Is MP3 still a valid digital file choice?

Is MP3 Still Relevant?



Hard to remember the early days of CD ripping, for us around sixteen years ago. It was the Apple iPod introduction that gave us to spur to launch but that wasn’t the first portable music player. Prior to Apple several companies were selling players - ranging from Sony through Phillips and a host of companies that have since disappeared. Certainly Apple has been the only company to make a huge success of the portable play device.

In the early days the drive was to fit as much music as possible into the unit. Solid state memory was expensive and in short supply; tiny hard drives were available but also costly. Hence people needing to compress music. At the outset Apple went with 128 kbps AAC as their default setting. People were, I think, just glad to be able to listen to music on the move. Quality was a secondary consideration. With those original ear buds and the background noise of trains and traffic listeners didn’t expect much.

When I listened to the same track at 128 and then at 256 kbps AAC even I could hear the difference. So that became our new standard. Very few people baulked at better music, computer hard drives were getting both bigger and cheaper, later model iPods had even bigger drives inside.

I can walk to our local Argos and buy a 1Tb drive for around £50. People use better headphones. The iPod has really faded as the listening device of choice, it’s much more Sonos and higher end audio. Now our standard is lossless - either Apple Lossless (ALAC) or FLAC. Collections have grown, our average order size was unimaginable when we started, people want quality and the certainty of not having to rip their collections again.

In today’s world is the MP3 digital music file format dead? We think not.

CD Quality


People want to hear from their digital library equivalent quality to playing a CD on a good player. The term “CD quality” means that standard is met. There are several file standards to which that label can be applied - AIFF, ALAC, FLAC and MP3 320kbps. The old faithful format stands should to shoulder with these alternatives.

Swiss Army Knife of Music


Having had your CDs ripped you won’t want to go through that pain again. Understandably some people feel uneasy being tied to Apple and their corporate whims, or the risk of neglect in an open source file type (FLAC). You can be sure that anything that plays digital music will play MP3.

Loud Music in Cars


As music lovers there’s been times when we’ve struggled with some of the hardware and software intended to help us enjoy the music on our CDs. Vehicle manufacturers take this to a whole new level. Gone are the predictable days of cassette tape, CD slots, multi-CD players. Often you have a USB socket, or even an SD card. We’ve had clients struggling to get anything to play in their car. Our first piece of advice is to swap from whatever format they’ve been trying, to MP3. Typically that will work. It may not be the whole solution but it’s a great starting point.

Convertibility


Maybe at some point you will need to make a file format move. Indeed if you look back through the (relatively brief) history of digital music there are some music file formats that are distant relics. Does anyone remember Sony’s ATRAC format? Music on those minidiscs? It is possible that at some point you’ll want to move on. That might not be easy - try handling FLAC on an Apple Mac today. But it will always be possible to convert MP3 files because without this feature no product will have sufficient market appeal to be viable.

Your Way Ahead?


Like most clients if you opt for ALAC or FLAC you won’t be disappointed. But don’t dismiss MP3 out of hand, ripped at 320 kbps the sound is every bit as good and there are other potential benefits too.