The MP3 Is Dead, Long Live The MP3 (Maybe) 

The MP3 Is Dead, Long Live The MP3 (Maybe) 

When the MP3 first came out in the 1990s, it was a revolutionary digital audio coding format that significantly reduced the file size of audio content. It dropped sizes by 95 per cent. This changed the culture around listening to music: People could carry a massive number of songs on a small device instead of lugging around physical CDs.

Image from Philippe Put

But after being “on life support” for years, as NPR calls it, MP3s have been pronounced dead by their creators: The Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits.

The German research body, which funded the technology and owned the patent rights to MP3s, terminated its licensing hold on the format after 22 years. The technology has become obsolete in light of “more efficient audio codecs” that offer advanced features, says the group in a press release.

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You can still use MP3 files — and you won’t be alone

Despite being done for, you can still use MP3 formats and you can still buy them. In fact, the research body says MP3s are still popular among users. The only caveat is that without the support from Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits, eventually you’ll have to transition to more up-to-date technology.

Is it really dead?

If you can still use and purchase MP3 files, is it really dead? There’s a compelling case to be made for the MP3’s ability to live posthumously. As Mac Observer points out, the patent for the GIF expired over a decade ago but that hasn’t stopped it from being rampantly used by people. It’s entirely possibly that MP3s will follow the route of GIFs.

But MP3s may not be worth it

GIFs are still serving a function: Entertainment. MP3s don’t carry the same clout. From an audio quality standpoint, MP3s just aren’t worth it. Gizmodo, which calls the audio quality “trash by modern standards”, notes that research has found evidence that the compression brings forth “perceived negative emotional characteristics in musical instruments”.

Its successor is better

Bernhard Grill, director of that Fraunhofer division and one of the principals in the development of the MP3, told NPR that AAC, or “Advanced Audio Coding”, is the “de facto standard for music download and videos on mobile phones”. Fraunhofer Institute partially created AAC, which Grill says offers more functionality and is more efficient.

So the bad news is the creators of MP3s aren’t invested in the technology any more and there will eventually come a time when you’ll have to part ways with it. The good news is, today is not that day.


  • Second article that Lifehacker gets wrong, but not as bad as the first at least.

    The patent ran out. Fraunhofer no longer has exclusive control of the licensing. This means that every single Chinese, and Korean company can now use the format unembumbered.

    It also means it can be distributed with Linux and even incorporated into applications freely, without paying Fraunhofer a cent.

    MP3 is now the go-to encoder because it’s well used and it can be used in any device and software package freely. It’s been liberated and returned to the hands of the people.

  • Yes, I found myself just the other day, deeply worried about whether the creators of the MP3 I was listening to were still invested in the format…

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