The MP3 is dead?

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When I read this week that the MP3 is dead, I had a moment of panic. As the SharePoint design expert for MindActive, my experience with audio files has been limited almost exclusively to personal use. I have an MP3 player in a drawer at home somewhere, but I rarely use it (just like my mother and a host of friends and relatives – I imagine many people are in the same boat as me). When I listen to music or audio files, I go old-school with a radio or CD, stream it from my phone, or load up a podcast on my tablet. With minimal knowledge of audio file formats, my immediate reaction was “what does this mean for me?”

The short answer, after research, is that MP3s aren’t going anywhere. Yes, there are more modern, advanced, efficient files, using Advanced Audio Coding (AAC), MPEG-H, or Opus. Yes, the founders and funders of the MP3 have terminated licensing for MP3 patents. However, that doesn’t mean the world needs to drop MP3s like they’re Windows 97 and leap to AAC. While the MP3 format is older, it’s still stable and functional, and for personal music collections, it’s virtually indistinguishable from newer formats.

Even some professional usage works better with MP3s! With sound-only products like podcasts, AAC isn’t as widely supported as MP3s, so to ensure audio files can reach the maximum number of audiences, MP3s are still the format of choice. Streaming music and sound with video makes sense with AAC given its benefits over MP3s, but AAC is also still under patent – that means there are additional inconveniences with usage, including taxes, restrictions for support, etc. MP3 is like the JPEG of audio files; it’s almost universally supported, works for almost every use, and is unencumbered by the restrictions newer formats use.

Here at MindActive, we don’t just support SharePoint (my area of expertise) – we also work with audio files, from voice-overs on web sites to video with sound. When I asked our resident audio expert, Byron Sletten, how we handle audio in our products, it was quite the education! The goal for any professional audio recording is to record in the best possible format with the least compression. From there, we can compress into whatever file format best suits our needs. We may be in a transition period (like with DVDs, Blu-Ray, and streaming video, where multiple formats are fighting for supremacy); the future of audio delivery may be multiple formats, or we may see a clear shift over the years (like VHS to…anything else). Video is going ultra-high-resolution with 4K graphics, so audio may follow suit. In the meantime, we just need to stay adaptable and roll with the changes as they come.

With so many audio options available, and none going away any time soon, that shouldn’t be a problem!

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