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It's the Music, Man

By Martin Hansen. Published: 18th Aug 2004, 03:22:09 | Permalink | Printable

It comes from not-so-far away

Musicman logoReview The MP3 compressed music file format has been around for many years, but only recently popularised. I first remember seeing headlines about these controversial music files in late 1999 when websites offering MP3 files of just about any pop tune you care to mention caused a big panic in record companies around the globe. Sales of CDs were falling, we were all told, as those in the know grabbed their music for free from the Internet. Since then, the websites offering 'pirate' MP3 files have been closed or brought under tight control.

As the whole process has become legalized, Apple are becoming closely associated with online music, supplying both trendy hardware, the iPod, and compressed audio files (similar to MP3) to be legally bought and downloaded via the 'net to play on it. Microsoft, as ever, are not far behind with a similar offering, but with an audio compression format that's incompatible with the Apple one. It's developing into a messy scrap between several companies on both the hardware and software fronts that, thankfully, RISC OS is well clear of.

The MP3 file format still has a lot to offer our platform, however, and recent software advances have meant that we can indulge a passion for the modern way of listening and manipulating music on both our older and newer machines.

Previous battles
Just playing a standard MP3 file has been easy on RISC OS for quite some time. Looking back through old AcornUser magazines, in the March 2000 edition, the cover featured in massive letters the banner "Get Wired" atop an even bigger sign saying simply, "MP3". Inside a three page article investigated the out of control 'MP3 scene' and compared no less than four different MP3 players. All but one were free to download and so RISC OS swashbucklers too could grab a booty bag of MP3s. At that time, there was just one MP3 encoder and I decided to see if I could turn a CD track into an MP3 using my Kinetic StrongARM RiscPC. I was interested in introducing a RISC OS jukebox into the sixth form bar at the school where I teach, and MP3 files were the obvious way to convert a large pile of CDs into something more manageable and usable by teenagers. Selecting a high sample rate didn't help but the 2 minute 45 second track I experimented on took over ten hours to turn into an MP3. Rather than use an alternative OS, I abandoned my plan. And besides, enthusiastic DJs had suddenly decided that vinyl was hip.

The idea has remained buried for four years but when I heard that Peter Everett had done the work needed to get MP3 encoding working sensibly on StrongARM and XScale RISC OS computers (by porting Shine), I decided to download his free encoder and see what it could do. Then I remembered seeing an advert for a new CD audio/MP3 package for RISC OS. Sure enough, for 20 quid, R-Comp would sell me MusicMan. It basically takes a load of existing free software, techniques and know-how and packages it into an easy to use, no hassle, quality product. I sent off my cheque and very soon after, MusicMan arrived.

Enter the software
With this review in mind I decided to install it onto an old StrongARM RiscPC, running age old RISC OS 3.7, first and then, with R-Comp's prior permission, also onto my Iyonix. MusicMan uses Peter Everett's free encoder, Shine, which I'd already installed so I decided I'd better remove that first, least having two copies floating around the system caused any problems. Then I clicked on !MMinstall on the supplied floppy disc, rebooted my machine, and clicked on !MusicMan. Straight away, it worked. Within half an hour I'd set MusicMan the task of squashing an entire CD while I went off to have lunch. To encode an entire CD took 1 hour 39 minutes. Around 60 minutes of audio data now took up 43M of hard disc space.

Screenshot of AmplayerIn view of some problems that lay ahead with MusicMan on my Iyonix, let me point out here that although old, this StrongARM RiscPC has been kept very up to date. It has installed on it the latest ToolBox modules from RISC OS Ltd, and also the latest version of AMPlayer (pictured left). This "unofficial" version is numbered 1.39, but it is Iyonix compatible and I have it on all of my machines as the preferred way to play MP3s. I found my copy on a Foundation RISC User CD but it's freely available on the web.

