Entertainment Technology Explained

How Will the “Death of MP3” Affect You?

Khamosh Pathak 18-05-2017

If you grew up in the 1990s or 2000s, you might have a special connection with the audio format known as MP3. MP3s were the audio format of choice for the ordinary person, audiophiles notwithstanding.


Whether you were ripping a CD onto your computer, downloading an album from iTunes Alternatives to iTunes: 5 Best Free Music Players for macOS Unless you have no choice but to use iTunes, you should consider switching to one of these iTunes alternatives for Mac. Read More , pirating a song online, or simply copying your friend’s meticulously crafted song collection, you probably chose MP3. Which is why the recent “MP3 is dead” headlines might have unsettled you.

The good news is that, contrary to headlines, the humble MP3 isn’t actually dead. This isn’t the apocalypse, your locally stored songs will still play perfectly well, you’ll still be able to rip CDs, and distribute podcasts Streamline Your Podcast Production in Audacity With 3 Easy Tips Making podcasts is fun, but the post-production stage can be time-consuming. If you're using Audacity to edit your podcasts, these three tips can help you save a lot of time. Read More as MP3s to boot.

What’s the truth behind the headlines? Let us fill you in.

The MP3 Isn’t Dead

mp3 dead

The MP3’s beginnings date back to the late 1980s. The audio format was developed by Fraunhofer ISS, a company in Germany. Since then, we’ve seen MP3s take over the audio world. MP3s are nearly ubiquitous when it comes to storing and playing audio. It is the de facto standard. If you have a piece of hardware or software that can play audio, it can play MP3. From the stereo in your car, to the music player on your phone.


On April 23, 2017 — around a month before the apocalyptic headlines emerged — the MP3 became a patent-free technology in the U.S. All that really happened is that the last of the MP3 patents expired. MP3 isn’t dead, it’s just no longer profitable to its patent holders, the aforementioned Fraunhofer ISS.

How Misinformation Spreads

mp3 dead google news

What we saw here (with the inflammatory “RIP MP3” headlines) was a classic case of publications rewriting a company’s press release, without doing their own research. It doesn’t take a lot to start this chain of misinformation. First, a popular/traditional publication takes the company’s account at face value (without questioning the company’s motivation or incentive to spin a narrative). They make it worse by adding a clickbait headline completely devoid of context.

Other, smaller publications then dive in for clicks, picking the story up as it is, without doing any due diligence. And in a couple of hours your social media feeds are filled with panic over the supposed death of a beloved audio format.


In 2017, this happens way too often. We live in a world where we can’t even agree what the term “fake news” means What Is Fake News and How Does It Spread So Quickly? Fake news is plaguing the internet and the worst part is that most people can't recognize it when they see it. Read More . This story is another lesson in how we should do a bit of digging Faux News: 10 Best Websites for Fake News & Satire Read More on our own before sharing articles with eye-catching headlines. Follow the source, try to weigh the motivation of both the source and the publication before you decide which opinion or fact to believe.

How the Real MP3 Story Affects You

imac with speakers

The truth is that technologies don’t die when its creators declare it dead (unless it’s a piece of software such as Yik Yak Yik Yak, the Anonymous Messaging App, Is Dead Yik Yak, the anonymous messaging app beloved and loathed on university campuses in equal measures, is no more. Will anyone miss Yik Yak? Probably not. Read More ). They also don’t die when the patents expire. In fact, the opposite is often true. Technologies die of obsolescence. The internet and we, the people will decide when it’s dead. And MP3 isn’t anywhere near that point in its life cycle.

Windows XP is supposedly dead, but it’s still being used by millions of people all around the world (and is still a target of ransomware The Global Ransomware Attack and How to Protect Your Data A massive cyberattack has struck computers around the globe. Have you been affected by the highly virulent self-replicating ransomware? If not, how can you protect your data without paying the ransom? Read More ). Pepe the Frog’s founder had a funeral for the chracter last month but that doesn’t mean people will stop using it as a meme. Just like a meme, you can’t kill a technology.


The patents for GIFs expired 10 years ago, and GIFs became popular after the fact This Lesser-Known YouTube Trick Turns Videos Into GIFs Did you know that YouTube has a built-in feature that lets you make short GIFs from videos? Here's how it works. Read More . The JPEG format for viewing images was also developed around the same time as MP3. And it’s still alive and kicking. You’ll see JPEG images all over the web (even though when it comes to sharpness and transparent background retention, PNGs are superior JPEG, GIF, or PNG? Image Filetypes Explained and Tested Do you know the differences between JPEGs, GIFs, PNGs, and other image filetypes? Do you know when you should use one instead of the other? Fear not, MakeUseOf explains everything! Read More ).

