LAME ain't an MP3 encoder
|Developer(s)||The LAME project|
|Operating system||Windows, Mac OS/X, Linux/BSD|
LAME (Lame Ain't an MP3 Encoder) is the Hydrogenaudio recommended MP3 encoder. It has been developed by the open-source community since 1998, and has become the highest quality MP3 encoder for most purposes.
Some benefits of using LAME:
- Highly optimised presets
- Fast encoding
- CBR, ABR and quality-optimized VBR encoding methods
- Gapless playback with LAME-header compliant decoders
- Supported by recommended CD rippers Exact Audio Copy and CDex
- Highly tunable
- 1 History
- 2 Recommended encoder compiles and source code
- 3 Recommended encoder settings
- 3.1 Quick start (short answer)
- 3.2 Detailed explanation (long answer)
- 3.3 Remarks
- 4 Technical information
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes and references
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
LAME development began around mid-1998. Mike Cheng started it as a patch against the 8hz-MP3 encoder sources. After some quality concerns raised by others, he decided to start from scratch based on the dist10 sources. That branch (a patch against the reference sources) became LAME 2.0, and only on LAME 3.81 they got rid of all dist10 code, making LAME a completely new program-not a mere patch of an existing encoder.
The project quickly became a team effort. Mike Cheng eventually left leadership and started working on tooLAME, an MP2 encoder. Mark Taylor became leader and released version 3.0 featuring gpsycho, a new psychoacoustic model developed by him.
Nowadays LAME is considered the best MP3 encoder at mid-high bitrates and features the best VBR model among MP3 implementations, mostly thanks to the dedicated work of talented developers like Takehiro Tominaga, Naoki Shibata, Darin Morrison, Gabriel Bouvigne, Robert Hegemann, etc. And development is still going on...
Recommended encoder compiles and source code
This list will be kept up to date with the current LAME compiles that are recommended for optimal quality and will keep track of any development compiles released on Hydrogenaudio.
It is suggested that the compiles available here be used with the recommended encoder settings.
Download the latest LAME from these links:
- RareWares MP3 Page - Compiles for Win32, Mac OS X universal binary, Linux etc.
- LAME source code on SourceForge
Recommended encoder settings
These settings require LAME 3.94 or later. LAME 3.97 is the recommended version.
Quick start (short answer)
Best quality: "archiving"
-b 320. This is the strongest setting for MP3, with the lowest risk of artifacts.
With the exception of a few situations, quality is rarely better than the highest VBR profiles described below. However, 'archiving' music using a lossy format like MP3 is never recommended – no matter how transparent the resulting files might be.
The alternative is to use Lossless formats like WavPack, FLAC etc. that allow true archiving bit for bit like on original CD.
High quality: HiFi, home or quiet listening
-V3 --vbr-new (~175 kbps),
-V2 --vbr-new (~190 kbps),
-V1 --vbr-new (~210 kbps) or
-V0 --vbr-new (~230 kbps) are recommended.
These settings will produce transparent encoding (transparent = most people cannot distinguish the MP3 from the original in an ABX blind test).
Audible differences between these presets exist, but are extremely rare.
Portable: background noise and low bitrate requirement, small sizes
-V6 --vbr-new (~115 kbps),
-V5 --vbr-new (~130 kbps) or
-V4 --vbr-new (~160 kbps) are recommended for this use.
-V6 --vbr-new produces an acceptable quality, while
-V4--vbr-new should be close to perceptual transparency.
Very low bitrate, small sizes: eg. for voice, radio, mono encoding etc.
For very low bitrates, up to 100kbps, ABR is most often the best solution.
--abr <bitrate> (e.g. --abr 80).
--preset voice is only available in the command line front-end, and is there for compatibility. It is currently mapped to --abr 56 -mm, so that means that the recommendation would be to encode in mono, and use ABR.
Detailed explanation (long answer)
VBR (variable bitrate) settings
VBR: variable bitrate mode. Use variable bitrate modes when the goal is to achieve a fixed level of quality using the lowest possible bitrate.
