What is MP3?
Advantages and Disadvantages
of the Most Popular Audio Format
The MP3 format is characterized by high-quality sound requiring a comparatively small volume on the storage medium. The majority of audio files available today are in MP3 format and almost all players and computer systems support it. Learn what the MP3 format is all about, how to best use it, and what the advantages and disadvantages of MP3 files are.
What is an MP3 file?
MP3 is the abbreviation for ISO MPEG Audio Layer 3. Since its development in 1982 at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits with significant participation by Karlheinz Brandenburg, the MP3 format has enjoyed unprecedented success. It was one of the first standardized audio file formats and quickly showed its advantages in practice. When the PC made its way into households in the early 90s, there were already programs that could play the audio format. The small storage capacity that the format used on a disk was one of the great advantages of MP3 and still makes the file format the first choice when it comes to storing and sharing music.
The main principle of the MP3 file is based on the high compression of the original music file. It belongs to the so-called lossy audio formats. In practical terms, this means that the MP3 file contains less data than, for example, the original audio file on a music CD. This is not audible to the human ear, because it is only able to perceive sounds in a certain frequency range. The degree of compression of an MP3 file can also be adjusted during conversion. The higher the bit rate, the better the sound quality. The bit rate defines how much data in the file is processed per second. A bit rate of 192 kbps approximately corresponds to the quality of the original audio CD.
Side note: An overview on sound quality
Different bit rates are often used for different storage media. But what is the sound quality like at which bit rate?
The MP3 format:
Success with both pros and cons
The MP3 format offers other advantages alongside its small file size, however, it isn't entirely suitable for all purposes. First, the advantages: MP3 has been available for free as a standard format since 2017 when the developers discontinued licensing in May of that year. The format can consequently be edited and further developed by anyone. Free standards are generally more advanced and less error-prone than formats whose source code is only known by their programmers.
You can also add metadata to an MP3 file, including title, artist, album name – any information that is important for finding your music. Adding this information to the metadata reduces the length of the file name. Then, these can have short names, since during playback and when searching all the necessary information is available via the metadata.
In practice, MP3 offers advantages because the files can be streamed easily and usually without disruptions over the Internet as a result of their small size. This allows you to easily distribute your music without technical difficulties.
In comparison to that, there are only a few disadvantages. For example, the audio quality is only minimally reduced through the omission of the inaudible data. The audible quality loss is closely related to the set bit rate. Using a low bit rate indeed causes a noticeable loss of quality. The process of compression can also introduce errors into a file, such as noise or crackling.
How do I convert audio files into MP3 format?
These reasons are why MP3 is less suitable for recordings in a recording studio or on a home computer, for example. The FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) format is more suitable here: FLAC files are compressed as well, which means that the data is not processed in its original form. However, the FLAC format does encode audio files without any loss of data. During compression, the audio signal is not changed as is the case with the MP3 format, but rather the representation of the original data. This requires less storage space and retains the original data.
One alternative is the WAV file format, which stores recordings without loss of quality. However, these files take up a lot of space on a storage medium. Important: Once recordings are saved in MP3 format, the quality can no longer be improved. That's why it makes more sense to choose an uncompressed or lossless file format and then convert it.
Conversion can be performed directly on the computer using a range of different software. There are numerous programs available for this task, one example of which is MAGIX MP3 deluxe. Using this program, you can convert all standard audio formats into MP3 files.