Joe Levi:
a cross-discipline, multi-dimensional problem solver who thinks outside the box – but within reality™

.MP3 versus .WMA

Music NoteI’ve always been an advocate of the Windows Media Audio format (.WMA). It’s DRM capable (but not mandatory), it’s a relatively lightweight compression algorithm (it’s fast and doesn’t suck up much battery life from your media player), and it sounds as good as .MP3 in half the size (so you can have twice as much audio on your player). Windows Media Audio has VBR and CBR subtypes (so you can encode at Constant Bit Rate of 64Kbps through the whole song, or Vary the Bit Rate through the song, so the more “intense” parts use up more bits per second than the “quiet” parts). WMA also has a “lossless” variety.

What’s the difference between “lossless” and “lossy” compression, you ask?

Well, for example, most audio, video, and still image compression is “lossy,” meaning, the more you compress the original, the more data you lose. That’s not necessarily a bad thing until you get to VERY high compression ratios.

Lossless compression is just that, it compresses the original bits down using a compression algorithm which is relatively complex, but none of the bits are lost. The downsides: file sizes are larger, and decompressing typically takes more compute cycles (which translates into lower battery life).

So why would one choose lossless compression over lossy compression? For me the answer is simple. When I record my CDs to my Media Center PC, I want to be able to stream my music anywhere I am, or burn custom CDs, or put custom Playlists on a USB drive to play at work, etc., etc. I can always DOWNSAMPLE my original, lossless copy, and I’m not worried about battery life at home.

The opposite is true as well, if you have a 64Kbps .MP3 and you want it to sound better (say 128, 192, or 320Kbps), the only way to do that is to re-rip the original, and who has time to find the original, re-rip, then sort out the “versioning” between the two songs ripped at different bitrates?

So, along those lines I had an opportunity to re-rip my entire media collection, and I opted for .WMA Lossless.

Bad idea.

Yes, my collection plays fine through Orb (even when streamed to my Pocket PC Phone Edition over GPRS speeds of about 33.6Kbps). Yes, it burns to CDs just fine (CDA or HighMAT). Yes, it downsamples to a storage card MOST of the time.

But, at home I also have an original XBOX with a Media Center Extender, so I can watch live and recorded TV from my Media Center PC (think TiVo without the monthly subscription), I can also listen to my entire music collection and play it back through the speakers in the living room.

Well, I USED to be able to listen to my entire music collection and play it back through the speakers in the living room, right up until I re-ripped my collection using WMA Lossless. Now I can see all my music, but when I try to play anything, I’m met with an error message. Nice.

I ripped another CD with .MP3 320Kbps compression, and (drumroll) it plays fine through the Media Center Extender. I ripped yet another with WMA Lossless: no go, same error. I considered Ogg Vorbis, but figured if my Microsoft Extender can’t play a Microsoft file format, what use is it playing a new-comer format such as .OGG.

So now I’m left with either re-ripping my entire collection, or converting my WMA Lossless files into MP3 320Kbps files. I opted for the latter. Presently I’m at 512 songs of 2,755. With failures.

So, once I’m all done with the conversion, I’ll have to go through the resulting log file, filter out the failures from the succeeds, then hunt down the CDs containing the failed songs, then re-rip them as .MP3 320’s.

When all is said and done, I’ll then have to remove all the .WMA’s from the nested library folderset, then wipe the profile’s media library to remove the now absent WMA tracks (3 of them), then rebuild the profile’s media library (3 of them) to populate with the MP3 tracks.

:: sigh ::

The moral to the story? Stick with the de-facto standard, even if other standards may have certain advantages, the biggest advantage is ubiquity.


You may also like...

Leave a Reply