Unlike other MP3 encoders which do VBR encoding based on predictions of output quality, LAME's default VBR method tests the actual output quality to ensure the desired quality level is always achieved.
-V(number) where number is 0-9, 0 being highest quality, 9 being the lowest.
|Switch||Preset||Target Kbit/s||Bitrate range kbit/s|
|-b 320||--preset insane||320||320 CBR|
|-V 0 --vbr-new||--preset fast extreme||245||220...260|
|-V 0||--preset extreme||245||220...260|
|-V 1 --vbr-new||225||200...250|
|-V 2 --vbr-new||--preset fast standard||190||170...210|
|-V 2||--preset standard||190||170...210|
|-V 3 --vbr-new||175||155...195|
|-V 4 --vbr-new||--preset fast medium||165||145...185|
|-V 4||--preset medium||165||145...185|
|-V 5 --vbr-new||130||110...150|
|-V 6 --vbr-new||115||95...135|
|-V 7 --vbr-new||100||80...120|
|-V 8 --vbr-new||85||65...105|
|-V 9 --vbr-new||65||45...85|
ABR (average bitrate) settings
Use ABR when you need to know the final size of the file but still want to allow the encoder some flexibility to decide which passages need more bits.
--preset <bitrate> where <bitrate> (desired averaged bitrate in kbit/s) can be any value between 8 - 320 , like eg. 9, 17, 80, 128, 133, 200 etc.
Important: ABR setting is tuned from 320 kbit/s down to 80 kbit/s.
CBR (constant bitrate) settings
CBR: constant bitrate mode. CBR encoding is not efficient. Whereas VBR and ABR modes can supply more bits to complex music passages and save bits on simpler ones, CBR encodes every frame at the same bitrate.
CBR is only recommended for usage in streaming situations where the upper bitrate must be strictly enforced.
-b <bitrate> where <bitrate> (bitrate in kbit/s) must be chosen from the following values: 8, 16, 24, 32, 40, 48, 64, 80, 96, 112, 128, 160, 192, 224, 256, or 320.
Important: CBR setting is tuned from 320 kbit/s down to 80 kbit/s.
- The rule of thumb when considering encoding options: at a given bitrate, VBR is higher quality than ABR, which is higher quality than CBR (VBR > ABR > CBR in terms of quality). The exception to this is when you choose the highest possible CBR bitrate, which is 320 kbps (-b 320 = --alt-preset insane), but this produces very large filesizes for very little audible benefit.
- All modes and settings mentioned in this topic belong to the specifications of the MP3 standard, and the resulting MP3s should be playable by every MP3 decoder that conforms with the standard. If your decoder or device does not play MP3s produced by LAME, blame the manufacturer or developer, and not LAME.
- Avoid using alpha (a) versions of LAME. More often than not those are exclusively for testing purposes. Use them only if you want to help developers with feedback. History of Lame versions & compiles.
--vbr-newswitch enables the new VBR mode. Lame will encode much faster than the old/default VBR mode. In terms of quality,
--vbr-newappears to be better than the old model, but reports of artifacts when using the new model do exist. Despite these possible issues,
--vbr-newis currently recommended over the default VBR mode due to both the speed and quality increases afforded by the new algorithm.
- -mm : the sound will be encoded in mono. Eg. useful for low bitrates & when stereo is less important.
Hey! What happened to "--alt-preset"?
--alt-preset system was introduced in LAME 3.90; it was replaced by the
--preset flags in later versions. Starting with version 3.94, the
-Vx quality system was introduced, which allows finer control over the desired bitrate; the
--preset switches were made into aliases to the corresponding
-V flags for the sake of backwards compatibility. There is no difference between the output you get if you use
--alt-preset standard. (Although adding
--vbr-new is recommended for now, see above for details.)
More encoding options are available under the new system, such as
-V1, which provides a level of quality between the old "standard" and "extreme" presets, or
-V3, which is between the old "medium" and "standard" presets.
