits. 1-bit of triangular dither resulted in a 16-bit file which still retained the information held in the 19th bit of the 24-bit file. (If you're getting lost, just hold onto the fact that 19-bits of accuracy is what we would expect). Using noise shaped dither (the same technique as is used on "SuperBitMapped" CDs), the 21st bit of the 24-bit file was still audible, and undistorted in the 16-bit version.

The dither used by MAD to generate a 16-bit file from it's 24-bit output retains the 17th bit accurately, and also a further 2 bits in a very distorted manner. These two bits should not be distorted, and this distortion is due to the non-ideal dither used with MAD. Rob has said that if enough people care, he will look into fixing this.

I tested the accuracy of each decoder using intentionally noisy signals. To a certain extent these signals self dither. However, using pure signals, the incorrect dither used by MADplay is even more obvious. The test signal is a 1kHz tone at -96dB.

l3dec decode 24-bit, dithered to 16-bits in Cool Edit Pro

Decoded by l3dec to 24-bit accuracy, then dithered to 16-bits by Cool Edit Pro.

MAD accuracy decoded, dithered to 16-bits via MADPlay

Decoded by MAD "accuracy optimised", dithered to 16-bits by MAD Play.

Note: the amplitude scales indicated on these graphs are incorrect. They actually show a 60dB range from -88dB to -148dB.

These graphs show that the MADPlay front-end is dithering incorrectly. The spiky waveform in the lower graph is severe harmonic distortion (guitarists often have a peddle to add such an effect). Correctly dithering a signal avoids this.

In conclusion, the MAD decoder is significantly more accurate than any 16-bit decoder in its default and accuracy-optimised modes. Dithering the output to 16-bits via MADPLAY yields a file containing more information than a standard 16-bit decode, but some of this information is distorted. This is preferable to the information being entirely absent (as it is in a typical 16-bit decoders undithered output), but it would be better still if all detectable bits of information were preserved in a liner (non-distorted) manner.

EXTRA NOTES:

  1. The binaries tested here were provided by Rob Leslie, but are not available publicly (that I know of). You may obtain the source code from the web address at the top of this page, and compile them yourself.

  2. The Winamp MAD decoder plug-in is the easiest way to obtain and use the MAD decoder.

  3. Please see the 24-bit test for more details and explanation of the accuracy results quoted in this review.

  4. This review sounds quite bad because MAD claims to be a 24-bit decoder, but isn't quite this accurate. However, compared to all the other "perfect" 16-bit decoders, it is excellent.

 


Media Jukebox

Version: 5.0.601 © 1998-2000 J. River Inc.
Settings: convert to uncompressed wave
Similar products: none
Verdict: Excellent
VBR: All
Full file: Always
Major Flaws: none
Minor Flaws: none
Output level: correct
1-bit relative accuracy: Excellent
1-bit absolute accuracy: Excellent

"Media Jukebox, "The one that plays it all", is a full featured jukebox program, in competition with the likes of Music Match Jukebox. Visit the official website for more details of its extensive features.

Media Jukebox will convert mp3 files to wav files, and also burn mp3s directly to audio CD. However, rather than decoding the mp3s on the fly (as they are written to CD) it converts all the mp3s to temporary wavs before burning the CD. The whole process is automatic, but more time consuming than on-the-fly decoding. See The FAQ for the pros and cons of this.

The decoding quality of Media Jukebox is excellent. It installs the ACM 1999 codec, but appears to use a different (accurate) internal decoder instead. Whether converting to wav, or burning to CD (which is does by creating temporary wav files anyway), there are no faults in Media Jukeboxes mp3 decoding.

One word of advice: Disable Skinning (from the skins menu) - this speeds up the software on slower systems. My system usually runs very quickly, but crawled with skinning enabled. Also, be warned that Media Jukebox is primarily a jukebox - though it will convert mp3s to wavs, it requires you to add the mp3s to its playlist, then convert them. This two step process can become annoying if you don't require the jukebox features.

The CD recording feature produces CDs in Disc-at-Once mode (if your CD recorder supports this) - this a recommended for audio CDs. Unfortunately it will not resample non-standard mp3 files to CD format - it will only record 44.1kHz sampled files to CD, rejecting all others. However, the majority of mp3 files are already CD format, so this will rarely be a problem - only speech (especially comedy shows) are usually recorded at a lower sample rate.

In conclusion, media jukebox decodes mp3 files faultlessly, and is recommended, especially for burning to CD."