Initial problems
When I tried to run MusicMan on the Iyonix, it complained with a loud bleep of first not having something called TextGadget, then not having AcornCD, an application that looks up track names from the Internet. Luckily, I recognised the first as being one of RISCOS Ltd's modules in their ToolBox upgrade. I suspect I became confused somewhere along the line, as I forgot that the ToolBox modules, from RISC OS Ltd, were compatible with Castle's Iyonix. After updating the machine, and rebooting for good measure, much to my relief MusicMan was ready to transform another CD. The operation of MusicMan is otherwise exceptionally well explained in a four page, A5, user guide and as I could not better anything said there, I'll leave it as that.

Musicman screenshot of track titlesIf you have Internet access then MusicMan will grab the track titles for the CD from the 'net; a nice touch. As it was, with my broadband 'net connection still not plugged into my Iyonix, I typed them in. Then I decided to have some fun, and I edited them to add my own personal star rating to each track (pictured left). Doing this was quick and easy, and I even had a track playing through MusicMan directly from the CD as I set up the text. Then, to initiate the conversion, I simply clicked on 'Make MP3s'.

Performance
You may recall that it took 1 hour 39 minutes on the StrongARM RiscPC. Exactly the same settings on Iyonix gave a time of 28 minutes. That's half as long as the music itself would play for, and way, way better than the ten hours it took to convert that one track when I last tried in 2000. You can select the bitrate you want to use, and as I'd gone for the default of 128Kbit/s I was curious to know how good the results were. It's a straight forward trade: Higher bitrate means more information is stored per second, which should increase audio quality, whilst resulting in bigger files that taking longer produce by the encoder. One is after the minimum that does the job. Too low a bitrate will result in a poor quality sounding MP3 file.

So, I asked myself, "Would I have to encode again at a higher rate to get something acceptable?" I wired up a couple of speakers the the Iyonix's 'audio out' socket and am listening to them now as I write this. It's quite acceptable, and the speakers, rather than the audio quality on disc are the limiting factor. It will be interesting to either buy some better speakers or put the audio out through the Hi-Fi System. If it's not up to par, I can always resample at up to 320Kbit/s.

My overwhelming impression is that this is a great software product, despite consisting of freely available software. It does use the work of others to do its job but, let's face it, that's why such a marvellous front end is on sale for such a moderate price.

News
Interestingly, I've registered with R-Comp to receive an upgrade in a month or two's time. This will enable audio sent to the Iyonix's 'audio in' socket to be captured and used to create an MP3 file. So, the time is coming for when you can convert all those old LPs into MP3s.

Links


Musicman website And before the Ogg Vorbis fans complain, apparently there is support for selecting an OG encoder, as well as an MP3 encoder.

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Discussion

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You've all heard of [link] right? :-)

 is a RISC OS Userquatermass on 18/8/04 9:20AM
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I remember an email discussion with MusicMan linked to the Netherlands Show at the time, that a new release soon ( I don't think that soon has happened yet) of MusicMan will have a Grab MIDI sound feature. Which would be handy for MIDI files from computer to CD, and from the MIDI card to CD, or some computer Input source to CD (as well as MP3). Regards, Steve.

 is a RISC OS UserSawadee on 18/8/04 9:47AM
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sawadee:

the 'grab MIDI' feature sounds real nice, but it would need specified instrument-sounds. These could be created by ESP's !Synth software synth. Or you could do with the system beep.

but if you're thinking of 'sampling' MIDI files composed on a piece of hardware (like a roland synth), how would MusicMan be able to get those sounds into the computer for converting to MP3 or Ogg? You would need a audio input which the iyonix or an audiocard delivers.

 is a RISC OS UserhEgelia on 18/8/04 4:06PM
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hEgelia - I think that is wht Sawadee meant. In my correspondance with him, we talked about the Iyonix audio input (or an i16 etc), and how it could be used to record from his MIDI equipment. Sorry if this is a little disspointing, but nevertheless it means those with suitable equipment can create music in apps like Sibelius and end up with MP3s at the end of it.

