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MP3 Format Dead, But Not Gone

A German foundation that owns the patent for the MP3 audio file format recently announced that it would stop licensing it, which is about as close as it gets to an official death warrant in the tech world.

But obsolescence is a slow disease, and the MP3 will live on for some time. It helped usher in the music-ripping subculture in middle schools and high schools around the country in the 1990s, and the vast collections of digital albums that many people amassed—and sometimes shared illegally online—aren't going anywhere.

But the decision of the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits to end its licensing program is still noteworthy as an acknowledgement that MP3s are—like many of the Pentium III processors that first encoded them—relics.

As of April 23, Fraunhofer is no longer issuing licenses for certain MP3-related patents, likely following a drop in demand thanks to the proliferation of other encoding formats like Advanced Audio Coding (AAC). Bernhard Grill, a Fraunhofer director and one of the principals in the development of the MP3, told NPR that AAC is now the "de facto standard for music download and videos on mobile phones."

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And it is those mobile phones (smartphones, to be exact) that arguably bear greater responsibility for the MP3's demise than its inferior audio quality. With the rise of Spotify, cell phone plans with unlimited data, and services like T-Mobile's Binge On, many music listeners no longer care how their music is encoded because they can stream pretty much any song they want for a fixed monthly fee.

So it mostly falls to audiophiles who haven't yet ripped their entire CD collection (or, for that matter, their vinyl collection) to carry on the MP3 torch, and even they aren't likely to choose MP3s for future rips, given the proliferation of better encoding options.

To commemorate the end of MP3's reign with a bit of nostalgia, check out our Top 10 Buying Tips for MP3 & Digital Music Players and 10 Weirdest MP3 Players Ever.

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