Step 1.2 of the “MP3 Manufacturing” Workflow : Converting APE file format to MP3 file format.
APE file format is used by an unique program called Monkey Audio. Monkey’s Audio is a file format for audio data compression. Being a lossless compression format, Monkey’s Audio does not remove information from the audio stream, as lossy compression formats such as MP3. APE file format seemed very popular among Asian web sites as compared to FLAC which seemed more popular with the American web sites.
Most APE files in Chinese web sites come in a single file. That means, all the songs in the album are compressed into a single APE file. As such, there is usually another file called a CUE file. Hence if you do download a APE music file, it is usually a zip file with the APE file as well as the CUE file (and some crazy spam web sites links). I recommend you to use 7-zip to extract these files.
A cue sheet, or cue file, is a metadata file which describes how the tracks of a CD or DVD are laid out. Cue sheets are stored as plain text files and commonly have a “.cue” filename extension. For an audio CD, a cue sheet specifies titles and performers for the disc and its tracks as well as the names of one or more audio files to be used (see Wikipedia).
Here’s an example of an APE file and CUE file.
The album above is the excellent compilation album by 赵学而. I considered her one of the best Cantonese singers ever. That’s my personal view 🙂
The first step is to split the APE file into its individual APE files. That means, to separate the consolidated single APE file into many APE files, each containing a single song. That’s where the CUE file comes into the picture. The CUE file gives us (or at least the computer system) an idea of where each song in the consolidated APE file start and end and hence making it possible to split it up.
Here’s when I use a great free software called Medieval Cue Splitter (available at http://www.medieval.it/cuesplitter-pc/menu-id-71.html). CUE Splitter is a freeware tool that split a single big audio track, mostly an album or a compilation, into the relative individual audio tracks, using informations contained in the associated “CUE” file. It is freeware but if you find it useful, I encourage you to donate some money.
Here’s a screen shot of the tool. There are many functionalities in it that we can examine in the future. For now, just launch the tool:
Then go to File > Open Cue File and then select the CUE file you had downloaded:
Notice the CUE file information on the right hand side of the dialog box.
Next you need to tell the software which APE file to work on:
Press the SPLIT button:
Splitting the APE file will now go on. Notice how I added Gene (Cantopop), Year (1997) as well as doing a File Mask to set up the file name properly. These are optional.
Now it is done:
Go the folder where the files are done. The single APE file is now split up to individual APE files.
On its own, it can be played (with an appropriate media player) and is excellent as it is LOSSLESS. But I do want to be able to create MP3 files to be used in iTunes though.
That’s where I use another free sofware called foobar. Foobar 2000 is an advanced audio player for the Windows platform. Some of the basic features include full unicode support, ReplayGain support and native support for several popular audio formats. It is highly customizable and many developers created great skins for it. I can show you one of my screenshot of it in the future.
[UPDATE IN JAN 2013] : Since about a year ago, i have been using the dBpoweramp CD ripper and music converter… The idea is still the same.
For now, we want to use Foobar to convert the individual APE files to MP3 files. To do so, you need to set Foobar to your MP3 encoder. Again I am using my trusty LAME MP3 decoder. You need to go to Preferences in the Foobar program to set up your MP3 encoder and the bit rate you want. To do so, set up a new encoding preset by adding new one and name it appropriate. Mine is: MP3(LAME) 320kpbs Best Quality :Archiving.
Then point that to the LAME executable file:
Again, like in EAC software, I set my bit rate at 320 kbps.
Once this is done, you are ready to load the individual APE files to foobar. To do that, you can do a FILE > ADD FILES and then select all the APE files that you had previously split up using the CUE splitter:
After that, right click all the files and select CONVERT:
And in the next screen, make sure you select the MP3 encoder setting you had made previously. For me, that’s the 320 kbps setting:
And off it goes:
When it is done, go to the folder and BEHOLD, there are the MP3 files format ready
We will still need to do much more work on these files to add it the correct ID tags, make sure the file names are not garbled, add in the brilliant album art cover etc. But that’s another topic for the future !