Thursday, August 5

From adolescent to adult: the 26 years of the disruptive MP3 | Digital Trends Spanish

Before Spotify and iTunes, one of the most popular ways to access music was to download it over the internet. If you are around 30 years old or older, you probably remember downloading MP3 content through software such as Napster or Ares, and then exporting your playlist to a player and listen to music on the way to another place. This popular format turns 26 today.

The MP3 officially arrived on July 14, 1995; it replaced the cassette, the CD and completely revolutionized the music industry. Its appearance changed the way music was distributed and consumed forever, and even today it remains one of the most used formats by those who do not use the services of streaming.

The creation of the MPEG-1 Audio Layer III format – better known as MP3 – is attributed to Karlheinz Brandenburg. The electrical engineer and director of the Fraunhofer IIS Institute until 2019 was part of the group that gave the codec its name, Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG).

This lossy audio compression format became popular because it could hold large amounts of data without a proportional deterioration in quality. Basically, it allowed you to save a large number of songs, even hundreds, on a single device, and since they were smaller files, they were easy to transfer.

Personal CD and cassette players, while portable, were large, but MP3 players were small and really fit in your pocket, like the iPod. Also, physical music formats were generally not cheap, and MP3 was easily accessible and free. It didn’t deliver as impressive audio quality as there is today, but it was fairly decent and pleasant to listen to.


In a way, MP3 came to an end on April 23, 2017. On that day, the Fraunhofer Institute IIS ended the MP3 licensing program after more than two decades of existence. “There are more efficient audio codecs with advanced features available today,” says the release. Indeed, AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) —successor to MP3— is considered the default format for audio services. streaming music such as Spotify, iTunes and YouTube Music.

On the other hand, we have Tidal, which specializes in offering superior audio quality. The idea is that what you hear sounds exactly as the content was recorded and how the artist wanted it to sound. For that, this platform uses an audio codec called MQA (Master Quality Authenticated), which offers high-resolution audio in FLAC or WAV format (the one on CDs).

With advances in technology, clearly the audio quality of the MP3 format has lagged behind by modern standards. However, the impact of this audio codec was so powerful that it ushered in music in the digital age. It expanded piracy, affected record companies, originated P2P (peer-to-peer) networks to exchange content in digital format, and contributed to the way we listen to music today: with the services of streaming. That is why the popular MP3 will never go out of style.

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