The MP3 Is Not Dead, And I Can Prove It – Forbes

MP3s have not gone the way of the dinosaur.

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MP3s have not gone the way of the dinosaur.

There’s been a flurry of articles lately about the death of the MP3, and most of them have got the story wrong. The format itself is, in fact, far from dead, and I’m going to show you why.

First, what is an MP3? It’s a file format that basically takes a very large, high-bandwidth audio format (like the AIFF or WAV audio file master) and shrinks it so it takes up less file space. Think of an inflated bicycle tire. When you let the air out, it can fold up into a small box. It’s still a tire but it’s in a different form and its properties have changed. The same thing happens with an MP3. In order to make the master file smaller, the MP3 codec throws away parts of the audio that it thinks you won’t hear anyway to make the file size smaller. Many of us can’t hear the difference between the master and the MP3, especially when the correct encoder settings and file preparation is used, but done using automatic settings, the changes are sometimes easy to hear.

So why are people bemoaning the supposed demise of the MP3? What really happened is that the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits, which created the MP3, and Technicolor, the patent administrator, are terminating the format’s licensing program due to the patent expiring. Furthermore, the hottest format is AAC (Advanced Audio Codec), which Fraunhofer ISS also helped create. AAC is actually much more efficient as it takes up even less bandwidth than the MP3 while doing less harm to the audio quality. It’s been used by the iTunes store from its inception and the audio codec is currently used by Apple Music, Deezer, Amazon Music Unlimited, iHeartRadio and YouTube, among many others. A license was required by a manufacturer making hardware like an MP3 player, and of course, you don’t see much of that happening these days, so there’s no use in Fraunhofer and Technicolor worrying about the licensing program.

The MP3 came to life with some difficulty (read How Music Got Free by Stephen Witt for the whole story), but gained traction against a host of competitors more because it lacked digital rights management. Fraunhofer was never all that aggressive in looking for license violations.This was widely criticized at the time, but it made MP3s easier to use. The format has led a long successful life so far and it’s showing its age.

But the MP3 dead? Far from it, actually. I know from my own experience as a mixing engineer that the MP3 is still a way that approval mixes are ferried around to clients. They may not sound the best, but they’re convenient and you can play the format on nearly any device. Then as a podcaster, all of my Inner Circle podcasts is uploaded via MP3, and that goes for just about every other podcaster as well. Why? Anyone using any device can play an MP3, and they’re a lot easier to make than other comparable formats.

Then there’s the fact that at least some of the music that you consume every day is delivered via MP3. Record labels routinely deliver the format to radio stations for broadcast as their playout systems convert a file to MP3 first. You’re also listening to MP3s if you happen to use Pandora, Slacker, Google Play Music or SoundCloud. MP3s are everywhere. Though the world may shift completely to some form of AAC in the future, that won’t be happening for a while since MP3s are entrenched in so many facets of our daily audio life.

– Bobby Owsinski is the author of 24 books on recording, music, the music business and social media. Read excerpts at bobbyowsinski.com

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