MP3 Decoder v.1.41 +1.45

MP3 Decoder by HPL Software  

Decoder Source: HPL Software http://www.hplsoft.com/
Version: v1.41 + v1.45
Settings: none
Similar products: not known
Verdict: Terrible
VBR: some
Full file: Always
Major Flaws: Destroys audio below 700Hz on left channel
Minor Flaws: that's enough!
Output level: correct
1-bit relative accuracy: Fair
1-bit absolute accuracy: Fair

"mp3 decoder is a stand alone mp3 decoder (cunning product naming here!) It's shareware, and a program that's grown out of someone programming the thing out of interest, not for profit. However, it has the most serious decoding bug on test. It's not subtle. Many mp3 files of real music will be audibly ruined by this decoder. The following signal is a 100Hz sine wave, encoded using CEP FhG, and decoded using mp3 decoder.

mp3 producer destroying 1 channel of a 100Hz tone

The top trace shows the left channel, the bottom shows the right. THEY SHOULD BOTH BE THE SAME!!! It's worth noting that mp3 producer doesn't do such drastic things to every mp3 file, just many of them. It also crashes at the end of attempting to decode some VBR files, so if you've placed one in the middle of a list of files to convert, it won't convert the rest. If you're using this software, stop!"


MPEG DJ GoWave!

MPEG DJ GoWave by Xaudio.de  

Decoder Source: Xaudio http://www.xaudio.de/pages/gowave.html
Version: 1.30 © 1999-2000 Sahin Tepe
Settings: none
Similar products: Xaudio.de (not to be confused with Xaudio.com - different company!) provide a range of mpeg tools.
Verdict: Good
VBR: All
Full file: Always
Major Flaws: Occasional large high-frequency errors
Minor Flaws: Low level accuracy
Output level: correct
1-bit relative accuracy: Fair
1-bit absolute accuracy: Fair

"MpegDJ GoWave! is a stand-alone freeware decoding utility. Browse to your mp3 files, drag them into the job list, and click Decode to Wave.

MpegDJ GoWave! occasionally makes large high frequency errors. For 1/100th of a second, it will fail to decode any frequencies above 16kHz. This is beyond most people's hearing, but may be audible to some people. This problem occurs during test signals and real music. The following plots show the onset of a burst of noise. In the top plot, l3dec correctly decodes the noise up to 21kHz. In the bottom plot, MpegDJ GoWave! fails to decode frequencies above 16kHz at the onset of the noise burst.

l3dec correctly decodes the start of a burst of white noise

correct decode by l3dec

high frequencies missed by MpegDJ GoWave!

MpegDJ fails to decode frequencies above 16kHz at start of noise burst (black area centre top). Horizontal scale=samples Vertical scale=frequency

The high frequency errors made by MpegDJ GoWave! are potentially more serious than those noted with other decoders since they occur with most signals, and affect large amplitude (i.e. loud) frequency components.

The other problem with MpegDJ GoWave! is that its low level accuracy is questionable. The sine waves used in the Least Significant Bit test were present when decoded by MpegDJ, but they were distorted and more noisy than those decoded by the correct decoders.

In Conclusion, though MpegDJ GoWave! copes well with all mp3 files (it never crashes), it cannot be recommended due to high frequency and low level errors in its output."


Nero Burning Rom

Nero Burning Rom by Ahead Software  

Version: v5.0.1.3 © 1995-2000 ahead softare gmbh
Settings: followed Wizard
Similar products: none
Verdict: Good
VBR: All
Full file: Never
Major Flaws: none
Minor Flaws: problems around 12-16kHz; band-limited at 21kHz, clips end off all files
Output level: correct
1-bit relative accuracy: Excellent
1-bit absolute accuracy: Excellent

"Nero is a CD burning program (like Easy CD Creator, Winon CD etc.) which will accept mp3 files directly in its audio CD Tracklist. There's no need to decode to .wav first, because Nero will decode mp3s "on-the-fly" as it writes them to disc. This makes putting your mp3 files onto audio CD a 1 step process (see the FAQ entry about putting mp3s onto CD for the pros and cons of this).

