The Game-Changing MP3 Audio File Format

We take for granted the flawless delivery of some catchy jingles we hear when making our way through the latest new casinos 2021 list. This time however, I was prompted to want to look back on just how much of a game-changer the MP3 file format was…

All this time the downloader community has had a problem: files don’t have a size limitation. Our file sizes grew so huge, so quickly that we got there before our tools did. But without good tools to control the files, it’s just as easy to try to convince users that bigger is better. Why not just be “all in” and ask users to make bigger files, anyway?

That was, in fact, the whole purpose behind the MP3 standard. It was a chance to make bigger files possible. Instead, it seems to have pushed us toward a piratical future where we rely on patchy file size limits and disk thrashing to make the difference between two files.

In The Home Office Files, a thought-provoking documentary about the politics and history of MP3, scholar and science writer Rebecca Goldstein discusses the enormous problems that resulted from the MP3 standard. It seems that nothing in the world works like it was intended, with losses greater than both those claimed by the MP3 pirate groups, and those suggested by the MP3 enthusiasts themselves. And Goldstein concludes that it’s probably not as much of a disaster as many would have us believe.

MP3 Least of Them All

MP3 stands out for its huge range of compressed sizes, and the proprietary nature of its implementation (and licensing) as a playback format. That’s unlike the free formats it replaced: WAV, MIDI, and Windows Media Audio. That’s because WMA and MP3 both started with the same goals: to make file sizes small enough to compress and transfer.

MP3 can compress audio files by more than 99 percent. Even without compression, the original WMA file, for example, is over a terabyte in size. MP3 lets a low-level bit-conversion step down to the most efficient level, making a different approach to the file size problem possible.

The hard limits imposed by the compression became an additional limitation. The original R&D team asked the standardization bodies to stop at 96Kb or 128Kb of compressed data. But they rejected that, saying that 96Kb is enough for most consumers.

MP3 also has a higher maximum bit rate than those of WMA and WMA2, limiting the number of simultaneous copies of a file. This also eliminated the possibility of copying unencrypted WMA files. Some researchers claim that the effective bit rate of MP3 is the same as that of WMA, suggesting that the cost of copying is no higher than that of WMA.

Although MP3 came out first, WMA did not go away. It survived in both the Windows and Mac markets, and its format got a boost when the AAC algorithm was adopted to reduce file sizes. That was a controversial move. In the process of replacing the MP3’s effective bit rate, WMA’s effective bit rate was reduced.

Though originally developed for PC users, AAC has spread to the rest of the market. The successful phones and media players from Motorola and Sony introduced AAC into their markets, but neither company made a big splash when they introduced AAC to the desktop users. Instead, they only applied AAC for Windows.

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