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What is MP3?
MP3, short for Moving Picture Experts Group, Audio Layer III is a compression format that compresses audio files with only a small sacrifice in sound quality. Digital music (e.g. from a CD) can be compressed into MP3 files at different rates, but the higher the compression, the lower the sound quality. A typical MP3 compression ratio of 10:1 is equal to about 1 MB for each minute of an MP3 song, thus MP3s can be easily archived on a hard drive or transferred via the Internet.

The Short History of MP3
It all began in the mid-1980s, at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, where work began on developing a high quality, low bit-rate audio format. In 1989, Fraunhofer was granted a patent for the MP3 compression format in Germany and a few years later it was submitted to the International Standards Organization (ISO), and integrated into the MPEG-1 specification.

Frauenhofer also developed the first MP3 player in the early 1990s, which was the first attempt at developing an MP3 player. In 1997, a developer at Advanced Multimedia Products created the AMP MP3 Playback Engine, which is regarded as the first mainstream MP3 player to hit the Internet. Shortly after, a couple of creative university students took the Amp engine, added a user-friendly Windows interface and called it Winamp. The turning point was in 1998, when Winamp was offered to the public as a free music player, and thus began the MP3 craze.

How does MP3 work?
As a form of compression, MP3 is based on a psycho-acoustic model which recognizes that the human ear cannot hear all the audio frequencies on a recording. The human hearing range is between 20 Hz to 20 KHz and it is most sensitive between 2 to 4 KHz. When sound is compressed into an MP3 file, an attempt is made to get rid of the frequencies that can't be heard. As such, this is known as 'destructive' compression. After a file is compressed, the data that is eliminated in the creation of the MP3 cannot be replaced.

When encoding a file into MP3, a variety of compression levels can be set. For instance, an MP3 created with 128 Kbit compression will be of a greater quality and larger file size than that of a 56 Kbit compression. The more the compression level decreases, the lesser the sound quality. Ultimately, the benefits of MP3 compression mean that people can back up their music collection onto hard disc or burn their own music selections onto CDs which hold over 100 songs.

How did these little files cause such a huge stir?
No doubt about it: MP3s are one of the most exciting developments in the history of recorded music. That's why:

  • They're online. MP3s are ideal for Internet distribution because they sound great, they download in a moment and there are plenty available online.
  • You can make your own MP3s. Anyone can create MP3 files from their own CD collections. Check out our MP3TagEditor encoding and CD ripping functionalities to create your own MP3s.
  • You can listen to MP3s on portable MP3 players. Such portable MP3 players are tiny.
  • MP3 is the format of choice. Unlike other proprietary formats such as Liquid Audio and Windows Media Audio, MP3 is an open standard, i.e. no one corporation controls it. For this reason, there are more MP3 listeners.
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