For some insane reason, I woke up at the ungodly hour of 3.30am, a fact that has made me a tad grumpy, and lacking the urge to write anything meaningful, if at all. But write I will, for this morning my social media feed has antagonised my increasing distaste for sensational headlines. It’s bad enough when we have to put up with such nonsense on a daily basis in news channels, but when the same is happening in our industry, it’s like a red rag to a tired old bull.

I refer of course (because the headline needs to state it to draw you in) to the alleged death of the MP3 format. It would appear that the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits, licensees for some parts of the veritable MP3 format is shutting down the licence program. Here’s what they had to say:

On April 23, 2017, Technicolor’s mp3 licensing program for certain mp3 related patents and software of Technicolor and Fraunhofer IIS has been terminated.

We thank all of our licensees for their great support in making mp3 the defacto audio codec in the world, during the past two decades.

The development of mp3 started in the late 80s at Fraunhofer IIS, based on previous development results at the University Erlangen-Nuremberg. 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.

For more information about mp3’s successful history, please visit http://www.mp3-history.com/.

Rumours of MP3’s death…

Every headline I’m reading uses sensationalist terms like “death”, “killed” or “RIP”. Call me an idealist or eternal optimist, but I feel that a better way to look at it is to say that the format has simply matured, and cannot be improved any further. Fraunhofer realises this, and understands that it’s hard to make people pay for something that will not improve, especially when newer and better formats exist, ones that would benefit from a regular revenue stream to make them better.

But to say that MP3 is dead is just bollocks.

Let’s be clear — while people (myself included) have understandable attachments to allegedly legacy physical formats like vinyl, cassette, and books, people largely don’t lament the demise of a file format, especially when better ones exist. That said, GIF refuses to die, and is such a long way from being a high quality format.

So who knows — at this point MP3 has become a generic noun like Hoover or Google, so whatever the next popular format is, it’s likely to be referred to as MP3 anyway.

But there are practical reasons for software companies continuing to support MP3 for… well I’m not putting a time limit on it:

  • The DJ industry is built upon it, and DJs have a massive body of music in the MP3 format that gets played out week in week out.
  • People still own and will buy small devices. And there’s only so many tracks that will fit on an old player.
  • Some people have download limits on their internet at home or on their phone, something that isn’t lossless audio friendly.
  • People like things to be optimised. Why download files 3-10x the size when you can’t actually tell the difference, and it downloads in a vastly quicker time?

So despite assertions elsewhere, MP3 is a long way from dead. It will not stop working overnight, and all those truly awful 128K files encoded back in 1999 will still play through your favourite DJ software for decades to come. It’s just that other more advanced options will exist too.