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The Future of MP3 and Surround 409

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the keeping-an-old-favorite-alive dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Wired is running an article discussing the future of the MP3 format with the amount of competition out there, especially from the surround sound scene. Thompson, the entity that licenses the MP3 format, released the MP3 Surround format to try to combat this but will it be enough? From the article: 'It may seem as if the venerable MP3 standard is here to stay, but it faces attack from a number of angles. First, it doesn't sound as good, byte-for-byte, as files purchased from iTunes Music Store (in the AAC format) or any of the Microsoft-compliant stores. Second, the CD rippers/encoders that most people use -- iTunes and Windows Media Player -- have encouraged users to rip to AAC and WMA over the years. Third, only one major online music store, eMusic, proffers songs in the MP3 format, and it lacks most major releases. Fourth, geeks who love MP3 for its wide compatibility can now choose from preferable open-source alternatives such as Ogg Vorbis.'"
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The Future of MP3 and Surround

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  • by cr0m0 (952302) on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @05:30AM (#14766371) Homepage
    I think that open formats as ogg should have a better future if manufactures would offer more support to them. It's in our hand not to buy those gadgets that do not offer support to open formats.
    • "MP3 for its wide compatibility can now choose from preferable open-source alternatives such as Ogg Vorbis."

      There is no comparison... MP3 plays on anything (almost) right out of the box with no configuration, yet OGG only plays on a few devices, or software players.

      I know that you can get OGG to work in many players (both hardware and software), but MP3 just does.
    • I think that open formats as ogg should have a better future if manufactures would offer more support to them. It's in our hand not to buy those gadgets that do not offer support to open formats.

      OK. Then remind me what is wrong with flac that out of the box today supports up to 8 channels of sound and up to 32bit bit depth and up to 65,5350 (k)Hz sample rate? (Their FAQ must be wrong, because it says flac can only handle 65,5350 Hz rate, and I have 96 kHz files already).

      Its what I use exclusively for my m
      • Flacing files only about halves their size, most people won't bother with another format at all for so little. I only bother to use it for archieving large quantities of recordings I can't get again on DVD.
      • Uhh FLAC is usually used in Ogg. One is a codec and the other a container format so it is not an either or thing. Also he said "open formats such as Ogg".
      • by zootm (850416) on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @08:03AM (#14766811)

        The problem with flac (in particular on devices) is that it uses lossless compression. While it's a fantastic format for archiving data, if storage space is a factor it's just not efficient use of space. Nobody can hear the difference between a sufficiently-high-bitrate lossy file and a lossless one, although there is obviously data loss there.

        Using flac (or some other lossless format) for a storage format on a main computer system (where storage space is typically effectively unlimited) then transcoding to a lossy format to put on a mobile device would be fine. But when space is a concern, lossless isn't the way to go.

      • by a_nonamiss (743253) on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @08:51AM (#14767072)
        A bit off topic, but I've also been messing around with Monkey's Audio Codec [monkeysaudio.com] lately, and it seems to be better in most respects than FLAC. Both are lossless, so I can't really claim quality superiority, but MAC is faster to rip, slightly smaller files and is also now open source. (Did not used to be.) But I agree with other posters here, it's not either/or. I use MAC to archive my old CD's, but I convert them to MP3 befire sending them to my iPod. (iPod supports Apple Lossless, but my 4GB iPod would hold about 10-12 albums in that format, and despite being a trained musician, I don't hear much difference.)
        • by John Courtland (585609) on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @10:30AM (#14767759)
          The reason FLAC take longer on the encode step is because they were aiming for an easier decode. Monkey is, I believe, a 1:1 encode:decode whereas FLAC takes more hardware on the encode side vs the decode side to produce a 1:1 time relationship. This means you need less hardware to decode FLAC on the fly than to encode it on the fly. It probably won't matter in a few years, but there you have it.
        • MAC is faster to rip, slightly smaller files and is also now open source. (Did not used to be.)

