It’s impossible to imagine today’s music universe without MP3 technology. Developed at the Fraunhofer Institute in West Germany (that’s how far back development goes), the MP3 compression algorithm is responsible setting music free on the Internet, creating new convenience for music fans and plenty of nightmares for the music industry.
Fraunhofer has made a lot of money licensing this technology around the planet. Now, though, some of that licensing has been terminated. This comes from NPR.
The Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits, a division of the state-funded German research institution that bankrolled the MP3’s development in the late ’80s, recently announced that its “licensing program for certain MP3 related patents and software of Technicolor and Fraunhofer IIS has been terminated.”
Bernhard Grill, director of that Fraunhofer division and one of the principals in the development of the MP3, told NPR over email that another audio format, AAC — or “Advanced Audio Coding,” which his organization also helped create — is now the “de facto standard for music download and videos on mobile phones.” He said AAC is “more efficient than MP3 and offers a lot more functionality.”
So is it the end of an era? We may still use MP3s, but when the people who spent the better part of a decade creating it say the jig is up, we should probably start paying attention. AAC is indeed much better — it’s the default setting for bringing CDs into iTunes now — and other formats are even better than it, though they also take up mountains of space on our hard drives.
And it’s not just that more efficient and complete ways of storing music have been developed. There was a deeper problem. The engineers who developed the MP3 were working with incomplete information about how our brains process sonic information, and so the MP3 itself was working on false assumptions about how holistically we hear. As psychoacoustic research has evolved, so has the technology that we use to listen. New audio formats and products, with richer information and that better address mobile music streaming, are arriving.