The MP3 — the digital file format accused of nearly killing the commercial music industry at the last century’s end — is effectively dead.
The Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits, a German institution credited with creating the MP3, recently announced the termination of its licensing program for related patents, essentially abandoning its oversight role with respect to the once controversial music format.
Despite being the de facto digital audio format for the better part of two decades, the director of the Fraunhofer Institute told NPR that the MP3 has since been usurped by Advanced Audio Coding or AAC, the MP3’s designated successor.
Compared with its predecessor, AAC is “more efficient than MP3 and offers a lot more functionality,” Fraunhofer director and MP3 co-creator Bernhard Grill told NPR this week.
“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,” Mr. Grill said. “Those can deliver more features and a higher audio quality at much lower bitrates compared to MP3.”
The MP3 format was considered a game-changer 20 years ago on account of allowing digital audio to be greatly compressed without causing a significant loss in sound quality. Aided by the increasing availability at the time of high-speed internet connections and the plummeting costs of data storage, the format gained popularity near the end of the 1990s as websites and file-sharing applications such as Napster enabled the wide-scale distribution of digital audio.
The file format was largely demonized by the decade’s end, however, after record labels and musicians alike raised piracy concerns and warned the MP3 would be the music industry’s end.
While the MP3 didn’t immediately disappear in line with the music industry’s wishes, Mr. Grill said AAC has since become the “de facto standard for music download and videos on mobile phones,” NPR reported.
Indeed, digital downloads generated $1.84 billion in retail music sales during 2016 while physical sales totaled $1.67 billion, the Recording Industry Association of America said in a March report. Currently, however, neither downloads nor physical media is making bank for the nation’s record labels: streaming services, rather, accounted for more revenue last year than digital downloads, compact disc and vinyl sales combined, Billboard reported.
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