Easy MP3 Guide

Confused about 'MP3'? This easy beginners guide will explain the most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) by 'newbies'. Read along, and you are not a newbie anymore, and you can show off your knowledge to others! I have tried to explain many of the terms in clear language.


What is MP3: this is a specific file format for music files. The filename's extansion (usually last 3 letters) spell mp3 (similar to doc for Word documents or html for webpages). The advantage is that the file size is relative small but the quality good. It uses a 'lossy' compression, so some information is lost. You can however make your MP3s with high quality (as good as the original CD) and still small file size. More information in the Ripping section.


What is ripping to MP3: this is the process of converting the songs on your audio CD to a digital music file in MP3 format that is stored on your computer. This digital file (MP3) can be played on your computer with for example Microsoft Audio Player or be transferred to a portable MP3 player like an iPod.
Many people say that MP3s 'suck'. This because the quality of an MP3 file is dependent on the 'bitrate'. The more bits per second the higher the quality, but also bigger the file. Low bitrate MP3s suck indeed. Typical files you buy from iTunes are 128kB/s (kiloBytes/second) which is ok.
There is a ripping process that is using variable bit rate (VBR). This special ripping software 'knows' where it needs a higher bitrate and where not. Simply put, in parts of the song where not much change is happening in the music a lower bitrate is used, and in other parts where lots of instruments play at the same time a higher bitrate is used. With this process the quality of your MP3 file is basically indistinguishable from your original audio CD, while the filesize is not much bigger then if you would have bought it from iTunes.


What is burning: it the broad sense it is writing files with your computer to a CD or DVD. This is normally a permanent process (unless you use rewritable CDs/DVDs). You can also make an audio CD from your MP3 files which you can play on any CD or DVD player. For example, if you want to play your MP3 music files in the car you normally have to burn it to an audio CD in 'CD format' and then play the CD like any other CD. You cannot use the 'data file backup' or similar setting on your software, since most CD players cannot read MP3s.


What is tagging: MP3 files have built in 'tags' that contains for example the Artist, Album, Track Number, Year, etc. When you play your MP3 on your iPod for example it will show that information on the display. It would be a pain to type all those data in, each time you rip a CD. Luckily there are on-line databases from which you can retrieve the information automatically when you rip your audio CDs (see the Ripping section). Unfortunately they are not always perfect, and sometimes you have to manually manipulate the tags. If you don't care about typos or mislabeled music files then you can skip this section. However, when you want to keep your music library organized and don't want to have two seperate artist for say Radiohead and Radiohed you need some kind of tagging software.


What is a torrent: this is a way to download files from many almost hidden sources. You will be able to quickly download music with torrents, but they are not recommended. The main reason is that it is illegal to download copyrighted music. Another consideration is that because you don't really know the source your music file might contains some kind of virus. Moreover, often these MP3's are of horrible quality anyway. It is better to rip your own CD or buy from iTues or other stores, like Rhapsody or Yahoo Music.

Cover Art

What is cover art: this is an image file representing the cover of the CD. You can scan in your own copy. You want to make it a small file size so make it low resolution (75 dpi) and size (max. 500 pixels wide). This because your MP3 or other music player doesn't need a big image anyway. You can also search for the particular CD on the web and grab the cover art from the website. Both and (yes, really) have good cover art.


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Coming soon.