It’s true. The creators of the MP3, a German research institute, have terminated their patents and disavowed the file type moving forward. For 20 years, the MP3 has been nearly synonymous with digital music, and a driving force in the rise of music after the demise of audio cassettes. At EverPresent, we use MP3s for all of our audio transfers.
What does this mean for your current iTunes library, or any tapes that you have converted over to MP3?
Actually, it’s not such a big problem. the MP3 format, by technological standards, is antediluvian, and there are already file types that have begun to take the place of the MP3.
For example, the music you are downloading right now in iTunes is not MP3, but AAC (‘Advanced Audio Coding’) format. However, both iTunes and Windows Media Player, default software programs that come with nearly every computer, are capable of playing multiple format types, and iTunes easily converts between the format types.
So don’t expect the transition away from MP3 files to be disruptive from a technological standpoint. We frequently get asked about the next format and whether converting to digital is just going to be a temporary fix before moving onto the next format. This is a legitimate concern for families who have already converted their home movies from film reel to VHS and are now thinking about another conversion.
However, once the files are digital, that conversion process becomes much easier, even seamless, given the robust software programs that handle these media files. We always tell our clients that the next conversion will just be a software update, which is exactly what is happening with the MP3.
Is there a quality difference between MP3 files and newer files?
Yes, MP3 files are technically inferior to newer formats like m4a and AAC, which is largely the reason they are being replaced. However, as far as old audio tapes and reel-to-reel recordings, there won’t be a detectable difference. The quality difference is most evident in professionally produced recordings.
Old family recordings were generally done on old consumer technology. Combine that with general wear and tear from age and the distinction in file types is negligible for your family audio tapes.
The decommissioning of the MP3 is largely symbolic. The formats will still be able to play on software for many years to come, and switching between file types is little more than the click of a button. Still, losing something as ubiquitous as MP3 files underscores the changing landscape of media formats. In the past, as one format eclipsed the next, it came with a host of new technology. Thankfully, as we are now in a digital age, the changes will all be software, rather than hardware.