Just like GIFs and JPEGs, MP3s will stay alive and well until it genuinely outlives its usefulness. So no, iTunes will not suddenly stop playing your music collection tomorrow. And you’ll still be able to buy songs as MP3s (if you haven’t already switched to streaming).

Up Next: The MP3 Renaissance

Until now, Fraunhofer ISS has earned some money every time someone licensed their technology. Which means they got a cut for every iPod sold, and every piece of software that played MP3s. Now, that has changed. Hardware and software makers no longer need to pay Fraunhofer ISS a cut of their sales. MP3 is now free and open to use.


Just like the GIF or 3D Printing Ultimate Beginner's Guide to 3D Printing 3D printing was supposed to be the new "Industrial Revolution." It hasn't taken over the world yet, but I'm here to talk you through everything you need to know to get started. Read More , this could mean that the use of the MP3 format is about to mushroom. App developers that wouldn’t include MP3 support before, now can. Because the technology is free to tinker with, we will see new, novel, and interesting use cases.

Will MP3 Be Replaced?

When Fraunhofer ISS declared the MP3 “dead,” one of the reasons it gave was that the MP3 format is old and so can’t keep up with newer, better formats. The company mentioned AAC as a frontrunner for replacing MP3 (a format for which Fraunhofer ISS still has a patent for). And AAC actually is a good codec. It takes up less space and it’s being used by streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music Amazon Music vs. Spotify vs. Apple Music: Which Is Best for You? This comparison of Amazon Music Unlimited, Apple Music, and Spotify, will help you find the best music streaming service for you. Read More .

However, there are a few reasons why AAC might not be our audio savior. It’s better only when you’re playing at low bit-rates. On anything over 128 kbps it’s difficult to spot the difference. Second, AAC’s space saving isn’t hugely helpful. I mean, these days, you spend two MP3 songs worth of bandwidth just when you visit a major tech website’s homepage (and multiples of that when you stream a YouTube video The YouTube Starter Kit: 20 YouTubers Worth Watching There's a treasure trove of original content on YouTube. However, it's difficult to know where to begin. Let us help you with our list of 20 YouTubers that form the perfect YouTube starter kit. Read More ). AAC isn’t this epic, next-generation format. It’s based on MP3 and has a lot in common with our supposedly dearly departed friend. Lastly, AAC requires a licensing fee. While MP3 no longer does.

From where we’re sitting, it seems like MP3 isn’t dead at all. In fact, MP3 is still a mere toddler.

What do you think about the “MP3 is dead” saga? Do you have a personal connection with this audio format? Do you think there’s a better alternative out there that can replace MP3? Something that’s infinitely better? Please share your thoughts in the comments below

Image Credit: ciud via Shutterstock

Related topics: Audiophiles, Fake News, iTunes, MP3, Streaming Music.

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  1. Dave Kennerly
    May 29, 2018 at 4:53 am

    MP3 is great if you are listening on cheap speakers, earplugs, and the like, but there is too much data lost in its high levels of compression to qualify as high fidelity. For portable use, where high quality headphones or speakers are an impossibility, MP3 is more than adequate. As a substitute for CDs for home listening on a good-quality audio system, MP3s don't cut it.

    There is, however, an excellent alternative: FLAC. FLAC is lossless, therefore preserving 100% fidelity with the source (a CD, for example), yet still achieves fairly high levels of compression, although not nearly as high as MP3. Given the ever-increasing density (and decreasing cost) of memory and the ever-increasing speeds of Internet and Wi-Fi communication, the larger file-sizes and higher bandwidth requirements of FLAC will not likely be problematic.

    FLAC is still not widely supported, but that is changing. We'll see what happens.

  2. Joshua of Catholic Tech Tips
    May 26, 2017 at 8:13 pm

    The CD Player in my Honda uses MP3 which is fantastic!

  3. Ciryon
    May 19, 2017 at 10:44 am

    Spotify use OGG not AAC.

  4. watcher
    May 18, 2017 at 5:06 pm

    Ironically, your title is clickbait, too!

    • Fitzsip
      May 18, 2017 at 5:50 pm

      I don't see how the headline of this article is clickbait.

      It clearly states the claim that the death of MP3 is questionable, hence it is in quotation marks to indicate that the supposed death of an audio format is exaggerated.

      This article is what all the other actual clickbait news should have been about.

    • ReadandShare
      May 19, 2017 at 6:34 pm

      Agree with Fitzsip. Title is not click bait.

      But back to topic... called me old fashioned, but I like having a "collection" of music stored locally and in the cloud. And years ago, I standardized all my music to the MP3 format. I think (and hope) formats like MP3 for music and .XLS for spreadsheets will remain popular for decades to come.