          Only downloads that work on Microsoft Windows, a proprietary operating system published by a U.S. company, are available. Even the FAQ is in a Windows proprietary format (.chm). It may be faster if you're already on Windows, but is it faster than native FLAC on Wine? And is it faster inside a Virtual PC than FLAC is natively on a Mac?

          Monkey's Audio itself is also not free software for the same reasons as ol

      • Their FAQ must be wrong, because it says flac can only handle 65,5350 Hz rate, and I have 96 kHz files already

        Check the positioning of your thousand separator

        655350 Hz > 96 kHz
    • I did this. I switched from MP3 to Ogg a few years back, and boy do I regret it.

      A few examples:

      I bought a Kiss DVD player because it plays Oggs, however a few percent of my Ogg files makes the player hang. Since you can fit 800 songs on a DVD, it just doesn't work. Sometimes re-encoding them fixes this. I'v been in contact with the manufacturer but got no help there.

      I got an Ogg-player for Palm Tungsten, however it doesn't allow you to delete files, so I have to re-format the MMC every time I want to change
    • by zootm (850416)

      Vorbis had trouble from the beginning, largely because there wasn't originally a non-floating point decoder for the format (and even the one that now exists is pretty resource-consuming compared to those for other formats). I'm always hoping for more widespread acceptance of Vorbis, but it seems that many companies have decided there just isn't a demand. Even most of iRiver's newer players don't play them.

  • by john-da-luthrun (876866) on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @05:32AM (#14766374)
    Well, that's all very interesting, but I'm not aware of any other format that will play on both iPods and other digital audio players. Ogg Vorbis is all very well but it's not supported by many players, particularly not by iPod, and as for AAC - I don't buy songs off iTunes, and why should I rip my CDs in a format that locks me in to buying iPods in future? Like the "Unipage will destroy PDF!" story yesterday, I suspect that reports of MP3's death are, currently, somewhat exaggerated.
    • I dunno (Score:5, Funny)

      by TallMatthew (919136) on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @05:45AM (#14766408)
      Whoever wrote this should be taken seriously. Witness:

      Finally, today's faster connections and more capacious hard drives have audiophiles turning to lossless codecs such as FLAC and those offered by Apple Computer and Microsoft.

      Anyone who has mastery of the word "capacious" knows a little somethin about somethin.

      • Or he used a dictionary attack.
      • Re:I dunno (Score:3, Funny)

        by viking_kiwi (45300)
        Well Rowan Atkinson as Blackadder certainly does, when discussing wealthy relatives:

        "...they have one great redeeming feature -- their wallets.
        More capacious than an elephant's scrotum, and just as difficult
        to get your hands on"
    • by zalas (682627) on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @05:47AM (#14766415) Homepage
      Since AAC is an integral part of the MPEG4 standard, and since MPEG4 seems to be gaining momentum in standalone devices, I would think that support for AAC would be a lot more widespread in the future. Besides, AAC should be getting you better quality at the same bitrate as long as the bitrate isn't insanely high.
      • Since AAC is an integral part of the MPEG4 standard, and since MPEG4 seems to be gaining momentum in standalone devices, I would think that support for AAC would be a lot more widespread in the future.

        Well that's definately something to look forward to for the future, which is, after all, the focus of the article, but right now MP3 is king for anyone who wants portability. Though there are now two iPods in my family, there's also a Windows smartphone. I refuse to lock myself out of future hardware purchas
      • AAC might be part of the MPEG4 standard, but most portable players I know of don't support it. My Zen jukebox, friend's flash iRiver (and looks like other, newer iRivers), and most* others don't support AAC. It might become more common in the future, but for now I'd like to not be locked in to buying an pi^H^H** iPod.

        * Actually I don't remember a single player w/ AAC, but some /.ter might just dig one up.
        ** Censored to avoid Apple fanboy flame
      • Still, the wider adoption of AAC won't help other devices play iTMS tracks unless Apple licences out the format.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      why should I rip my CDs in a format that locks me in to buying iPods in future?

