My large digitized music collection is often in a format that doesn't quite fit my needs. I'm not having second thoughts about the thousands of Windows Media Audio (WMA) files I've created (and am still in the process of redoing as 128Kbps files), but I often want smaller files or want to send a Microsoft-hostile friend a music snippet to check out. So, I need to convert my WMA files into either a lower-bandwidth file or perhaps an MP3-format file.
To convert files, I've been using a freeware product called dBpowerAMP Music Converter (formerly known as Shuffler Music Converter), a neat little product with a wealth of add-ins (some free, some paid shareware) that do everything from ripping CDs to converting file formats. The converter adds itself to the context menu of music files and lets you start the conversion program from that context menu. For a free utility, dBpowerAMP is a good deal.
But the utility also has a few annoyances that stop me from using it all the time. The most intrusive annoyance is that it takes a long time (sometimes as long as 5 minutes) to enumerate any one of my network directories, which contain from two to eight thousand files. The converter also has a somewhat cumbersome process to select music to convert—its counterintuitive process of deselecting files in a directory makes using it for some common tasks difficult.
I use an Iomega HipZip personal media player, which is why I began looking for another conversion utility. Most media-management programs that I use (e.g., Windows Media Player 7—WMP7, WMP 8, Sonic Foundry Siren) offer a process known as transcoding for moving files to a portable device. Transcoding lets you change the bitrate (and hence, the size) of the encoded file. When I move music files to the HipZip's 40MB storage disks, I use transcoding to change the files to 64Kbps WMA files, doubling the number of files I can get on each disk with minimal effect on sound quality. But the HipZip shows up under Windows as a removable media device, so there's no reason to use the media-management software to put music on the HipZip; I can just drag and drop WMA or MP3 files from any storage device to the HipZip.
But I still want to be able to change the encoding to create smaller files, and because the HipZip can play both WMA and MP3 files, either format is acceptable. So for $25, I tried Advanced WMA Workshop (AWMAW), a program that allows batch processing of music files, converting them to and from WMA, MP3, and other formats.
On the downside, AWMAW doesn't use transcoding; I can't convert WMA files to lower-bandwidth WMA files. But AWMAW's conversion process is exceedingly fast (some products do an intermediary conversion to .wav, which can really slow things down), and its file-selection process is also very quick. I can select several dozen albums of music, start the conversion process, and be ready to start moving them to the HipZip in just a few minutes (see Figure 1). The process is significantly faster than using any of my music-management tools to select, transcode, and transfer music files to the HipZip.
Both dBpowerAMP and AWMAW offer features the other program doesn't have, so I'll continue to use both products. But whether you use the free product or the $25 shareware product, you'll find you have a lot more options for music management.