Content about the Music Converter.

Product Retirements for 2015

We are in the middle of a bunch of major updates to the Shedworx apps and as part of this has included taking a look at all the Shedworx apps.

Based on the revenue that these apps have been generating and the work required to update them, we've decided to retire the following apps:

  • Cosmos - this was our dedicated video manager for HD video but has become too costly to update based on the revenue it was generating.
  • Loops - this was our group photo sharing service which has finally been surpassed by Apple's new Photos service. Photos has delivered on what we were trying to do with Loops back in 2011. We've found Photos to be a great option to store all your photos in the cloud and be able to manage the library from any device. We've been using Photos for a while now and it certainly delivers.
  • mkvWatch - this was our first experiment in the video converter space after Voltaic and has been surpassed in every way by Smart Converter Pro.

Dropping these apps means that we can focus our efforts on the core Shedworx apps that deliver the best results for customers.

The following apps are being updated right now and will be released later in 2015:

  • Smart Converter Pro for Mac - an update is underway to deliver a whole bunch of minor improvements for 2015.
  • Smart Converter Pro for Windows - the Windows version of Smart Converter Pro will be receiving the full Folder Monitoring and Metadata lookup features of the Mac version, and Windows 10 support.
  • Music Converter Pro - many bug fixes and minor improvements.
  • miDVD Pro - many bug fixes and minor improvements.

MacWorld 2013

We're coming to MacWorld! Again!

We're all set and heading to MacWorld in chilly San Francisco in a few days time.

Shedworx will be in booth 1010, on the right hand side of the Expo hall, near Appalooza.

Its been two years since we were at MacWorld and a lot has changed for us in that time.

The biggest thing for us has been Smart Converter. Smart Converter is the number one free video converter for the Mac worldwide and Smart Converter Pro is the top rated, most popular and highest grossing video converter on the Mac App Store. Through Smart Converter and Smart Converter Pro, Shedworx software is now on a significant percentage of all Macs out there. This means a huge number of people use our stuff, and we can't wait to talk to people about it.

If you're in the Bay area, we'd love to see you down at MacWorld. As part of our booth package we have an almost unlimited number of Expo passes to hand out, so if you want to save $25 on the door charge, drop us a line at support@shedworx.com and we'll have a pass waiting for you at the door.

Among other things, we will be selling the MacWorld SUPERBUNDLE! All of our apps in one super bundle for $40 - a discount of 80%, available only on the Expo show floor.

Here's the flyer we will be handing out...


For those who can make it to MacWorld, we can't wait to see you there. For those who can't, stay tuned, we'll have our MacWorld post and photos up real soon!

It's a new Logo


We've got a new logo!

We started Shedworx in 2007 and quickly threw together a logo and brand.

Five years and a few million app downloads later, and its time for a new look.

We've gone with a simple branding with a splash of colour to represent the different things that we do.

The swirls even contain the S and W initials of the Shedworx name.

We hope you like it!

This is the new branding for our journey to MacWorld Expo 2013 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. More on that soon...

Mountain Lion support

Mountain Lion support for Shedworx apps!

Today we finished our application updates for Mountain Lion support.

Now, everything except HD Quick Look has been updated to support Mountain Lion.

This means that all the Shedworx apps that you download from shedworx.com (not the App Store) now include the Developer signing that is required for an app to run under Mountain Lion.

All the apps have also been submitted to Apple for updating on the Mac App Store, so that will happen when it happens. There seems to be a big backlog with the App Store review process at the moment, probably due to all the apps being updated for Mountain Lion.

HD Quick Look

HD Quick Look is a still under development while we decide whether or we can update it to work under Mountain Lion.

We will put out a separate post with details of where we end up with this.

Music Formats Uncovered

Our most highly-read blog post in years was Video Formats Uncovered which explained the ins and outs of video files and the details behind them.

With the successful launch of Music Converter and Music Converter Pro behind us, we thought it was time to give music files the same treatment.

Getting Started

Let's begin by looking at the creation of digital audio, because this will help us to understand the terms that we so often encounter, both on the web, and in software like iTunes and our own Music Converters.

When you create a digital audio file from a 'real-world' piece of music or sound you have to decide on a couple of things:

  • how often to take a sample of the sound wave to create the digital file. This is referred to as the Sample Rate; and
  • how precisely you represent each of those samples. This is referred to as the Sample Size.

These two factors combined go a long way to determining the quality of the resulting digital sound file, and also its file size.

Sample Rate

So the sample rate is how frequently a sample is taken of the sound wave to create the digital file.

You can think of sample rate as being similar to the frame rate on a movie. Low frame rates result in 'jumpy' videos. High frame rates give you a smooth playing video.

Sample rates are usually stated in kilohertz (kHz), which means one thousand samples per second of audio. A typical sample rate (for CD quality music) is 44.1 kHz, which means that every second of audio is sampled 44,100 times when creating the digital file for the CD.

Another common sample rate is 48 kHz, which is often used for movie soundtracks. Higher sample rates, such as 96 kHz and even 192 kHz are sometimes used to satisfy very high quality audio requirements.

Sample Size

When the audio file is sampled, all of the 'samples' are stored within the digital file, and the size of the data (in bits) used to store each sample is the Sample Size. If you like, this is the preciseness or granularity of each stored sample.

