MP3 players had once been the de facto audiophile gadget, the thing you needed to have if you wanted on-the-go music sessions. Apple, in particular, has had a stake in the MP3 market for many years thanks to its continued refresh of the iPod line. Yet the most recent model, the sixth-generation iPod touch, was released as far back as 2015.
That’s because in recent times, MP3 players have lost their necessity. With smartphones able to play and, more importantly, stream music, the need for standalone MP3 devices has waned significantly. But beyond the devices, what about the format itself? How has the MP3 audio format stacked up against other, far more efficient audio formats that have surfaced over the years?
Not well, it seems, because the MP3 has now died, according directly to the people who invented it. The Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits, which is part of the German research institution that funded MP3 development in the late 80s, announced late last month that its licensing for MP3-related patents has ended.
Another audio format called Advanced Audio Coding, or AAC, is now the “de facto standard for music download and videos on mobile phones.” Bernhard Grill, who was involved in MP3 development said that AAC offers a lot more functionality than MP3.
Grill might be absolutely spot-on. Now, AAC is the default audio format when ripping music from CD into iTunes. But more than the quality of compression and file size, the MP3 might actually deserve to die, simply because the engineers who created it were working only upon assumptions on how humans processed sonic information, according to a report by NPR. In short, MP3 might not have been the best way to hear music after all.
But that aside, let’s take a look at a brief history of the MP3. How it was invented, how it spread globally, and how it eventually died.
History Of MP3
Fraunhofer-Gesellshaft, a German company, invented and developed MP3, and has licensed patents to the compression technology until its recent demise. The inventors listed in the patent were Bernhard Grill, Karl-Heinz Brandenburg, Thomas Sporer, Bernd Kurten, and Ernst Eberlein.
Here’s a handy timeline of MP3:
• 1987 – The Fraunhofer Institut in Germany began researching high-quality low bit-rate audio coding. It was called the EUREKA project EU147, Digital Audio Broadcasting.
• January 1988 – The Moving Picture Experts Group, or MPEG, was established.
• April 1989 – Fraunhofer received a patent in Germany for MP3.
• 1992 – Dieter Seitzer, who helped with the Fraunhofer with its research, integrated his audio coding with MPEG-1.
• 1993 – The MPEG-1 standard was published.
• 1994 – The MPEG-2 standard was developed and then published a year later.
• Nov. 26, 1996 – The U.S. patent for MP3 was issued.
• September 1998 – Fraunhofer began enforcing patent rights. Whoever used the MP3 audio coding paid a licensing fee to Fraunhofer.
• February 1999 – SubPop, a recording company, distributed music under the MP3 format, the first such company to do so.
• 1999 – The first portable MP3 players appear.
No matter how you look at it, the demise of the MP3 format is unfortunate, yet expected. This way, other developers can focus on better audio compression formats such as AAC, and bring the level of audio quality to the next level. If anything, MP3’s demise is much-needed, if only to encourage audio engineers to begin exploring the next audio standard.
What do you think of MP3’s history? Feel free to sound off in the comments section below!
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