Jammin’ software

Roundup of programs for creating or listening to MP3 files

A few years back, you would reach for a CD and plop it into your CD-ROM drive if you wanted to hear your favorite songs. Today, you can listen to the latest jams by reaching for your mouse to download digital music files. The introduction of MP3 and other digital music formats has revolutionized the Internet as a source of high-quality audio for all musical tastes. Both established artists and lesser-known indie musicians are using the Net to distribute entire tracks or promotional clips to music aficionados worldwide.

There are primarily two ways to enjoy MP3 files. You can download them from the many Websites that offer them or you can create them from your own CDs. Either way, you’ll need the right software to do it.

If you just want to download music from the Net, a player that supports MP3 is all you need. You can find plenty of free music as well as some songs that sell for about $1 each. Should you decide you want to create your own MP3s, you’ll need software that performs “ripping” and “encoding.” Ripping is the act of extracting a track directly from a CD and storing it on a computer’s hard drive. Encoding is the process of converting a ripped file into MP3 format.

You might want to start by looking at all-in-one programs with features for ripping, encoding, playing and organizing music files. The more popular of these are RealJukebox Plus and MusicMatch Jukebox.

RealJukebox Plus (www.real.com/juke box/) automatically configures your computer for optimal audio performance. It lets you play MP3s, real audio and other digital music as well as record CDs and MP3s while you listen (Windows download, $29.99). RealJukebox Basic is a free download that lets you play and record digital music. You can download MP3s and listen to Net radio stations with real.com’s media player, Real Player 7 Plus ($29.99).

MusicMatch Jukebox Plus (www.music match.com) lets you copy your favorite songs from your CDs to high-quality digital music files, stream music from the Net to the MusicMatch player and download music online. In addition, you can play video, listen to thousands of Net radio stations, and organize your digital files into a music library (Windows download, $29.99).

At the top of the list of sites that offer music downloads and links is Listen.com (www.listen.com), thanks in part to the fact that five major record labels have invested in this San Francisco-based Internet company. Listen.com is a large, searchable directory that provides links to major music sites that offer music downloads in MP3, Liquid Audio and other formats.

Another highly rated site is MP3.com (www.mp3.com). You can browse or search through a wide selection of music genres. This site also offers e-zines, art, communities, news highlights, Net radio and tutorial software and hardware pages.

Also, check out MP3now.com (www. mp3now.com). This site has an in-depth list of MP3 sites, search engines and sites from which you can download music. In addition, there’s a good mix of hardware and software information, beginner’s guides, news and

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