Why is the MP3 audio format still the most popular today? Why have other formats like M4A, OGG, WAV, and AAC not taken over?
If you want to know all about MP3 and why it's still dominating the audio space, this article is for you. We'll also cover other things, including how to open, convert, send, compress, and edit them.
MP3 is short for ISO MPEG Audio Layer 3. The file format was created by the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits in 1982, which makes it one of the first standard audio formats. MPEG released it in 1993 and it went on to become the main music format in use.
Being an early audio format doesn't mean it's lost its uses. Since its introduction, it has garnered success after success, and is still the first choice for most people, devices, and programs.
By the time personal computers became a thing in the 90s, the MP3 file format already had support from many programs and players.
The MP3 audio file uses a lossy compression algorithm to decrease the original audio file size. It uses the layer 3 compression framework to facilitate this file size reduction. And because that compression removes original data from the file and is irreversible, it is known as lossy compression.
Lossy audio files get rid of parts of the original file and means that a reduction in sound quality can occur. The morethe audio file is compressed, the more quality is lost.
Lossless formats on the other hand maintain sound quality better. That's because this type of compression focuses on preserving data. Essentially, data will be rearranged to reduce file size without deleting anything important.
Every file type has some kind of compression algorithm going on to help conserve storage, whether it's an image, video or audio.
For example, a lossless Waveform Audio (WAV) file of 4 minutes can be compressed and still be 40 MB but a lossy MP3 file of the same duration can be compressed to 4 MB.
That said, you won't easily notice the difference with your human ears, even though the file may not be playable on some frequencies.
MP3 files do come with high audio quality because the degree of compression can be controlled. The file’s bitrate determines its sound quality.
The bit rate is the amount of data transferred into the audio file at any given point. So, the higher the bit rate, the more information an audio file carries. That translates to higher sound quality for higher bit rates.
However, MP3 compression uses the limitations of the human ear to its advantage. Since you’ll only appreciate sounds you listen to, there’s no point maintaining frequencies that your ears can’t detect.
To put things in technical context, the human ear is only capable of listening to frequencies that fall within 20 Hz and 20 kHz. Anything outside that range will be inaudible. So, the MP3 compression algorithm gets rid of the inaudible parts of the sound to significantly reduce file size.
MP3 has evolved over the years to remain the favorite audio format for almost every device. It offers many different perks, chief of which is its file size. Let's cover the reasons for the audio format's popularity.
The main perk that shot the MP3 format to mainstream popularity was its ability to significantly conserve space without losing noticeable quality.
Storage space was a concern for computers in the 90s, so it made sense that people preferred a format that took up less space.
Original compact disc (CD) audio files of 5 minutes could be as large as 50 MB on average, depending on sound content. That’s because original CD-recording could cover 10.09 MB per minute. With MP3, you can reduce the size to 5 MB as it covers about 1 MB per minute.
Even with the staggering progress in storage technology today, MP3 remains the de facto audio format mostly because of this perk. It’s easier to distribute over the Internet, and even streaming giants like Spotify still stick to the format.
Despite the argument that MP3 lacks a lot in terms of quality, it's about the most practical audio formats around for audio consumption.
The format manages to attain a 320 Kbps bit rate, which offers great clarity and is quite good for human consumption.
Audio files are converted to MP3 before they're massively distributed over the Internet through download or streaming. That's because their small size allows you to stream music and audiobooks with little to no disruption as long as you have a stable enough Internet connection.
MPEG allowed MP3 to be a free standard audio format since May 2017 after discontinuing licensing. As a result, MP3 files can be further developed and edited by anyone and without legal or technical restrictions.
This free standard nature makes MP3 less error-prone, more advanced, and more versatile than other closed-sourced formats.
You can easily include metadata to the MP3 file, including album, artist, and title name without increasing the filename.
MP3s have few disadvantages. For one, it encourages piracy since anyone can edit audio files.
You can't encrypt or encode rules regarding copyright, so audio files can be pirated and redistributed without royalty to artists and record labels.
However, this is now a non-issue since record labels have found a way to maintain funding.
Another problem with MP3 is its quality. While we've praised MP3s for being practical in terms of quality, they can further reduce audio quality depending on the level of compression. Aggressive compression could lead to noticeable audio quality loss and ruin the media experience.
Native media players on almost every smartphone and computer can open MP3 files with ease. Even your e-reader should be able to play MP3 files since most audiobooks are distributed in the format.
MacOS and Windows users can play MP3 files without needing a third-party application. On MacBooks,iTunes plays MP3 files without issues and Windows Media Player can run the file on Windows PCs.
You just have to double-click the file and your media player will start playing the audio.
The same goes with mobile devices, whether you're using an iPhone, iPad, tablet, or any Android device.
You may be considering converting your MP3 files to other lossless audio formats because you want better audio quality.
However, you'll hardly notice significant changes after converting your MP3 file to WAV after it's already been compressed. That's because it permanently removes data that the WAV format would have otherwise preserved.
