Sonnox Fraunhofer Pro-Codec Review

Oct 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Brandon Hickey

FEATURE-RICH AAC AND MP3 ENCODING IN REAL TIME

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ONLINE ENCODER
The Online Encoder is really what this plug-in is all about; the other functions can be performed by other software, even iTunes, with only slightly fewer options. The bottom-half of the Online Encoder shows five rows of information, each to be loaded with a different setting for auditioning and potential encoding. Each could use a different codec, or the same codec can be used redundantly, configured with different settings. Provided are different AAC and MP3 codecs, including MP3, MP3 HD, AAC Low Complexity, High-Efficiency AAC, High-Efficiency AAC Version 2 (parametric stereo) and HD-AAC. Both MP3 HD and HD-AAC offer lossless encoding up to 16 bits, and HD-AAC carries on to lossless encoding up to 24 bits. The rest offer lossy data compression.

Each of the five settings has a Monitor button, allowing the auditory and graphical resources to allocate to that setting. You can toggle through them in real time, without any popping, glitching or delay in between. In the right-hand column of output controls is also a function to toggle between monitoring the plug-in’s input vs. the resultant output of a codec. This is also toggled smoothly without a break in signal. I was most appreciative of another feature found slightly below these buttons: The DIFF button provided an option to toggle between monitoring the encoder output or the difference between the input and output signal. This is reminiscent of the type of control offered in Waves X-Noise or BIAS SoundSoap that allows you to hear only removed noise instead of either input signal or post-noise reduction output signal. Hearing just the removed signal in an AAC process, weighed against that of an MP3 process set to the same bit rate, was very revealing. Where the processed output signals from each appeared similar at first, hearing the difference signal in each case was quite unique; I could hear where the data compression was affecting each encoded signal.

All of this information is represented graphically in a large, easy-to-read FFT display occupying the top-half of the Online Encoder window. One curve shows the input signal, a second shows the DIFF signal, while a third shows what is described as NMR (Noise-to-Mask ratio). This curve highlights frequencies that will most likely be subject to artifacts as a result of encoding, and certainly paints a different picture than that represented by the audio or visual representation of “difference” signals. Where the “difference” is supposedly masked psychoacoustically and takes more discretion to perceive, the NMR suggests more readily audible effects. These effects are usually due to a combination of significantly high data reduction applied to highly complicated waveforms. This added layer of foresight is certainly helpful in making overall decisions about any settings applied. The FFT section can alternatively be repurposed and display phase scopes of input, output and difference signals.

There are output buttons on the GUI that relate exclusively to the Online Encoder, though these settings are displayed while viewing any of the three function windows. This is useful because even while using the Offline Encoder or Decoder, the real-time encoder will pass its signal. That said, the plug-in cannot “multitask” between windows in terms of actual file creation. If the Online Encoder is rendering a file, there is no ability to tab to the Offline Encoder or Decoder. In the worst case, if the Offline Decoder is midway through the decoding of a file, tabbing to one of the other pages will cause the decoder to fail without warning. I would prefer that the other pages are locked-out until the process is cancelled or completed.






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