A Very SoundConverter

Listen up! Need to convert MP3 to OGG, FLAC to MP3, WAV to FLAC, and more? Try the aptly-named SoundConverter.

It’s happened to many a Linux user: You receive a present for the holidays, or your birthday, or just because you’re a great person. You tear open the paper and inside is a shiny new… iPod. While some of you may be thinking that this month’s column is going to be about getting your iPod to work with Linux (it can, see http://www.linux-mag.com/2005-01/tech.html and), it’s actually about the stuff that goes on that iPod.

If you’re a typical Penguinista, you have a large music collection encoded in the open source, patent-free Ogg Vorbis format. However, the iPod — for no good reason other than pushing Apple’s near-monopolistic control over its proprietary DRM-laden version of the AAC format — refuses to support Ogg. But it grudgingly plays music encoded in the MP3 format. So, how do you convert your Oggs into MP3s?
You could use the command-line, but there’s actually a graphical tool that does the job for you, quickly and easily: SoundConverter. The application is GNOME- based, but KDE users can take advantage of it as well. The program suffers from the usual GNOME philosophy of “let’s pare it down to the bone so that a retarded spider monkey could use it,” but it hasn’t traveled so far down that path that it’s unusable, which is good.
What does SoundConverter accept as input? Virtually anything that GStreamer can read, including Ogg Vorbis, AAC, MP3, FLAC, WAV, AVI, MPEG, MOV, M4A, AC3, DTS, ALAC, MPC, Shorten, APE, SID, and more. Yes, more. If you’re not sure if a particular file format is supported, try opening it in SoundConverter. If it opens, you can probably convert it; if not, wait, and perhaps GStreamer will eventually add support for it.
What about output? SoundConverter can convert files to Ogg Vorbis, MP3, FLAC, and WAV. That covers practically everything you can use on virtually all media players available today, so you should be covered.
Keep in mind that any time you convert from one lossy format (like Ogg) to another (like MP3), quality is going to suffer somewhat. The higher the quality of the original file, the better the final result (that’s why you should use a quality level of 9 for your Ogg files!), but it’s still not optimal. But if SoundConverter is your only option, or you’re just lazy and don’t feel like re-encoding all of your CDs, then SoundConverter does the trick.
If you’re using Debian or a Debian-based distro like Ubuntu, you can probably just run apt-get install soundconverter (as root) and have SoundConverter on your box in minutes. Other distros probably have it available in their software downloads as well, but if not, you can always download the source from http://soundconverter.berlios.de and compile it with the familiar ./configure;make;make install.
If you plan to convert to MP3, you also need to follow the instructions on http://soundconverter.berlios.de/gstreamer_mp3_encoding_howto.php and download the appropriate libraries. Once again, Debian users have it easy, as a simple apt-get install gstreamer0.8-lame does the job.
After installation completes, open the program and press either Add Files or Add Folder to get started. Navigate to the files or folder you want to convert and press Open to add them to SoundConverter’s queue. Once you have the songs in place, go to “Edit& gt; Preferences” or press the Preferences button. You have to make a few simple choices. First, where do you want the new files to go? The same folder as the original tunes, or a new folder? Next, do you want to change the names of the files? If so, how? Finally, to what format do you wish to convert the new files?

If you choose Ogg Vorbis, you can pick a quality level, from “Very Low” to “Very High” (that’s where the GNOME limitations come in: Why can’t users choose 1-9, as Ogg provides?), while MP3 allows you to choose between” Constant,” ” Average,” and” Variable Bit Rates,” and quality levels of “Very Low” to “Very High.” FLAC and WAV don’t give you any further choices. Press Close to get out of preferences and then press Convert to start the process.
You’ll find that SoundConverter does its job quickly, with a handy progress bar on the bottom of the window. If you need to interrupt the process for any reason, just press Stop on the toolbar. When SoundConverter has finished, transfer your newly converted MP3s to your iPod and enjoy.
Christmas may be a ways off, but it’s never too early to drop a few hints. Tell your friends and family you want an iAudio, made by Cowon (http://www.cowonamerica.com/products/iaudio/x5/). It plays MP3, Ogg Vorbis, WMA, ASF, FLAC, and WAV files.
SoundConverter is an easy program that does one job and does it well. It’s not something you’ll use all the time, but it will sure comes in handy when you need it.

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