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Reviewed by: Carl Nelson [03.15.06]
Manufactured by: AMD, Intel


Audio Encoding

Like video encoding, several audio codecs are available to use. MP3 is easily the most popular, being the first to receive massive use for encoding personal collections. However WMA can provide higher quality at the same bitrates, and seems to encode a lot faster. OGG is another solution, supported by the open-source community. It also boasts higher quality over MP3 at similar bitrates. M4A is the successor to MP3, but it is not a format in itself. Like WMA, it contains various sub-formats. The main sub-format, and equivalent to everyday MP3 is AAC, which is what Apple uses on their iTunes and iPod products.

This test was performed by encoding a 45 minute WAV track ripped directly from a CD. dbPowerAMP Music Converter was used, with the codecs downloaded from their Codec Base. All tests were done in 64 kbps, constant bitrate when possible (M4A AAC only gave Average Bitrate as an option, and OGG only have Variable Bitrates), single pass. Total encoding time in seconds was given:

MP3 gives us a good baseline to start with, since it's the most common. As you can see, the X2's tear it up in MP3 encoding.

Due to the popularity of Apple's iPod portable music players, M4A AAC is probably the next used codec after MP3. On the X2's, it took almost exactly as long to encode the 45 minute clip. But on the Pentium-D's, it was even slower, taking 3 full minutes on the P-D 940.

WMA quite possibly is the best sounding codec, and as you can see, a LOT faster than both MP3 and M4A AAC. It takes just 41 seconds to encode a 45 minute CD on the X2 4800+! Unfortunately, iPods do not support this codec (although the chip installed on them technically does support it, Apple purportedly switches it off on the iPod). HP tried to get Apple to change their minds, but were unsuccessful.

Now that we have a codec with SSE2 enhancements, OGG is also a very fast codec. It also sounds better than M4A AAC and MP3 at low bitrates. Once again, it is not supported by what is by far the most popular player, the iPod, for seemingly no other reason than to promote Apple's other products.

The common theme with audio encoding? The Athlon X2 is a LOT faster than the Pentium D.

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