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Encoding an MP3 of your song may seem easy, but it requires a bit of thought to make it sound great as well as some knowledge and occasionally some experimentation. Here are some tips to get you started in the right direction so you won't have to try every possible parameter combination. Remember, though, that the settings that might work on one particular song or type of music might not work on another. If you want the best sounding MP3s possible, follow these tips. Start with the highest quality audio file possible. Lossy Data Compression like MP3 makes the quality of the master mix more of an issue.
That's because high quality audio will be damaged much less when using this type of MP3 encoding than low-quality source audio will. Therefore, it's vitally important that you start with the best quality audio possible, which means the highest sample rate and the most bits. That means it sometime is better to start with a 24-bit master or make the MP3 while you're exporting your mix, rather that using something like the 16-bit CD master as the source for your MP3 encodes. Filter out the top end and whatever frequency works best, and you can judge by ear.
MP3 has the most difficulty with high frequencies. Rolling them off liberates a lot of processing for encoding the lower and mid-frequencies. You trade some top end for quality in the rest of the spectrum. A busy mix can lose punch after encoding. Sparse mixes like acoustic jazz trios seem to retain more of the original audio punch. Use Variable Bit Rate mode, turn off Mid-Side Joint Stereo, Intensity Joint Stereo, and Stereo Narrowing.
Don't use a Bit Rate below a 160kbps, higher is always better. Don't hyper compress. Use some Dynamic Range so the encoding algorithm has something to look at. Set your encoder for maximum quality, which allows it to process for best results. The encoding time is negligible anyway. MP3 encoding results are hotter. Remember, MP3 encoding almost always results in the encoded material being slightly hotter than the original material. Limit the output of the material intended for MP3 to -1.1 dB instead of the commonly used -0.1 or -0.2 dB, so you don't get digital overs.
It's also important to listen to your encode. A-B it to the original and make any additional changes you feel necessary before settling on the final product. Sometimes a big thick wall of sound encodes terribly, and you need to ease back on the compression and limiting of the source track master. Other times, heavy compression can make it through the encoder better than with a mix with more dynamics. There are a few predictions one can make after doing it for a while, but you can never be certain. So listening and adjusting is the only way to be sure.
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