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Soothing The Savage Breast
The new MP3 format has the music companies in a tizzy.

Why is it called Layer 3? Well, here's what the official document has to say:

"MPEG describes the compression of audio signals using high performance perceptual coding schemes. It specifies a family of three audio coding schemes, simply called Layer-1, Layer-2, and Layer-3. From Layer-1 to Layer-3, encoder complexity and performance are increasing."

Now while all this is very interesting, and comes in very useful when insomnia hits, it begs the important question: so what?

Well, if you've ever worked with audio files, you know a little bit about the WAV or WAVeform Audio format, developed by Micro$oft. WAV files may be recorded at a variety of different frequencies ranging from 8 KhZ (radio quality) to 44 KhZ (CD-audio quality), and they’re also considerably larger in size as compared to the other formats. For example, a three-minute CD-quality audio track could be as large as 50 MB :(

MP3, on the other hand, with it's perceptual-coding-and-compressing tomfoolery, can reduce this WAV file to as little as 3 MB - all without sacrificing any of the quality!

Pretty impressive, wot?

All you need to get started with this technology are an 'encoder' and a 'player'. If you plan to convert CD-audio tracks to MP3 format, you'll also need something called a 'CD ripper' - more on these below.

A 'CD ripper' is a piece of software that 'grabs' or 'rips' music tracks from an audio CD and saves them to your hard disk in WAV format, at a frequency and sampling rate specified by you. Once saved in WAV format, they are ready to be encoded into MP3 format.

That's where the 'encoder' comes in - it converts or 'encodes' the WAV file into the MP3 format, identified by the file extension .MP3, using the perceptual coding algorithms we've done our best to explain above. Once encoded, you'll notice a dramatic difference in the file size of the original and the encoded version - usually a reduction of at least 10%.

So you've got your encoded MP3 file - but how do you listen to it? That's where the third piece of the jigsaw comes in - a 'player' that decodes and plays back the encoded MP3 file. Since decoding an MP3 file requires substantial processing power, it's usually better to attempt it on a Pentium-class or better PC.

And that's it - everything you need to become a music pirate, in three easy steps! :-)

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