The History of the Mp3 File Format

by : Jason Cole



If you have listened to music on your computer, then there's no doubt that you have come into contact with an MP3 file or two. Most people do not know much about MP3s besides that they are files used to store music data on. Basically that's all they are, a way to store audio data on a computer. Well, let me tell you, MP3s are that, but there's a bit more to them. Today I will be taking you through a tour of the history and the ins and outs of the MP3 file format.

What is an MP3?
An MP3 files, also know as an MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3, is a form of digital audio encoding and lossy compression format. It was designed by a team of European engineers to reduce audio file size, while staying as true as possible to the sound quality of the original uncompressed recording. This is achieved by using psychoacoustic models to eliminate parts of the audio that are not audible to the human ear, saving the parts of the audio that we can hear. The MP3 can be saved in different compression modes, allowing flexibility in data size/quality. This is one of the reasons why the MP3 format is the most widely used audio file format.

The History of the MP3
The MP3 was developed by the German company Fraunhofer-Gesellshaft, and also hold the patent for MP3 technology, which they license out now. In 1987 the Fraunhofer Institut Integrierte Schaltungen research center, part of Fraunhofer-Gesellshaft, began research on high quality, low bit rate audio encoding. They named this project EUREKA EU147. Dieter Seitzer, professor at the University of Erlangen, helped with the coding. At the time he was working on a way to transfer audio file information over a standard telephone line. The main brain behind the development of the MP3 was Karlheinz Brandenburg; also know as the "father of the MP3". He was a mathematics and electronics specialist who had been researching compression methods since 1977. Fraunhofer was granted a patent to the technology in April 1989. According to Brandenburg, the MP3 file format almost did not exist. In 1991, during modification test, the encoding did not want to work. But luckily two days before the submission of the first version of the MP3 codec, they identified and solved the compiler error. 1993 saw the publication of the MPEG-1 standard, with the updated MPEG-2 standard developed and published a year later. One small relatively unknown fact is that in 1999, the record label Sub-Pop was the first record label to distribute their music as MP3s online.

In this article, I did not go too much into the technical details of the MP3 file format. This was meant to give you a simple history of the MP3 file, where it came from, who was involved in its invention, and where it is now. I hope you all gained at least a little knowledge and understanding into the world of the MP3.