If you still want to go ahead for any reason, you can easily use the VLC media player whether you want to convert MP3 to WAV or convert MP3 to OGG.
Follow these steps to use the VLC player to convert your MP3:
- Launch the VLC media player.
- Click on Media in the top-left corner and select Convert/Save or click on CTRL + R.
- Once the Open Media window appears, drag the MP3 file to the File Selection box or click the Add button and select file.
- After that, click on Convert/Save.
- Once the Convert page shows up, click on the Spanner icon next to Profile.
- Enter a profile name in the Profile Name box and select the format you want to convert the file to.
- Click on the Create button after selecting your preferred format.
Apart from VLC, you can use online converters such as FreeConvert or Zamzar. All you have to do is open the website, upload the file, choose your preferred format, then click on Convert.
You can also convert other lossless audio formats to MP3 to reduce file size. You can use the same VLC media player or any of the online converters we mentioned.
You don't have to be a sound engineer or production manager to edit and split MP3 files. You also don't need advanced audio software to manipulate audio files.
Whether you want to merge or split MP3 files, there are simple, free tools that you can use. They include:
Windows also has a cool way of merging two MP3 files together. You can easily do that using the command prompt. Follow these steps:
- Open the Start menu, search for CMD, and open Command Prompt as an administrator.
- Click on the Yes button in the UAC dialog.
- After the command line interface appears, enter the following line and hit the Enter keyboard button:
The command changes your current folder to the Downloads folder. We're using this folder because that's where we assume the music file is located. Replace it with the folder where you saved the MP3 on your computer.
- Next, enter the following command and hit Enter afterwards:
copy /b file1.mp3 + file2.mp3 mergedfile.mp3
Windows will now merge file1.mp3 with file2.mp3 into the file called mergedfile.mp3, as you've indicated.
Note that you can merge more than 2 MP3 files as long as you keep separating them with the + parameter in the command.
That's how to edit MP3 files and split them.
The Apple ecosystem is almost completely walled off to the rest of the digital world, leaving users with slim options when it comes to consuming media.
Before iOS 13, there used to be no way to download an MP3 file directly from your iPhone browser to your phone and sync it with iTunes like you can do with an Android device.
But now it can be done with a few steps.Let's start with Apple Music.
- Launch your iPhone's Apple Music app.
- Use the search option in the bottom-right corner to look for the song.
- Hit the Add icon next to the music and add it to your library.
- Now, go to the Library at your screen's bottom-left corner to view the songs you'd like to download.
- After that, go to the right side of the song and click on the cloud icon with a down-facing arrow. If you've enabled automatic downloads, the songs are already saved on your phone and you won't see the cloud icon.
You can also use the iTunes app on your computer to download files and sync them to your phone's music library. This, like the Apple Music app, works if you have a subscription.
- Open the iTunes app on your PC.
- Make sure the iCloud Music Library is enabled. Follow these steps if it isn’t:
- Select the Edit menu on a Windows PC or the iTunes menu on macOS.
- Click on Preference and go to the General tab.
- Check the box beside "iCloud Music Library and click on OK.
- Now, use the search bar in the app's top-right corner to find the song you want to download.
- Next, use the Add button to add the playlist or album to your library.
- The song will now be available on your phone and you can download it.
If you don't want to use Apple Music or iTunes, you can download the MP3 files on your PC and transfer themto your phone.
However, since iOS 13, you can now download files directly to your Downloads folder in your phone.
You may want to share large MP3 files to someone in a remote location and email may not be the right option due to attachment restrictions. As you know, you can't transfer files larger than 25 MB on email clients like Yahoo Mail and Google Drive.
There are other great alternatives though. You can use cloud storage services like Google Drive, Dropbox, or OneDrive.
That said, you may need to subscribe to a monthly plan if you've exhausted your free storage allowance on any of those platforms.
However, if you're avoiding cloud storage services that require subscriptions, you can go for FileWhopper.
FileWhopper allows you to send files or folders of any size to anyone over the Internet. Your first 5 GB of transfers is free, and when you have to pay, you don't need to commit to a recurrent subscription.
You only pay for what you transfer and the process is smooth and straightforward.
There are other perks to using the service. For starters, your recipient can start downloading the file once you initiate the transfer. That means they don't have to wait until the file is completely uploaded, reducing significant time.
Next is security. FileWhopper uses zero-knowledge encryption technology to ensure your privacy is protected and your files are safe. This way, no one, not even the FileWhopper team, can see or intercept the contents of your files. The service's tiny app encrypts your files and provides a password which you share to the recipient to decrypt the files.
Transfer speeds are fast too. FileWhopper uses multi-threaded tech to ensure super-fast transfers. It uses multiple servers to transfer different parts of your files simultaneously.
Also, you can continue uploading or downloading your files after you lose connection or your device goes off. So, you don't have to panic if your 5 TB transfer suddenly stops transferring after 2 TB.
Now you know what MP3 files are and how to open, convert, edit, split, merge, and send them.