The top performers in our review are Switch Plus, the Gold Award winner; Xilisoft Audio Converter, the Silver Award winner; and Stellar, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a product to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 programs.
iTunes rules the market when it comes to digital music libraries and its capabilities, including converting audio from CDs and elsewhere to digital files. It may seem unreasonable to purchase audio converting software while iTunes, which is free, can import and convert to a number of file formats, including virtually all of the more commonly used ones: MP3, WAV, AIFF, MPEG-4 and M4A.
But if your needs are more specialized, there’s still reason to consider buying audio conversion software. Products such as Switch, Audials Tunebite and Protected Music Converter offer more file compatibility than other audio converters, and they cover specialized audio formats that won't work with products such as iTunes. The software we review can convert to virtually everything iTunes can, plus to over 40 other file formats among them. These files include a number of different lossless formats, too, such as FLAC, OGG Vorbis and others.
Extracting audio data from video files, which iTunes can’t do, is another reason to consider buying audio converter programs. One of the advantages of owning an audio converter is the ability to turn video files into audio files. You could potentially use this software to take concert footage and rip it into an audio CD. While iTunes can import video, it can't extract the audio data from it.
Audio conversion works in a couple of different ways. File compression is one of the most popular reasons people use audio converters. File compression is when you take a file format that generally takes up more space on your hard drive, such as WAV files, and compress it to a file format that takes up less space, such as MP3. File compression works by taking away bits of data from the original file – the end result is you can get "lossy" files that have worse audio quality than the original. By saving space, you can add more songs to your computer, hard drive, iPod and so forth.
When you take away data from a file, that is referred to as lowering the bitrate. The bitrate is the amount of bits, or data, that is processed over time. Bitrate is labeled in terms of kilobits per second. When you take a song that is at 320 kbps (kilobits per second) and lower it to 128 kbps to save space, you are taking away data from the song that can't be replaced. Lowering the bitrate makes the file smaller so you can store more on your computer, but it also lowers the audio quality of each song.
Audio conversion becomes a matter of quality versus computer storage space. Once you compress a file and take data away, you can't reverse it. You can't turn an MP3 back into a lossless file format after the fact. This can become an issue if you are looking to upgrade your entire library of MP3s to a format of higher quality. You'll need to go back to the original source of the audio to convert to a lossless format.
The quality of your audio file depends solely on your needs. If you take the quality of your music seriously – you own a quality audio setup with nice speakers or headphones – you'll want to choose high-bitrate, lossless file formats when you are converting audio files. If you are listening to your music through a mobile media player using stock earbuds, there is a good chance you won't be able to tell the difference between a lossless audio file format such as FLAC and an MP3.
When CDs were popular, two of the most popular file formats were MP3 and WAV. Most car stereos or portable CD players were unable to read audio formats that were not MP3 or WAV files. Today, file compatibility is becoming less of an issue, but there are still situations where you may run into file compatibility problems. Audio conversion software can ensure that if you do run into audio format issues, you can likely fix them with a few clicks.
Many of the audio converter software applications that we reviewed offer limited free trials. Some are fully functional for a brief amount of time and some offer limited capabilities until you purchase the full version. All of the applications are downloadable and available for purchase online. For more information, check out our articles on audio converter software.
Audio converters are useful for maximizing the quality or size of your music library. You can adjust the bitrate, alter the sampling rate and compress files all within one program. This is a great way to maximize your listening experience. We tested each audio converter to compare the applications based on performance as well as ease of use.
We took a 625MB WAV file and compressed it to a 26MB MP3. We timed each application to see which one has the fastest compression speed. We tested each one using the same computer and the same settings for files and conversions. We also made sure to run only one program at a time. Keep in mind that compression speeds may vary depending upon your personal computer's performance. The fastest compression times without any audio discrepancies received the best grades.
We discovered that Switch Plus was the fastest audio converter in our comparison. It not only compressed our large WAV file down to a 26MB MP3 file – it did so quickly and efficiently without any audio discrepancies. Switch Plus was the only audio converter to convert our sample audio file in under one minute.
Audials Tunebite 12 was the second-fastest audio converter with a conversion time of 1:03.53, followed by Stellar at 1:04.5. These speeds vastly outpace much of the competition. For instance, Xilisoft took almost three minutes to convert the file. If you have a library full of large files, you'll be spending much more time waiting for your conversions to be completed compared to a faster program like Audials or Stellar.
Ease of Use
While performance is paramount in audio conversion software, how easily you can complete conversions also matters. While the programs we reviewed have the same basic functionality, they differ in how readily you can use them. We created tests to break down the process of converting files in each converter. We then analyzed the results to create the Ease of Use score. This score reflects our overall impression of each program's usability, after thoroughly testing each main function of the software.
We found that Switch and Xilisoft are two of the easiest programs to use. Whether you are converting files, extracting audio from video or ripping an audio CD, each process only takes a couple clicks before the task is complete. Both of these programs can extract audio from CDs as well as extracting audio data from video files.
This is a major benefit to using audio converter software instead of iTunes. Programs such as Switch and Stellar make conversion simple, while iTunes makes you wade through the preferences menu and import settings before you can convert any files. It's not nearly as straightforward as an audio converting program, which lets you import audio and click the convert button.
Audials Tunebite 12 was unable to convert MP3s until we downloaded an additional LAME file encoder. We then had to assign the encoder to the application before Audials was able to convert to MP3s properly. These additional processes docked Audials in this category.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained the units in our comparison either by purchasing full versions of each program or by receiving download keys from the software publisher. The publishers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
Although the main purpose of audio conversion software is to change audio files from one format to another, these programs have other feature sets that can be useful when you are looking to manipulate audio.
Extract Audio From Video
Software that can take audio from anywhere saves you time. If you want to use the audio tracking from a video file, you don't need to use a separate program to extract the audio from the video file, then import it into your audio converter. Audio conversion software that can pull audio straight from a video file and convert it within the same interface simplifies the process. All of the programs we reviewed have the ability to extract audio from video files, but our top programs are compatible with many video formats while others are only compatible with a handful of them.
Extract Audio Data From CDs
CDs are quickly traveling down the same road to obsolescence that cassette tapes and vinyl records wandered down decades ago. Audio conversion software that allows you to rip your CDs right within the program saves your audio in a more useful format. Not all programs we reviewed allow you to rip CDs straight into the program. Switch, Xilisoft and Stellar are among the few that allow you to complete this task. From here you can choose to compress the file to create more storage or save your file as a lossless audio file that retains CD quality.
All of the products we tested are under $40. They are also compatible with at least seven different file formats and all can convert video files to audio to some extent. This is more than you can do with iTunes and reason enough to download an audio converter to your computer.
Switch is the Top Ten Reviews Gold Award winner. It is compatible with the most files and can convert to more file formats. Switch can also extract audio data from CDs as well as every video file format we tested. It's one of the few programs that is available on both PC and Mac platforms and is the top performer in terms of conversion speed.
Xilisoft is the Silver Award winner. This audio converter is one of the most user-friendly on the market. Like Switch, Xilisoft converts all of the video formats we tested and has the ability to rip audio CDs. Xilisoft is much slower at compressing audio files compared to the competition, and it falls in the middle of the pack in terms of file compatibility. It is one of the few conversion programs that work on both Mac and PC platforms.
Stellar Audio and Video Converter is the Top Ten Reviews Bronze Award winner. It features many of the same capabilities as our Gold and Silver Award winners, but it is only compatible with seven different file formats – far fewer than all of the other audio software products that we reviewed. However, this software compresses files in a timely manner and is available on PC platforms.