Many of us like to listen to music whether it’s in the car on the way to work, walking down the street or at home to relax. As we know, there is a multitude of different ways to get your music files onto your phone or MP3 player and there are also several different sources online from P2P networks, to download services like iTunes, searching for MP3s in Google, Myspace or Amazon etc, to scouring the web for royalty free downloadable music.
One of the problems you will have most likely come across if you have music from several different sources is that they don’t all have the exact same volume level. Some individual tracks or whole albums will have been encoded by a different person or company using different methods and might be significantly louder or quieter than others. It’s quite frustrating turning the volume level right up to listen to a quiet track, and then the next song has a much higher default volume level and gets played way too loud.
What you need to cure this problem is a program to alter the volume of the songs to a similar level so there are no sudden jumps between tracks when there shouldn’t be. There are a couple of different ways to change the volume of an MP3. One is to actually re-encode the file to the desired level, but this has a drawback of lowering the quality of the audio. The second way is better because it edits the MP3 file without touching the audio waveform itself and therefore quality is not affected. MP3Gain is a good utility to use because it works in the lossless way and all the editing to the MP3 file in terms of its volume can be changed or completely undone again later on. The program doesn’t work on the principle of adjusting the audio level to the peak volume in the track which can still provide MP3’s with different volumes. Instead it uses an algorithm called ReplayGain to calculate the tracks overall loudness and then adjusts the song to the required level, making the sound you actually hear more consistent across several songs.
MP3Gain is completely free to use and is open source software. There are also installer and portable versions available, and if you’re not sure whether you have the required Visual Basic runtime files installed, download the “Full” version installer executable or zip file because they are included with that version.
To load MP3 files into the program you can simply select individual files or playlists using the Add Files button. Or alternatively use the Add Folder button to load in whole albums or complete folders full of your favorite music, the program will recurse into sub folders by default. MP3Gain has 2 separate modes to calculate and adjust song volume, Track Mode and Album Mode and they work in different ways.
Track mode – This is best used for collections of individual tracks which are completely separate from each other such as compilations or greatest hits releases. The volume level for each song is calculated and the amount of gain needed for it to match the target volume (default of 89db) is displayed. For example, some songs may need a drop in volume to reach the target level, some will need a small increase and some may need a big increase. So the volume level across all songs selected will meet the target value.
Looking at the below image you can see the leftmost Track Volume column is different for each song, and the recommended Track Gain will increase or decrease the level by that amount for each song to reach the target of 89db. Very quiet songs will have a big increase, those that are already close to the target may need little or no change at all.
Album mode – This mode is suited to whole albums or relate collections of songs. What it does is calculate the average volume level across all the selected tracks and then works out how much gain needs applying to reach the target level (default 89db). So if it says an increase of 3db to reach the target is needed, all tracks will be altered by this amount only, even the very quiet songs. This has the advantage that quieter parts of an album will stay that way relative to the louder parts, but the overall volume of the album will be increased.
Look at the same image again and you can see that although there are a couple of relatively quiet tracks, MP3Gain has worked out the average volume level across the album of songs is actually very close to the target and only needs a minor increase. The quiet tracks will still be quiet relative to the other songs in the album.
Although MP3Gain might sound quite difficult to use, it’s actually very easy. Once the files are loaded, simply press the Track/Album Analysis button and the volume levels will be calculated. If changes need to be made, simply choose to apply the Track, Album or Constant type of gain to the files. Constant is a simple method to increase/decrease the db level by a set amount across all files. If you want to put the levels back to default, simply use the Modify Gain -> Undo Gain Changes menu option.
MP3Gain has been tested on and works fine in windows XP to Windows 7 64-bit.