It's been years since the first legal online music download services made their debuts, and if you're a subscriber or frequent purchaser, you might find that your music comes in a wide variety of formats, some playable by all models of digital music players and some in formats that you can only play on specific models or on the PC itself. If you've ever wanted to rectify the situation and convert the multitude of formats--such as Apple's AAC, Windows Media's WMA, or RealAudio's RA--into something more easily recognized by the vast majority of players, SoundTaxi Professional ($27, free feature-limited demo) can convert not just single files but entire music collections to an open format (or multiple formats) of your choice.
SoundTaxi Professional hooks into most common media players, including Windows Media Player, iTunes and/or Quicktime, and RealPlayer, in order to grab the audio output from these programs, then records the output to individual files in formats such as MP3 or M4A that are supported by virtually every portable digital audio player on the market. Capable of converting up to sixteen files at once, SoundTaxi can whip through even massive music collections in a few hours, depending on the speed of your computer. I found it extremely easy to point the program at a directory full of files and let it do its thing.
Vendor Ramka Ltd. doesn't try to hide the fact that SoundTaxi Professional is also suitable for converting large archives of music or audio protected by digital rights management (DRM) into a non-DRM format. Their Web page lists the 34 different paid music services which provide DRM-protected audio files the program is capable of converting.
It can also rip music from CD collections, and if you have an iPod or iPhone, can automatically copy those converted or ripped audio files directly to that player. You will, of course, need significant additional storage for the re-encoded music or audio files--depending on the choices about encoding bitrate and compression that you make, the converted files may be either smaller or larger than the originals.
The demo version of SoundTaxi Professional is designed purely to demonstrate that the program is capable of doing what it claims: The demo transcodes only the first 30 seconds of audio from any file, and runs at a rate-limited speed that is significantly less than the maximum performance the program is capable of. The paid version claims to be able to convert 16 simultaneous files at up to 50x speed (meaning, it takes 1/50th, or two percent of the "normal speed" playback time of the song to convert the file)--though in real-world conditions, with anything less than a super-powerful workhorse PC, you're not likely to see it work at that speed. On my test PC, which is more putt-putt than vroom as far as performance is concerned, it converted four files at a time at 4x speed. The process is, in essence, a huge number of mathematical operations, and factors such as the CPU, RAM, and hard drive speed do come into play. It's also worth mentioning that, when converting audio files to the MP3 format, you can only convert to a constant bitrate MP3; the program has no option for variable bitrate (VBR) conversions.
Ramka also sells a $40 version of the software called SoundTaxi Pro + VideoRip, which can convert multiple different video file formats, such as WMV and YouTube videos, to the more conventional AVI or Windows Media Video (WMV) formats. Their $60 Media Suite offers the same functions as the Pro+Video Rip version, and adds the ability to record and save copies of both streamed audio and video, and rip DVD movies from disc to a digital file.
If you can't listen to some of your audio collection with the portable player of your choice due to file format incompatibilities or DRM, SoundTaxi can shepherd your music or audio books into the realm of global playability.