You might have seen stories recently that MP3 is ‘dead’ and the future of digital audio lies in other formats.
What those stories fail to tell you is how the end of licencing will actually affect you, and your MP3s.
Why are people saying MP3 is dead?
On 23 April 2017, the foundation which owns the patent for the MP3 codec announced that “Technicolor's mp3 licensing program for certain mp3 related patents and software of Technicolor and Fraunhofer IIS has been terminated.”
In fact, other companies also claim to have the patent for MP3, but all have now expired.
What does this mean?
Essentially, it means products released in the future won’t support MP3 files. The announcement from Faunhofer admits “most state-of-the-art media services such as streaming or TV and radio broadcasting use modern ISO-MPEG codecs such as the AAC family or in the future MPEG-H. Those can deliver more features and a higher audio quality at much lower bitrates compared to mp3.”
However, what’s important is what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that your collection of MP3 files is now redundant.
It doesn’t mean your car stereo will stop playing MP3 music, or that you’ll have to convert them to another format.
Ultimately, MP3 files will be around for a long time yet and will still be playable by a huge variety of devices.
Do I need to do anything?
Not immediately. If your entire music collection is in MP3 format, you’ll still be able to listen for years as long as you have a device that supports the format.
It’s a little like audio cassettes. If you own a Walkman or a hi-fi with a tape deck, then you can still use them. But there are better-quality formats you’ll probably prefer to use.
And similarly, just as there’s no point in converting a tape recording to a digital format for preservation, it doesn’t really make sense to convert MP3 files to, say AAC.
It’s better to find the original source of the MP3s – say an audio CD – and re-rip it to AIFF, WAV or another lossless format.
If you don’t have the storage space for uncompressed files, then go for AAC which is fast becoming the lossy standard to replace MP3.