The Reason your Music Player doesnít only play five Songs
By Sean Boyd
Many people take music for granted. Music on CDís, music downloaded from the internet, and music on your iPod. But many people donít know about the technology behind being able to play your favorite songs and put them on your portable music player in no time at all. What makes all that possible is a form of audio called MP3.
MP3 is a type of audio compression, in other words, a way audio can be played and stored digitally on a computer or a player like an iPod. MP3 means MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3. MP3 audio compression was invented by a team of engineers directed by the Fraunhofer Society, Germany, in 1991 (MP3, Wikipedia). Itís a type of lossy audio compression, meaning that it loses at least a little of itís quality, and was made to be small.
How are MP3ís different from other audio files? What makes it small and so fast? MP3ís, when encoded, can reduce to around 1/10 of their original size. What MP3ís do is that they discard sounds that people canít hear normally. They donít completely discard them, since that would sound very strange (with the audio fading in and out), but instead they lower the quality of the sounds that arenít important. MP3 encoders can find which sounds are more important than other sounds, or which sounds are masked by other sounds (MP3, Wikipedia). These sounds are then made to be lower quality, and the lower the quality of something, the smaller the file size!
MP3ís may seem like the greatest thing since sliced bread, and in many ways it is, but there are some limitations and deficiencies to the technology. There is no way to determine encode/decode time for MP3ís, and it takes a long time. Sound files always have bit rates. The higher the bit rate, the higher the quality, and the bigger the file size. If you want a really high quality MP3 file, you may not be able to get it. MP3ís have a maximum bit rate of 320 kbit/s (MP3, Wikipedia), so it canít be very high quality. MP3ís also always lose at least some quality, and then, once that quality is lost, it canít be retrieved.
MP3ís, because of the technology they use to categorize sounds in quality, canít handle random or sudden sounds such as applause very well, and "compression artifacts (i.e., sounds that were not present in the original recording) may appear in the reproductionĒ such as ďringing or pre-echoĒ (MP3, Wikipedia). MP3ís are good in terms of quality and player availability. The algorithm (the way the MP3 encoder encodes MP3s) is not perfect, but no compression algorithm is. In fact, compression is often synonymous with being lower in quality and not being perfect.
Because MP3ís are so good, they have become popular very quickly, and have become standardized just as quickly. This caused there to be a wide variety of players, so almost anything can play an MP3. This includes hardware such as MP3 players and Stereo Players and software. MP3ís are very popular and well known, but more by the files themselves, and not the compression algorithm. They were made popular mostly by the programs made to play them, like the early players such as Winamp and Napster (MP3, Wikipedia), and the modern programs such as Real One Player and Windows Media Player.
MP3ís have really paved the way for streaming media over the internet and portable media, like CD players and MP3 players. People donít have to worry about how much more space they have on their hard drives for music, because of how small the files can be. All of this is because of the MP3.
ďMP3Ē OGG vs. MP3 vs. WMA vs. RA. March, 2002. 5 April, 2006. <http://ekei.com/audio/>
ďMP3 LimitationsĒ Behind the mask. May 2000. Paul Sellars. Sound on Sound. 5 April 2006. <http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/may00/articles/mp3.htm>
ďMP3Ē MP3. 1 April 2006. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 4 April 2006. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/mp3>