Our Macs are capable of so much: we can play games, design graphics, record music, the list is near endless. So why is it still so awkward and time consuming to convert video and audio file formats? The answer lies with both the various proprietary licenses which each format brings to the table and the significant processing power needed to perform such tasks.
As a musician I know all too well how difficult it can be to convert your AIFF files to lossy formats such as MP3, and videos are a whole headache in of themselves, requiring the correct encoding per device. What I need is to be able to bounce my media into whichever format I desire, whether a song from the studio, an audiobook on my iPod, or a movie for iPad, and I want all of this without worrying about codecs, DRM, or screen resolution settings.
Smart Converter promises to help out with all the above, read on after the break to see if it delivers.
Stepping Up To The Plate
There has long been a place for a Smart Converter type app in my digital life, because though I use Handbrake and VLC for my video needs, the process is more time consuming and involved than I would like and not the kind of seamless, intuitive experience I’ve come to demand from my Mac. For audio, I’ve long been a fan of the slightly obscure but very capable XLD. I have no complaints with XLD but if Smart Converter can handle both my audio and video needs and do so with less hassle, then all the better!
“Lossless” audio refers to high-quality audio, resulting in a large file while “Lossy” concerns compressed formats, such as MP3, which offer significantly reduced file size, with a resulting reduction of quality
Smart Converter is a very simple to use app. In fact, it is the most beginner-friendly of its type that I’ve yet to come across. On launch the user is presented with the main window featuring presets for Apple TV, iPad, iPhone & iPod, Android Phone, Android Tablet, Music, and Other. The latter has a drop-down list of several more options such as XBox.
Deciding to begin with what I know best, I navigate my Mac’s hard drive to some high quality uncompressed 24bit WAV audio files which were taken straight from a recent studio master. Dragging and dropping into Smart Converter’s window as shown above, the app doesn’t balk at my questionable musical abilities but instead presents me with the screen below:
Smart Converter offers a help file of rare utility and clicking on the small question mark brings up a file entitled “Why Smart Converter Is So Smart”. It is a very good document which gives a better understanding of exactly what is happening and why, offering information in a succinct manner.
Now ready to convert my file, I simply hit “Convert” and Smart Converter did the job, without any questions on format, bitrate or the like – here lies an important point with Smart Converter, it is definitely unsuited to power users or audiophiles.
Taking a look at my newly converted MP3 file and bringing up OS X’s “More Info” pane, it was apparent that the MP3 had been converted to a low bitrate of just 128kbps. Without wanting to get too sidetracked on the merits of MP3 as a music format, 128kbps will produce a significant drop in sound quality and one does not need to be a snobby audiophile to demand something better.
Delving into the “Other” option did bring up an option for Apple’s own AAC format but this was again set to a low bitrate. In addition to this, you can only convert one audio file at a time, which would make converting an album a tedious task.
So, though it is indeed simple and easy, as an audio converter I’m afraid that Smart Converter leaves a lot to be desired. Still, Smart Converter does not really bill itself as a music converter, it is video that most users are interested in, and happily the app is not found to be lacking in this department.
Smart Converter is much more adept at handling video. I decided to convert my pre-ripped digital copy of horror cult-classic Sleepaway Camp 2 for scary late night iPad viewing. To start, I repeated the drag and drop maneuver previously outlined, this time offering Smart Converter an avi to wrangle with. I was now given a warning that the conversion would be taking place at “Slowest” speed. Once again clicking the “Convert” button, I went to make a cup of tea and waited. Then waited a while longer…
The video ended up taking quite a while to finish up in the end and I decided to test Smart Converter against Handbrake and found the results to be enough to matter. Smart Converter clocked in at 1 hour and 4 minutes, while Handbrake took just a shade under 50 minutes on my mid-2010 MacBook Pro.
This test was somewhat unscientific as I continued using my Mac as normal while converting both files, so results may vary.
Who Should Use Smart Converter?
My previous issues with audio quality aside, Smart Converter is nevertheless capable of converting video and it is for this purpose which I feel this free app should be judged.
While Handbrake will continue to be the choice of tech-savvy users, Smart Converter should still be very useful for those who either don’t want the added complexity of other apps, or else would prefer a more streamlined method of use – at this it excels.