Need MP3s? Get your Fre:AC on

Rip and encode high-quality MP3s with this awesome open-source freeware.

To test the latest version of Fre:AC, the free, open-source audio converter, we had to uninstall the previous version since we were already using it to create high-quality MP3s. The BonkEnc Project's Fre:AC (smile when you say that, pilgrim) is the best tool of its type we've yet tried for ripping, converting, and encoding MP3s with the best possible audio quality, including LAME. Fre:AC also converts files between different types of MP3 encoding with minimal loss. Suppose you have a large collection of tunes in an odd (OGG?) format. With Fre:AC, you can convert new tunes to your favorite format, or make them all compatible with your mobile devices. Fre:AC is open-source freeware and the result of a collaborative project, so all kinds of updates and new stuff gets added all the time.

When you install Fre:AC, you can also obtain the source code immediately. We just installed the tool, though. Fre:AC's user interface is plain and businesslike, and though it offered language options, we didn't see a means to change its look in the General Settings under Options. That's OK; skins are for players, and this is a ripper -- though it plays tunes extremely well, too. We started by creating an output folder, which of course we called freac_out. Next we selected an Encoder. Since we were ripping CDs to MP3s for our desktop, size wasn't as important as quality, and we chose the LAME MP3 Encoder (v.3.99.5) from a drop-down list offering many interesting and unusual codecs like the Bonk Audio Encoder, Ogg Vorbis, FAAC, FLAC, WMA, and WAV. Fre:AC also lets you fine-tune the encoding by clicking Configure encode and setting quality levels, VBR, and other parameters, including Expert options.

We have a longstanding habit of creating labeled folders for albums before we rip them (to avoid New Foldering) but Fre:AC makes editing labels, tags, and other data easy. It's fast, too: we were popping up to put a new CD in the tray every few minutes, and processed stacks of CDs in one evening into neatly organized albums of music files that sound noticeably better than standard MP3s.

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