 is a RISC OS Userarawnsley on 18/8/04 4:40PM
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Quatermass, what's the legal position regarding buying music from www.allofmp3.com - they have some Era albums that I've had trouble getting hold of from UK suppliers. However, if the artists aren't getting income from that place, I'd rather look elsewhere...

 is a RISC OS Userarawnsley on 18/8/04 5:08PM
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Out of interest, are there any OGG players for RISC OS? It'd be great to play my OGGs off the server with my RPC, if that's possible.

 is a RISC OS UserSmiler on 18/8/04 5:13PM
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Smiler:

DigitalCD will play Ogg Vorbis files:

[link]

(I think you can also download the Vorbis module separately from there, under Modules>AudioMPEG).

I use it to listen to Ogg stream radio stations and it works a treat.

 is a RISC OS Userflypig on 18/8/04 5:40PM
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AllOfMP3.com say that their music is fully licenced. I personally know an artist whose work is available there and at least his music seemed to be properly licenced.

 is a RISC OS UserJGZimmerle on 19/8/04 12:52PM
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He got money from allofmp3?

They say it's fully licenced for Russia

 is a RISC OS Usermavhc on 19/8/04 1:22PM
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To Arawnsley -

If you read the allofmp3 web site they say they are paying royaltys to the artists.

I looked at several anti-RIAA web sites and they seem to thing this site is legal even if the RIAA don't like it (well they wouldn't would they?).

Russia has a different set of copyright rules to Europe and the USA so they can legally offer these files. Seemingly even the 'bootleg Beatles ones'.

It's an amazing site to use. I use Paypal to pay them. 10 gives me access to hundreds of tracks. You choose what filer format you want the tracks in and at what bit rate. Tracks cost from 2p to 9p each.

They even give away certain tracks for free to people not yet registered.

Give them a try. I've used them for 6 months now. They've been on the go for 3 years.

Best kept secret of the Internet? ;-)

[link] for details.

 is a RISC OS Userquatermass on 19/8/04 3:13PM
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& now their server is busy :-(

 is a RISC OS UserROHC on 19/8/04 11:26PM
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What I want to know is how can RISC OS read Ogg files perfectly, yet using the same files under Windows XP / 2000 / 98 on my works 2.5GHz PC pauses windows whilst playing?

Nice piece of software.

Any chance of a "Send to Yepp MP3 Player"? My Windows proggy is sooo buggy.

Would love to use it under RISC OS

 is a RISC OS Userem2ac on 20/8/04 3:58PM
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The RIAA don't like www.allofmp3.com because they want all the download sites to charge as much as possible to ensure that we continue to be ripped of when buying music on line instead of buying CD's at extortionate prices. If you want a whole album it is often cheaper to buy the Cd that it is to download all the tracks from Apple, Napster etc.

Plus Allofmp3 offer a choice of download formats for most tracks including uncompressed data from the CD,s. They charge by the MB rather than per track so this is more expensive (and Broadband a must), but still cheaper than the others.

I don't know if RISC-OS browsers can access the site as I use a PC (the serial port on my RPC no longer works) for internet access.

 is a RISC OS UserQmaster on 27/8/04 4:59PM
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I very much like this software as it simplifies enormously the whole process of ripping MP3s from CDs.

I have one, unfortunately major, criticism and that relates to how it interfaces with AcornCD. Much of the music (classical or Jazz) that I like is not catalogued on freeDB (although it is found on the PC by CCDB!). This means that I have to type in the data - not a real problem for an individual CD.

Amazingly, however, MusicMan does not write this data back into AcornCD so that the next time you play the CD it doesn't have the info to hand in the local database. Obviously if all you are interested in is creating and playing the MP3s its not a problem but I personally feel that RComp need to address this major flaw in their software - and while they are at it how about being able to submit data to freeDB so that its database also gets extended?

 is a RISC OS Usercynic on 3/2/05 7:59PM
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