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A rate-distortion theory is introduced for the optimal encoding of stationary memoryless continuous-amplitude sources with a single-letter distortion measure and reproduction alphabets of a given finite size. The theory arises from a judicious approximation of the original continuous-input discrete-output problem by one with discrete input and output. A size-constrained output alphabet rate-distortion function is defined, its coding significance is established by coding theorems, and a convergent algorithm is presented for its evaluation. The theory is applied to Gaussian sources with squared-error distortion measure. Using the algorithm for the calculation of the new rate-distortion function in this case establishes the existence of codes which attain almost any desired rate between the rate-distortion bound and the optimum entropy-coded quantizer. Furthermore, one can closely approach the rate-distortion limit with a surprisingly small number of output levels. The calculation furnishes optimal output levels, output level probabilities, and other parameters necessary for a trellis coding simulation. The search algorithm represents the first use for asymmetric sources and distortion measures of a variation of a single stack algorithm proposed by Gallager. Carrying out the simulation at a rate of 1 bit per source symbol, codes are found with 4 and 64 output levels which attain distortions smaller than that of an optimum quantizer and close to the rate-distortion bound. Furthermore, these codes attain comparable or better performance with far less search effort than previous attempts with a continuous output alphabet.