Unfortunately, Nero has two or three slight problems in its mp3 decoder. Firstly, the decoder always clips the end off mp3 files, though only by a tiny amount (around 10 samples). Secondly, it often shows slight discrepancies from the reference decoders at frequencies around 12-16kHz on real music signals. Finally, it bandlimits all mp3s at 21kHz. Some mp3 files have information above this frequency (up to 22.05kHz in fact). These last two problems are probably inaudible, but it's a shame that such a simple-to-use piece of software makes these mistakes, so failing to earn a recommendation."


Real Jukebox

Real Jukebox by Real Networks  

Decoder Source: http://www.real.com/jukebox/index.html?src=downloadr
Version: 2; build 1.0.2.340 © 1995-2000 RealNetworks Inc.
Settings: none
Similar products: Real Jukebox plus costs $29.99 and offers more features.  Grades below are for playback / CD recording performance.
Verdict: Good / excellent
VBR: All / All
Full file: Sometimes / Always
Major Flaws: none
Minor Flaws: Playback: high frequency errors, clips end off file, low level accuracy CD-writing: no problems
Output level: correct
1-bit relative accuracy: Good / Excellent
1-bit absolute accuracy: Poor / Excellent

"The jukebox software provided by the people at real.com is available for free - if you download the Basic version, rather than the plus version, which costs $29.99. Be warned: the basic version is increasingly difficult to find on their web site, but it is there.

On playback, Real Jukebox sometimes clips the ends off files, gives slight high frequency errors on many files, and has poor low level accuracy (see the 16-bit LSB test). These things may or may not be audible. It also inverts the waveform - a few people claim to be able to perceive this.

When writing to CD, Real Jukebox decodes mp3s faultlessly on-the-fly. My only concern is the use of "Track-at-once" mode: this inserts a 2-second gap between the audio tracks on the CD. There is also a consensus that it is better to write audio discs in disc-at-once mode: all "real" CDs are mastered in an equivalent manner to disc-at-once. However, I've yet to find a CD player that rejected track-at-once discs, so this concern may not be relevant.

In conclusion, for high quality playback you must look elsewhere. However, for on-the-fly CD-writing from mp3 files, Real Jukebox does an excellent job."


Siren Jukebox

Siren Jukebox by Sonic Foundry  

Decoder Source: Sonic Foundry http://www.sonicfoundry.com
Version: v1.5a (349) © 1997-2000 Sonic Foundry, Inc.
Settings: Volume at 0dB
Similar products: Full product (Siren Jukebox) also writes CDs (not tested).
Verdict: Excellent
VBR: All
Full file: Always
Major Flaws: none
Minor Flaws: none
Output level: correct
1-bit relative accuracy: Excellent
1-bit absolute accuracy: Excellent

Siren Express is Sonic Foundry's answer to the likes of MusicMatch Jukebox. It will organise your digital music collection, and play mp3s and wavs backed with stunning visualisations. It WILL NOT decode mp3 files to wav files, and the full version is required to burn mp3 files to audio CDRs. However, the free "Xpress" version plays mp3 files faultlessly - the playback routines passed all our tests. Highly Recommended.


Shuffler Music Converter

Decoder Source: no longer available - superseded by dBpowerAMP http://www.dbpoweramp.com/
Version: 4 r2 © 2000-2010 Illustrate
Price: Free
Settings: decode to PCM wave 44.1kHz 16 bit stereo
Similar products: Uses the Xaudio decoding engine superseded by dBpowerAMP http://www.dbpoweramp.com/ - not tested
Verdict: Very Good
VBR: All
Full file: Nearly Always
Major Flaws: none
Minor Flaws: Audible drop out with lame encoded tone sweep, possible high frequency error decoding blade files, clipped end off one 32kbps file
Output level: correct
1-bit relative accuracy: Excellent
1-bit absolute accuracy: Excellent

"Illustrate.org supply a variety of audio products, and are currently moving from their "Shuffler" range to their "dBpowerAMP" range. We tested the Shuffler music converter, which has since been discontinued. It appeared to use the Xaudio decoding engine, and hence gave the two small problems associated with it: A small blip occurs when decoding a lame encoded tone sweep, and possible high frequency errors occur when decoding blade encoded files. See the Xaudio review for more details.

Beside this, Shuffler music convertor clipped the end off one of our 32kbps test files. It also skipped 1 second of a corrupt 320kbps test file, but decoded all other mp3 files in their entirety.

Due to the slight bug in the Xaudio decoding engine, Shuffler Music Converter cannot be recommended for perfect quality mp3 decodes, though in everyday use it is unlikely that these bugs will have any audible effect on the sound quality of this decoder."

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