LAME 3.97 features more streamlined command line options, and it's recommended to stick to one of the values described in the text or shown in the tables above. You don't need to worry anymore about quality, settings, arcane combinations of switches, or presets.
For example, the following command lines will all produce the same output:
--alt-preset insane =
--preset insane =
-b 320 =
--preset 320 =
--preset cbr 320
--preset cbr 320 is the exact same thing as
--alt-preset insane, etc.)
The table below contains technical details about the recommended settings.
|Switch||Preset||Target Kbps||Y Switch||-b||Lowpass||Resample|
|-V 0||--preset extreme||~240||128||19383 Hz - 19916 Hz|
|-V 0 --vbr-new||--preset fast extreme||~240||19383 Hz - 19916 Hz|
|-V 1||~210||128||18671 Hz - 19205 Hz|
|-V 1 --vbr-new||~210||18671 Hz - 19205 Hz|
|-V 2||--preset standard||~190||128||18671 Hz - 19205 Hz|
|-V 2 --vbr-new||--preset fast standard||~190||18671 Hz - 19205 Hz|
|-V 3||~175||Y||17960 Hz - 18494 Hz|
|-V 3 --vbr-new||~175||Y||17960 Hz - 18494 Hz|
|-V 4||--preset medium||~165||Y||17960 Hz - 18494 Hz|
|-V 4 --vbr-new||--preset fast medium||~165||Y||17960 Hz - 18494 Hz|
|-V 5||~130||Y||16538 Hz - 17071 Hz|
|-V 5 --vbr-new||~130||Y||16538 Hz - 17071 Hz|
|-V 6||~115||Y||15826 Hz - 16360 Hz|
|-V 6 --vbr-new||~115||Y||15826 Hz - 16360 Hz|
|-V 7||~100||Y||14581 Hz - 14968 Hz||32000 Hz|
|-V 7 --vbr-new||~100||Y||14581 Hz - 14968 Hz||32000 Hz|
|-V 8||~85||Y||12516 Hz - 12903 Hz||32000 Hz|
|-V 8 --vbr-new||~85||Y||12516 Hz - 12903 Hz||32000 Hz|
|-V 9||~65||Y||9774 Hz - 10065 Hz||24000 Hz|
|-V 9 --vbr-new||~65||Y||9774 Hz - 10065 Hz||24000 Hz|
Notes and references
People who took part in suggesting the different settings:
Dibrom, r3mix, ff123, Hans Heijden, kjempen, Benjamin Lebsanft, GeSomeone, Wombat & GuruBoolez for his immense testing.
Creation of the alt preset system and related special code level quality enhancements:
Dibrom, with technical assistance from Robert Hegemann and Naoki Shibata, Gabriel and extensive tuning help and quality verification via listening tests from JohnV and also initial help (--dm-preset era) from Hans Heijden, ff123, Wombat, and others. Test clips, bitrate information, and further listening tests provided by TheBashar, zbutsam, Pio2001, BadDuDeX, r3mix, h, TarX, Hans Heijden, ff123, Wombat, Filburt, Volcano, Garf, MrDrew, TrNSZ, nyaochi, Amadeus93, in no particular order, and many, many others we (Dibrom, user) probably forgot to mention.
Idea (also exposing the need for a unified preset system), Original post and list of original settings collected by: user
Layout and additional work by: dev0, CiTay, SNYder, Dibrom.
Thank you ALL in the community for making it what it is, providing interest and discussion and helping to work towards the most concise, well tuned, and most thought out MP3 quality "paradigm" seen yet! -- Dibrom
- LAME official homepage
- Historical versions of LAME at ReallyRareWares
- Several multiformat listening tests featuring LAME and other encoders.
- RareWares MP3 page
- Discussion of recommended Lame compiles in the Hydrogenaudio forum
- Forum discussion of the recommended settings
- Forum discussion of the recommended settings (older)
- Previous recommendations (outdated)