The MP3 is dead! May it rest in peace...sort of. The actual file format is still alive and well, and will not be disappearing from your computers or phones any time soon. However, the MP3 is being disowned by its parents.
The Fraunhofer Institute, responsible for its creation, has officially terminated its licensing program. They have admitted that their baby is inferior to higher quality MPEG formats, such as AAC (Advanced Audio Coding).
The original MP3 format, developed to convert audio into digital form, took five years to complete, according to the BBC. The MP3, born in 1987, was created to compress music into a file size that made it easier to transmit.
The Mother of the MP3 was “Tom’s Diner” by Suzanne Vega, used by Karlheinz Brandenburg as a reference track while he was developing the format. He used the track after overhearing it on the radio. Ready to fine-tune his compression algorithm, he decided on the Suzanne Vega song as "it would be nearly impossible to compress this warm a cappella voice".
MP3s work by stripping out sounds in a song that cannot be heard by human ears. This process makes the MP3 file 11 times smaller than uncompressed music tracks.
This compression, however, may be having a negative effect to our listening pleasure. Research from the Audio Engineering Society found that compression "reinforces perceived negative emotional characteristics in musical instruments to the detriment of positive emotional characteristics".
Musical instruments have "distinct timbral and emotional characteristics", but this can be changed when audio processing is applied to the sounds. MP3 compression can strengthen neutral and negative emotional characteristics (mysterious, shy, scary, sad), and weaken positive emotional characteristics (happy, heroic, romantic, comic, and calm).
Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young was so aggrieved with low-quality digital music, including MP3s, he launched the Pono Player in 2015, with only high-resolution audio tracks available to play.
The MP3, however, may not quietly fade into history. Terminating the licensing program does not necessarily spell the end for a format, as Mac Observer notes. In 2003, the Unisys patent on the GIF format expired, and three years later, the company officially ended its efforts to license the technology. The GIF continues to survive (see Tumblr), despite the emergence of more modern file formats.