LAME MP3 Encoder by Open Source Developers
Now considered one of, if not THE, best MP3 encoder around, LAME started as an open source development project to improve psycho-acoustics, noise shaping, and encoding speed (for more on psycho-acoustics, see our MP3 Codec section). It wasn't technically an encoder (hence the name) and was built as an open source license patched against the ISO source and patent held by Fraunhofer Gesellschaft to avoid legal trouble. In 1999, they developed their own psycho-acoustic model called GPSYCHO that sought to improve upon the ISO demonstration model. Finally, in May 2000, anything resembling ISO source was replaced and LAME emerged as its own encoder, shaped by the creative genius team of open source developers.
The LAME MP3 encoder has sought to put quality first. As noted above, the GPSYCHO model was created to improve upon the standard one ISO was using. Most of the encoder reviews I have read around the Internet have rated LAME very high in comparison with other encoders. It is also the better choice is you are using VBR encoding.
LAME is still being developed and refined as we speak. Speed and quality improvements are being made to produce a better encoder. On my personal tests, the LAME v.3.89 encoder encodes an average song at 192 kbps in about 1 minute 20 seconds on a Celeron 400 mhZ processor with 192mb of RAM compared to an average encoded speed of 40 seconds with the Xing MP3 encoder. Even if the Xing Encoder is roughly twice as fast, I believe there is major quality differences. Xing at 128kbps produces very noticeable flanging and will be unacceptable to most who listen to music closely. However, this is a subjective review and each person should encode at the same bit rate at conduct a test themselves to see which encoder they prefer.
The LAME encoder really isn't aimed at being distributed, it is more of an intellectual and programming project. If you go to the official site, the only form you will get LAME in is an uncompiled source code. For a compiled version of the latest stable build, v.3.93, download here. LAME is command line operated, meaning if you are a DOS fan, you are in luck. There is a list of operating commands at the main site. If DOS isn't your thing (don't feel bad, it isn't mine either), you can download a number of graphical frontends for the encoder. They work a lot like any of your other programs, just point and click and away you go. Some of the more popular frontends for the LAME encoder are:
If you don't want a front end, you can drag and drop files to be encoded right to the LAME.exe icon wherever you decided to put the program on your computer. Another way to do this is some programs allow you to simply "plug in" LAME as an encoder, requiring no front end. My personal favorite is Exact Audio Copy. EAC is a very high quality ripper that performs numerous error checks to ensure the highest quality audio extraction possible. You can set the compression options to LAME and surf to where you have dowloaded the lame.exe and have EAC start the encoder once it is done ripping. Another high quality ripper that supports LAME in this way is Audio Grabber.
Another way to get the LAME encoder is packaged with other software. Some software authors are incorporating LAME as their primary encoder due to the high quality. Here are a few of those programs:
MP3 to WAVE Converter PLUS
MP3 WAV Converter
Easy CD Ripper
Advanced MP3 Home Studio
Advanced Audio CD Ripper
Advanced Encode Decode Tools
Easy CDDA Extractor
Rob Fantastic MP3 Encoder
CDnGo (supports LAME)