Refound Sound

fre:ac

fre:ac, developed by Robert Kausch, has been in development for more than 15 years. Despite a low version number (1.0.31a), the cross-platform audio tool is up to date, with support for many formats, multithreading, and a CDDB/freedb connection.

fre:ac provides good performance and an impressive range of features, including support for cue sheets and the ability to extract an audio file from a video recording.

Getting Started

You can obtain fre:ac for 32- and 64-bit architectures as a tarball from the developer's website [2]. The project specifies at least a Pentium 4 or Athlon 64 processor and 512 MB of RAM. The minimum available hard disk space is just 100MB.

After unpacking the archive, move the newly created program directory to a folder of your choice and optionally create a launcher in the menu hierarchy. To start fre:ac from the program directory, click on the freac file.

At first glance, you can see that fre:ac is much more complex than soundKonverter. In addition to the usual menubar and buttonbar, the main window has a list area at the top for the selected audio tracks and an info area at the bottom that displays information on the current track, the selected encoder and decoder, and the output path (Figure 6).

Figure 6: The numerous functions in the fre:ac program window indicate a higher level of complexity than is found in soundKonverter.

To configure fre:ac, select Options | General Settings. The extensive configuration dialog lets you make granular adjustments. For example, you can specify a software encoder in the Encoders section (Figure 7). Unlike soundKonverter, fre:ac includes its own converters and is not dependent on other converters installed on the system. You can access the encoder settings by clicking on the Configure encoder button to the right of the Encoder selection box.

Figure 7: The fre:ac configuration window offers a variety of possibilities to adapt the converter to your own needs.

In the Ripper | CDDB dialog, you can define whether or not to query a CDDB/freedb server for access to cover images, album track lists, and sometimes lyrics, which the software correctly tags to tracks.

Use the Playlists tab to create playlists in the standard M3U format that most audio players can read. As a special feature, the software also generates a cue sheet (see box "No Interruptions").

No Interruptions

Especially for classical music, live recordings, or concept albums, gaps between tracks in compressed formats like MP3 are annoying. fre:ac lets you handle this problem in an elegant way. Slot in the desired CD and enable the checkboxes next to Create cue sheets and Create only a single playlist and/or cue sheet file per conversion. The software then converts the entire CD to a single file and writes track boundaries and additional information to a corresponding cue sheet.

Players like the VLC media player process such cue sheets as playlists and support jumping between titles. If you want to burn the file to a CD, the cue sheet will also help: For example, it can be used as the source in the K3b disk burning program instead of audio files. K3b would break down the audio track on the CD into individual tracks once again. By the way, you can revert this with fre:ac, which also reads cue sheets and splits the file back into its original components, if desired.

Pressing OK applies the changes. After loading an audio CD, fre:ac reads it and lists the contents in the main window. By default, it checks the boxes to enable all tracks for ripping. Clicking on a track displays the metadata associated with the track in the information fields at the bottom of the window; you can edit or add to the data as needed.

To create a personal playlist, uncheck some of the individual titles in the list. A click on the Play button in the top toolbar starts reading and converting to the selected target format. Alternatively, you can play back individual tracks by clicking the Play button directly above the list area. Use the buttons to the right to pause, stop, and jump to the next or previous track. If you mouse over one of the entries, a flyout appears with information about the album and the title, including the sample rate and resolution, track length, and bit rate.

After selecting tracks, start the process of reading the CD. In the lower area, the software displays a two-line horizontal progress bar; the upper half symbolizes the progress in ripping and transcoding the current title; the lower half shows the overall progress (Figure 8).

Figure 8: The double bars in the fre:ac info section show the progress in processing the current job. The upper half shows the individual track, the lower half the overall status.

When transcoding, fre:ac creates a separate subfolder for the audio files in the target directory. If you want to transcode different tracks with different encoders or different qualities, highlight them individually and make a choice in the Selected encoder field. If necessary, you can then adjust the encoding quality with Options | Configure selected encoder menu.

Only one track can be transcoded at a time with this procedure; fre:ac then stores the tracks in the subfolder for the audio CD. The software deletes the ripped tracks from the list after completion.

By default, fre:ac uses the existing replay gain settings in the metadata of each track to determine the volume. At the moment, the software lacks a function to adjust the volume itself. When asked, the developer said this feature will probably be available in an upcoming version.

Converting Audio Files

If you want to convert music files from the lossless but memory-intensive FLAC format to Ogg-Vorbis, which is lossy but produces significantly smaller files, you can load them into the list view with the Add audio file(s) button in the upper-left corner of the buttonbar.

Select the target format in the Selected encoder selection box (Figure 9) and adjust the output quality, if necessary; then, click on Start the encoding process. fre:ac stores the converted files in the target directory.

Figure 9: fre:ac offers 14 target formats.

If you select a lossless target format for a lossy source format, fre:ac points out that no quality improvement is expected for the target format, but the file size is expected to increase. The dialog asks if you would like to select a different target format.

fre:ac completes conversions between different file formats very quickly; a single track in the target format appears after just a few seconds.

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