The MP3 Is Officially Dead

MP3, the digital audio coding format, changed the way we listen to music and drove the adoption of countless new devices over the last couple of decades. And now, it's dead. The developer of the format announced this week that it has officially terminated its licensing program.

The actual ownership history of the various patent rights involved in MP3 technology is complicated and messy. But the Fraunhofer Institute has claimed the right to licence certain MP3 patents to software developers who want to "distribute and/or sell decoders and/or encoders" for it. The announcement that the company will end its licensing program was accompanied by a statement that reads in part:

Although there are more efficient audio codecs with advanced features available today, mp3 is still very popular amongst consumers. However, most state-of-the-art media services such as streaming or TV and radio broadcasting use modern ISO-MPEG codecs such as the AAC family or in the future MPEG-H. Those can deliver more features and a higher audio quality at much lower bitrates compared to mp3.

The decision is largely symbolic, but it's kind of like when all manufacturers start installing CD-ROMs instead of floppy drives. There will be some stragglers who still support the MP3 but newer formats will be the standard. AAC — or "Advanced Audio Coding," — was developed in part by the Fraunhofer Institute and is considered the standard today.

The MP3 is dead but its effect on the digital landscape is profound. It enabled easier downloading of audio files during the broadband days of the internet and drove technical newcomers to join the cyber age. The iPod and iTunes both fuelled a new era for Apple and led to the iPhone and all of its imitators that dominate the way we communicate today.

Unlike vinyl or the cassette, it seems unlikely that MP3 will ever have a nostalgic resurgence. The audio quality is trash by modern standards and some research has even suggested that its compression reinforces perceived negative emotional characteristics in musical instruments to the detriment of positive emotional characteristics.

In honour of the MP3, let's all listen to the song ("Tom's Diner" by Suzanne Vega) that Karlheinz Brandenburg used as a reference track while he was developing it. Below that, you'll find an embed of all the audio that's lost on the track when it's run through MP3 compression.


Comments

    It's not "dead". They're no longer licensing any patents for MP3 because all the patents expired. The last remaining one was defunct last month. As such they can't license the patents any more because there is no longer anything to license.

    MP3 isn't dead. MP3 is now free and unrestricted.

      So the MP3 monopoly is dead?

        Fraunhofer never really went after individuals for MP3 licensing, just bigger corps, but yeah, MP3 is no longer encumbered.

      "Abandoned" is probably a better term. That aside, MP3 is also one of the worst audio formats available today. Vorbis, Opus and FLAC (obviously) all provide better quality and are free, open source formats.

      (Side note: AAC is not free. If you care about proper open standards, don't use AAC.)

        I don't think anyone uses Opus, but FLAC is certainly common and obviously vastly better. And with storage space and computation power what they are today, there's really no reason to use a lossy audio compression any more other than compatibility with old players.

      I took one look at the headline and was sure whatever the contents of this article was that it would be either exaggerating or misrepresenting reality. *sigh*

    FLAC is better from a technical standpoint (it's what i use if i have the choice), but depending on the equipment the person is using you might not notice the difference between it and a 320kbps mp3 at all as a lot of hardware like smartphones that plays flac will just transcode it on the fly down to mp3 bitrates anyway as they don't have the hardware to natively support the format.

    Add that to the growing use of Bluetooth headphones which compress the signal to mp3 level bitrates anyway.

      There's certainly a place for lossy compressed audio, it's just that even in that category there are much better options than MP3.

      1. Opus is an excellent format that gives much better audio for lower bitrate than MP3, is natively supported in Chrome, Edge, Firefox and Opera, as well as built in to Android (5+) and the codec can be downloaded for free to Windows and Linux.

      2. Vorbis is older than Opus and not quite as good, but still gives lower bitrate and better quality than MP3. It's natively supported in Chrome, Firefox and Opera, and as above the codec is native in Android (4+) can be downloaded for free to Windows and Linux.

      Really the only platform that doesn't provide decent support for these formats is iOS. Considering they're completely free and open source, there's really no consumer-friendly excuse for why Apple chooses not to support them.

    I'm confused. What should I download all my KPop songs as now? Will my existing MP3s stop working?

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