NPR is reporting that The Fraunhofer Institute, originators of the now ubiquitous MP3 format, have 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, said that another audio format, AAC, which the organization also helped to create, is replacing the MP3, such is the popularity of platforms such as iTunes, and is now the “standard for music download and videos on mobile phones,” adding that it is “more efficient than MP3 and offers a lot more functionality”. Streaming services, meanwhile, are turning to ‘Master Quality Authenticated’ files.
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.