Not every device prefers to use M4A as its main audio format. Some situations call for an MP3 file, and sometimes even something outlandish like OGG. The App Store is full of “free” music converters that either don’t work or have an abundance of ads. After researching things a bit, I discovered a quality alternative to anything available in the App Store. It’s MediaHuman’s Audio Converter, one of the few freeware apps with an appealing user interface. The question is, does it perform as well as the paid apps? Let’s find out.
It’s Speedy, in Small Jobs
I didn’t expect my MacBook Air to have enough power for such rapid batch conversion. MediaHuman’s app restored my faith in this machine’s abilities. Songs of average length (4–5 minutes) converted in a mere 7 seconds, albums taking slightly over a minute each. I didn’t especially enjoy watching the app do its work as most of the interface is a bit bland, but appearance isn’t common for tools of its nature.
Adding more than 40 songs at once freezes the app for a few seconds while it loads them all into the RAM. I tried converting 228 files at once for a stress test and once the conversion started, things slowed down significantly. Scrolling through the app was jittery and I was barely able to use it. I checked Activity Monitor to see what it was actually doing and discovered that the app was using over 400 MB of my memory to temporarily store the files while it pulled and pushed them from and to to the disk. FFmpeg, an open source tool for audio conversion, was using as much of the CPU as it could, which is why the files convert so fast.
Unfortunately, the app quit after only 100 files, verifying my fears about intense batch conversion. Every other test I ran worked fine, but I completely lost confidence in the app’s powerhouse ability. I tried again to no avail. The key may be to have nothing open while converting. That’s not very productive, so I didn’t try it. Overall, the batch conversion issue is a shame, really.
Actually adding the files to the conversion queue was as easy as a drag and drop. Folders, too, can be dropped onto the app icon to make converting albums effortless. Overall, the performance was most speedy — surprisingly so, especially compared to the competition.
Shining In Comparison
OS X has a built-in audio conversion tool in the secondary-click menu. If you go to the Services section, you’ll see an Encode Selected Audio Files option. Clicking this will bring up a small window with conversion options. While this is a free way of converting audio for your Apple devices, it does not take into account MP3, FLAC, or really any type of format other than Apple’s. There are four options: High-Quality, iTunes Plus (128 kbps), Apple Lossless, and Spoken Podcast. However, there’s a major downside to Apple’s tool: it can’t convert anything besides AIFF, AIFC, Sd2f, CAFF, or WAVE, which are not common formats.
iTunes also has its own encoder, which can be configured in the Import Settings of the app’s General tab in Preferences. This can convert nearly anything (FLAC is an exception) to any format. I’ve found it to be significantly slower than MediaHuman’s app, though, and would not recommend it for batch conversion. On a quad-core i7 machine I own, it took over six hours to convert approximately 1900 songs. Calculating MediaHuman’s average conversion time, it would take just over half that. Well, that’s considering it doesn’t crash 1/19th of the way through as it did when I tested it.
That leaves the free and paid tools in the Mac App Store. Systemic’s Music Converter is one of the most popular apps. The free version is ad-supported, doesn’t have any options, and is very slow, but the “Pro” version, which costs $9.99, isn’t half bad. Many of the other options in the Mac App Store either only work with MP3s or have such a high price that justifying a purchase is impossible.
There are a plethora of free tools available for the Mac. Quality ones, on the other hand, are very hard to find. You can’t expect the average Google search to yield something as well-built as MediaHuman’s Audio Converter. One major issue is that it can’t batch process anything over 50 files confidently.
If you need transfer a bunch of files to a smartphone that only plays MP3s or you want to convert all your files to a single format, consider using iTunes’ integrated encoder. Otherwise, when compared to the competition, it easily comes out on top with a simple interface and lots of options. The developers also update it monthly, and hopefully they will fix that multiple file issue soon.