I’ve been very impressed with the compatibility and quality of MP3s I’ve recently encoded with LAME 3.97b2’s alt-preset-standard mode. When I started using Vorbis over three years ago, I chose it because of its quality, openness, and enthusiastic developers. I still think it’s awesome for streaming, but at the 160-192kbps range it doesn’t hold a lot of advantages for me. I want to take more advantage of iTunes‘ sharing, librarian, and AirTunes features, and I can’t do that with Vorbis files.

To faciliate this, from this point forward I’m going to start encoding my rips with LAME APS instead of Vorbis Q5. This will make them more usable once archived; I can play them with Foobar 2000, iTunes, and SonicStage. I’ll still use FB2K for streaming, listening, tagging, and converting, alongside iTunes against a consistent, unified library of music. The same file will be transferable to the Nano, easily parsed and streamed by ICYG, and could be transcoded on the fly if I transfer it to Hi-MD (in a pinch, I’d usually direct-rip to Hi-MD’s ATRAC codec). Vorbis will still be my “gold standard” for streaming.

One of my biggest concerns besides quality was gapless playback. LAME APS MP3s of my torture test tracks, Dream Theater’s Scenes From A Memory, play back gaplessly without help in FB2K, so for me, that feature has reached parity with Vorbis. Another concern is VBR MP3 support on the Nano, but I’ve only heard skipping once or twice on it with MP3’s. I don’t listen to a lot of music on that anyways.

I’ve been impressed with AAC’s quality as well, and it’s pretty well supported by FB2K. The only things holding me back from embracing it is the lack of Python code (although I’ve read about PHP code) to parse AAC metadata and the current lack of support for gapless playback. Once Apple addresses gapless playback with their encoders and iTunes/Quicktime, maybe I’ll look at it.

Opinions? Jeers? 😉