Let’s face it: MP3 (MPEG Layer III) is the future, and a little over a year ago I would not have said that MP3 on the Macintosh could compete with MP3 on the PC. The same is not true today, however. MP3 has taken the Macintosh world by storm, and products such as N2MP3 from Proteron Software show us why the Macintosh is not only a viable machine for MP3 creation, it’s also the best machine to do it.
First, however, we need to distinguish the difference between N2MP3 and similar MP3 tools out there today. N2MP3 is not a MP3 player, it is an encoder, which does simply that: encodes audio files from CDs into MP3 format for storage on your hard disk and playability whenever you want. Where N2MP3 is different, however, is how it encodes these files. Proteron has done a great job of taking the daunting task of encoding MP3 files and taming it with the simplicity of the Macintosh.
Easy as 1-2-3
It’s never been easier to encode MP3 files. N2MP3’s easy installer makes installation a snap. After a quick restart, your Macintosh is transformed into an encoding headquarters. And don’t worry if you’re new to MP3. N2MP3 comes with a superb manual which could easily become your A-Z guide on everything MP3.
After N2MP3 is installed, you choose an Audio CD from which to extract audio files. Once you insert a CD, all you have to do is drag and drop files from the Audio CD’s window to a location on your hard disk. N2MP3 will launch, and will automatically start encoding your files. N2MP3’s encoding window looks strikingly similar to a standard file copy, and expanding it yields specific information for the track. Additionally, N2MP3 will play the audio CD for you while it’s encoding. While Proteron doesn’t recommend using this feature on older Macs, it worked fine on my “Wallstreet” PowerBook G3/250 which is well over a year old now. I would think any G3 would have the horsepower to play the audio track while encoding.
All MP3 files have tags (ID3) that store information about them. Before encoding begins, N2MP3 will prompt you to enter information such as the title of the song, album, year, and genre (type of music). But entering all that information can be a real pain, which is why N2MP3 has full support for the CD Database (CDDB). The CDDB is a database of CD titles, artists, and track information available over the Internet. If you’re online at the time you insert an Audio CD, N2MP3 will automatically contact the CDDB and retrieve the information for you! And here’s the best part. Not only do you not have to enter the information manually, but N2MP3 will transform the Audio CD window, naming tracks with their track names. For example, instead of “Track 04” it will insert the name of the song, like “The River.” Awesome!
While N2MP3 is ready to encode right out of the box, it does have a slew of specific options for seasoned MP3 veterans. N2MP3 allows you to set the bit rate of the MP3 file, and also supports Variable Bit Rate encoding (VBR). The higher the bit rate, the better quality your music will be. Be warned, though. While N2MP3 supports VBR encoding, not all MP3 players do. Thankfully, all the popular ones do, including MACAST (formerly MacAMP) and SoundJam MP. N2MP3 also supports ID3v2 information tags, Audio Ripping (AIFF) for burning your own Audio CDs, and default file information for all the popular MP3 players.
N2MP3’s numerous options make MP3 encoding a personal experience. However, its performance is also unmatched. On my “Wallstreet” PowerBook G3/250, N2MP3 performed very well, often taking only as long as the song played to encode. For example, if I were encoding a 4 minute track, it would take approximately 4 minutes to encode. Pretty good, if you ask me. And best of all, the quality of encoding is top-notch.
N2MP3 requires a PowerPC Macintosh running Mac OS 8.0 or later and (of course) a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive capable of Audio CD playback. Don’t let this scare you, though. If your computer came with a CD or DVD drive, it’s more than capable.
N2MP3 is available at the N2MP3 website at http://www.n2mp3.com. N2MP3 costs $34.95 to register, but is available as a limited demo, meaning that N2MP3 will only encode one minute of your song while in demo mode. This will allow you to properly evaluate N2MP3 while not cheating Proteron at the same time.
N2MP3 is a superb MP3 encoder that brings respectable encoding to the Macintosh. N2MP3 is not only speedy, its quality is outstanding. Furthermore, its integration with the Mac OS and the CDDB makes it simply the easiest to use encoder today, Mac or Windows. And if you’re new to MP3s, its manual just can’t be beat.
N2MP3’s $34.99 price point is a bit steep, especially since you’ll have to invest in a separate player to play the files N2MP3 creates. $30.00 would be better, but $34.99 is pretty darn reasonable for an encoder of such quality. While some may prefer an all-in-one encoding and player solution such as SoundJam MP, I don’t. The ease of use, speed, and quality of N2MP3 means that I won’t be encoding with anything else for a long time. A lower price would mean a perfect score, but for now…
MacMice Rating: 4.5