MP3 is Dead; Long Live MP3

If you read the news, you may think the MP3 file format was recently officially “killed” somehow, and any remaining MP3 holdouts should all move to AAC now. These are all simple rewrites of Fraunhofer IIS’ announcement that they’re terminating the MP3 patent-licensing program…

MP3 is no less alive now than it was last month or will be next year — the last known MP3 patents have simply expired…

MP3 is very old, but it’s the same age as JPEG, which has also long since been surpassed in quality by newer formats. JPEG is still ubiquitous not because Engadget forgot to declare its death, but because it’s good enough and supported everywhere, making it the most pragmatic choice most of the time.

AAC and other newer audio codecs can produce better quality than MP3, but the difference is only significant at low bitrates. At about 128 kbps or greater, the differences between MP3 and other codecs are very unlikely to be noticed, so it isn’t meaningfully better for personal music collections. For new music, get AAC if you want, but it’s not worth spending any time replacing MP3s you already have…

Until a few weeks ago, there had never been an audio format that was small enough to be practical, widely supported, and had no patent restrictions, forcing difficult choices and needless friction upon the computing world. Now, at least for audio, that friction has officially ended. There’s finally a great choice without asterisks.

MP3 is supported by everything, everywhere, and is now patent-free. There has never been another audio format as widely supported as MP3, it’s good enough for almost anything, and now, over twenty years since it took the world by storm, it’s finally free. 1

MP3 is Dead; Long Live MP3

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  1. We’re assuming her that this means the Fraunhofer codec can now be shipped with free wit all *NIX distros, which should actually improve the quality of MP3s.

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