You can think of the sample size as being akin to the number of megapixels used to store a digital image - the more there are, the better the quality.

Commonly used sample sizes are 16 and 24 bit. A digital file with a 16 bit sample size means that each sample (yes, each of the 44,100 samples per second of audio) is represented using 16 bits of data.

Image here showing comparison.

So the higher the sample size, the higher the quality of each stored sample - more bits means higher quality.

Codec

The word codec is shorthand for the term coder/decoder.

A codec is the file format and compression technique used to turn a real-world audio signal into a digital file or stream of data.

A codec relates only to the actual audio streams within an audio file, not the file format itself.

What About Bit Rate?

In audio files, the bit rate is a derived value. Files aren't recorded at a bit rate. Files end up with a bit rate, based on the sampling frequency and the sample size used.

Let's look at a common audio recording. Let's say the audio was recorded at 44.1 kHz with a 24 bit sample size. This would give us 44,100 x 24 bits per second, which is 1,058,400 bits per second or about 1,000 kilobits per second (that's 1,000k). This is only one channel, so to get a stereo recording we need two channels. That gives us a total bit rate of about 2,000k.

Your iPod or iPhone can handle up to 320k only, so how does this work? The answer is compression! MP3 and AAC are compressed formats which reduce the size considerably. That brings us to encoding types.

Encoding Types

No Compression

The first type of encoding that we will look at is No Compression. This means that no mathematical compression algorithm is applied to the digitally encoded audio stream.

Uncompressed audio is recorded using a technique call PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) and stored in file types such as WAV and AIFF. More on these later, but for now just be aware audio files don't necessarily get compressed at all in some cases.

Lossless Compression

When audio data is compressed, there are two types of compression - lossless and lossy.

Lossless compression is a compression type where the original data can be completely recovered from the compressed data. Data compression is a complex topic of its own, but here's an idea of what goes on.

Let's say we have an original piece of data that contains 100 bits in a row, all set to "1". The raw form of this data would take up 100 bits of space. This data could be compressed into far fewer bits using a compression technique. The technique could involve recording the number 100 and the bit "1". The number 100 can be recorded using 7 bits of space. Hey presto, you've compressed 100 bits into 8!

This is a lossless compression technique because we can take our 8 bits of data and, knowing the compression algorithm used, can re-construct the original data.

Examples of lossless audio compression codecs include FLAC and Apple Lossless (ALAC).

Lossy Compression

Lossy compression techniques take the compression even further to the point that the original data cannot be fully recovered. While you would never use a lossy compression technique for data files, it can be applied to audio since many devices (and humans!) can't tell the difference when the audio is downgraded slightly.

Examples of lossy audio compression codecs include MP3 and AAC.

Why would you use a lossy compression technique? Lossy compression codecs create smaller files.

File Formats

Audio files include a file container, metadata and data streams.

Unlike video files, audio files usually have a one-to-one alignment between codecs and file formats. For example, the MP3 audio codec also has a corresponding MP3 file format.

Common file formats include:

  • MP3 - Moving Picture Expert Group Layer 3. The most popular codec and file format in use today.
  • M4A - Apple's file format for audio. This is really a Quicktime container containing audio only. This can contain AAC or ALAC audio./
  • FLAC - Free Lossless Audio Codec. A popular open source codec and file format for lossless audio. Often used for high quality recordings.
  • AIFF - Audio Interchange File Format. Apple's implementation of uncompressed audio. Audio data is uncompressed PCM in this case.

File Container

An audio file container is usually aligned to the codec it contains. The MP3 file format contains MP3 audio (two channels maximum) and some metadata.

Apple's M4A file container is a Quicktime container that can contain almost any media stream. The file container is the same as is used for Quicktime movies (MOV file extensions).

Apart from the Apple M4A file format, audio file formats generally match the codec which they contain.

Metadata

Metadata is an important part of any digital media file. Audio files include a chunk of metadata which tells you things like the artist, album, track name and so on.

MP3 files often include metadata in an ID3 metadata block. ID3 is a defacto-standard for the storage of metadata in a audio file.

Apple's M4A format holds metadata in tags called 'atoms'. Again, this is the same technique used in Quicktime movie files.

FLAC uses the Vorbis comment metadata approach. This is a series of name/value pairs about the file, e.g. Artist=Green Day, Album=American Idiot, etc.

Streams

An audio file will include a number of streams encoded using the required codec. Different file formats and codecs support different numbers of audio channels.

MP3 support only two channels of audio, which means that MP3 is good for stereo, but won't do surround sound which needs at least 6 channels.

FLAC, ALAC, AAC and most other popular codecs support multi-channel audio streams.

Bringing it all together

Now you know all about sample rates, sample sizes, codecs, bit rates compression and what's inside an audio file.

We hope this will help you understand more about audio files how to best look after your music library.

Music Converter Pro 1.3 out now on the Mac App Store

Music Converter Pro Icon

Music Converter and Music Converter Pro version 1.3 are now out on the Mac App Store and Shedworx.com.

This is a bug fix update mainly focused on preserving track numbers when converting from MP3 and FLAC to AAC. This will help everyone using Music Converter to import libraries of music into iTunes.

The other new feature that we've added to Music Converter Pro is support for converting to the True Audio codec. True Audio is an open source lossless audio codec which supports the encoding of raw audio into a lossless but highly compressed format.

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