Dibrom,Are you basically stating here that due to circumstances, it's unlikely the --alt-presets can/will ever be further improved (significantly) in terms of quality?
As for the other formats, unless/until they have some significant hardware support they are nearly useless, IMHO (who wants to sit in a hard desk chair in front of a computer, listening to music?). It's sort of a catch-22, but it's in the hands of the hardware manufacturers, since MP3 holds the popularity crown and is not likely to lose it without hardware support.
Atleast give it a shot
Would gpsycho be any better in this respect?
However, --api sounds much better, and I wasn't able to ABX it, whilst the other VBR ones were quiet obvious. So, this suggests that the problem may not be in the LAME psychoacoustic core, but more in the VBR handling?
The trumpet sounds a bit better at least with APS if you copy the section to the end, so that there are 2 trumpet sections and encode that. The latter section sounds a bit better imo (only did a very quick test).