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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Sonnox iTunes display

Sonnox iTunes display

Sonnox export settings

Sonnox export settings

ADDITIONAL FUNCTION TABS
The default window on the Online Encoder page displays codecs being auditioned, monitor buttons and Max dB indicators. Interestingly, the same mix, subject to different encoding processes, widely varies in output level. This is because some codecs will actually introduce noise, others limit frequency response, others dither bit depth upward or downward. As a result, input signals arriving below 0 dBfs might clip the output of the decoder. Between the Max dB display and the monitor switches are clip indicators and meters showing the value of overs. This section also offers pre-codec trim controls to avoid any problems during encoding. The level of over-0dB signal can be automatically calculated and accordingly trimmed, or a manual value can be applied. In either case, the trim level is reversed during post-encoder auditioning to prevent level discrepancies from influencing decisions about sonic preference. That is to say that, regardless of which codecs are being toggled, their settings, or their corresponding trim values, all of them play back sounding equally loud for accurate comparison.

Another tab allows comparison of data-compression ratios, each displayed on a meter. I found this really helpful, as doing the math and comparing bit rates—both variable and constant, lossless compression vs. lossy, and varying bit depths—is overwhelming. Conversely, saying, “This codec is compressing twice as much as this other one” is simpler when comparing the relative ratios. The last tab in the Online Encoder offers hip A/B functions. Two codecs can be chosen as an “A” and a “B,” at which point their FFT curves can be compared simultaneously. A single button toggles between them, allowing you to close your eyes and click between them for a blind taste test. This function could additionally be used while simply hiding the graphics displaying which setting was audible, allowing the same result with your eyes open. A more advanced A/B/X solution provides a greater deal of certainty. In this mode, again an “A” and “B” are chosen. The software plays “X,” which could be either “A” or “B.” You then guess if the “X” that you are hearing is actually “A” or if it’s “B.” The plug-in keeps track of how many rounds are played and the accuracy of the your guesses. Theoretically, if you guess correctly 95-plus percent of the time, you are actually hearing the difference. Otherwise, I don’t know, I suppose you should let your demo plug-in time out and hire a real mastering engineer. (Laugh, it’s a joke.)

Once you are feeling confident in your codec decisions and settings, each of the five codecs can be armed individually or simultaneously and recorded to new files. In one case, working with five codecs armed and printing an 8-minute file, I got to the end of real-time encoding and was presented with an error saying that the resultant files probably had dropouts because of a CPU overload. It would have been nice if it had error’ed out immediately and let me know. Fortunately, the same codecs were automatically loaded into the Offline Encoder so I could bounce my mix. Clearly, the Sonnox product developers anticipated this situation, which is why the Offline Encoder was included in the first place.

GAME CHANGER
The Fraunhofer Pro-Codec is an essential tool for the modern engineer, especially for those mastering his/her own tracks. Even if you have a hardware solution to predict the sound of post-processed signals in real time, I’d be surprised if it offered all of the analytic functions afforded by this plug-in. Given that any successful CD release will be accompanied by a downloadable 192kbps MP3 version on iTunes, foreseeing the effects of this codec is an obvious necessity. This Sonnox software supplies the missing step we have been waiting for: taking the mystery out of a workflow that will end in an AAC or MP3 file.


Brandon Hickey is a freelance engineer and audio educator.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Sonnox Fraunhofer Pro-Codec product page.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Sonnox Fraunhofer Pro-Codec product page.

Sonnox Sonnox Fraunhofer Pro-Coded Demo Video






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