MP3 audio quietly fades into history

You can still play your old MP3 files, but the format that owned the early days of digital audio is done.

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Neil Young and opinionated sound engineers everywhere have a reason to smile: The organization responsible for the MP3 audio format is closing the doors on its licensing program.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits recently announced that it and Technicolor would no longer license “patents and software” for the MP3 format. The licensing program officially ended on April 23.

“We thank all of our licensees for their great support in making mp3 the defacto audio codec in the world, during the past two decades,” the Fraunhofer Institute said. “Most state-of-the-art media services such as streaming or TV and radio broadcasting use modern ISO-MPEG codecs such as AAC and MPEG-H...those can deliver more features and a higher audio quality at much lower bitrates compared to mp3.”

Although Fraunhofer and Technicolor are giving up on MP3 licensing, they will still be involved with audio codecs. Both organizations have an interest in MPEG-H 3D Audio, a new audio codec, and Fraunhofer helped develop the aforementioned AAC.

While a trailblazer in digital audio, the MP3 was always controversial. Many critics derided the format for overly compressing recorded sound, reducing the quality of the recording. Neil Young even helped launch the Pono Player in 2015 as a revolt against low-quality digital music, including MP3s.

The impact on you at home: While MP3 licensing may be going away, the everyday use of MP3s isn’t going anywhere. MP3 files will continue to play as they always have, but like any technology, it will slowly fade away as more advanced options (such as AAC) become more widespread.

In many ways MP3 is already well and truly gone. As the Fraunhofer Institute noted in its announcement, AAC and other formats are commonly used on streaming services and in broadcasting, while MP3 is becoming less common. But you’ll be able to listen to your collection of ripped CDs and MP3 downloads for years to come.

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