Everyone knows that MP3 files are ubiquitous, and it’s fashionable to make ad hominem attacks on their quality. The fact is, though, the codecs that turn hi-res audio files into skinnier versions have gotten much better. While no one will mistake a well-crafted MP3 for a 24-bit, 96kHz file, a crunched file can sound quite decent, particularly if the codec used is tailored for the material it acts upon.
To this, I’m a big fan of the Sonnox Fraunhofer Pro-Codec. So is Dave McNair, a mastering/mixing engineer who has done work for Rod Stewart, Tina Turner and many other well-known artists. McNair recently worked on David Bowie’s new album, “The Next Day.”
One of its cool features is the Fraunhofer Pro-Codec’s ability to let the listener preview how a file will sound in various formats before it acts on a sound file. McNair taps this functionality on a regular basis. “I’ve been using the Pro-Codec to preview encoded files in real time since it was introduced,” McNair says. “It’s become invaluable in previewing various codecs on the mastered higher resolution files for clients who will be making MP3’s or lower resolution files for digital distribution. I've found that the higher the bit rate, the less overs are created when making an MP3 or AAC.”
If an artist plans on porting his or her work beyond the cloistered walls of a high-resolution recording platform — to iTunes, for example — bit crunching is going to happen. And, it is best to squeeze every bit of dynamic range and frequency range you can during the transfer.
“The CD target level for Bowie was -0.6dB for the 96k session,” says Dave Mcnair. “After sample-rate conversion to 44.1kHz, it probably ended up closer to -0.1dB. Based on what I was seeing with the Pro-Codec, and a later check using the Apple Mastered For iTunes software, the 96k files sent to iTunes were delivered at -0.8dB.
"Overall, the Pro-Codec is a great tool. It really helps with my workflow. It was an honor and a great personal pleasure to be associated with this incredible project.”