      You are mistaken in thinking that AAC is an Apple-only format. AAC is part of the MPEG4 standards, and e.g. most phones with music playing capabilities nowadays support AAC.
    • Agreed. Not to mention the fact that EVERY SINGLE ALBUM (or just about) is released by ripping groups in 192 (or higher) kbit mp3, which sounds just dandy. MP3 might be dying for the iTunes/iPod crowd, but those of us in the DRM-hatin crowd are happily mosying along with our mp3s, thank you very much.
    • by dtsazza (956120) on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @06:26AM (#14766505)

      It's really a matter of hardware/software support, at the end of the day. For most end-users, mp3's compression:quality ratio is good enough that they can store their music in what they feel to be a reasonably small amount of space, and what matters most is the support. If they can't play, say, Ogg Vorbis files on their media players then why should they encode/buy music in that format? And likewise, if no-one's encoding or buying Ogg Vorbis music, why should manufacturers include support for it in their devices? It's the old chicken-and-egg story that Linux advocates will know and, err, love...

      That said, if there are better formats, they'll have a tendancy to surface. FLAC [sourceforge.net], for example, is lossless which immediately gives it a USP over most other codecs out there (including, IIRC, all the 'popular' ones). And of course, it's free and open like Vorbis. The major barrier to these codecs taking their rightful place, though, is Microsoft and Apple pushing their own formats; why should Joe User worry about some strange-sounding hacker codec ("what's a codec?") when WMA sounds great, is smaller than mp3(wow!) and works flawlessly with WMP11 out of the box?

    • by crwl (802043) on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @06:29AM (#14766514)
      iPod in fact now supports Ogg Vorbis (and many other formats too), with an excellent third-party open source firmware called Rockbox. The playback is also gapless and supports Replaygain data, and it doesn't force you to use iTunes or any other database tool. see: http://www.rockbox.org/twiki/bin/view/Main/IpodPor t [rockbox.org]
      • I don't think that a 3rd party firmware image counts as 'supported' - it sounds much more like a 'hack'. I'd love to hear the tech support call to Apple when they ask you for your firmware version...

        I'm not saying that rockbox is a bad thing, it's just not something for Joe Consumer.
      • I can buy an ipod, spending quite a bit more than a roughly-equivalent no-name mp3 player, so that it synchs seamlessly with iTunes.
        Or, I can buy an ipod, spending quite a bit more than a roughly-equivalent no-name mp3 player, and have it work like a no-name bulk-storage device player?
        If you don't want to use iTunes, why not save some cash and get something like an iRiver?
    • Actually, Ogg support is showing up in more and more interesting places these days (although admittedly not the one place that matters, the iPod). But lots of Korean manufacturers - who make the tons of non-iPod devices out there - support Ogg. It's free to implement, and easy, so why not? Ogg files are pretty popular in Asia.
  • by Stephen Samuel (106962) <samuel@NoSpam.bcgreen.com> on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @05:34AM (#14766380) Homepage Journal
    Although using MP3 is already pretty questionable, I could almost guarantee that using mm3-surround would start with me firmly in the sights of their patent lawyers. Thanks, but if I'm gonna go past MP3, I'd rather do it on an OGG base.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    According to Caldwell, MP3 Surround can succeed without the labels' cooperation. "MP3 never had major-label content, and seems to have been relatively successful. On the other hand, Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio both had major label content, and millions, if not tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars, spent promoting it and they haven't succeeded, (among other reasons) because they don't address the convenience issue."

    So mp3 might survive, if only for the many "mp3" players that are arround. People wi
    • "MP3 never had major-label content, and seems to have been relatively successful.

      Are you kidding? Did I miss something over the Napster lawsuit? MP3's have had lots of major-label content. That's what the sue a bunch of music lovers each month is all about.

      Smile ;-)
  • allofmp3 (Score:5, Informative)

    by paulhar (652995) on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @05:36AM (#14766385)
    Since several people use the other "major" source - allofmp3.com - and it
    allows you to pick what format you like including lossless, aac, vorb, mp3.

    I imagine most people pick mp3 because although it may not be the best... it's
    by far the most wildly supported. Conversion tools between "better" codecs usually
    mean worse sound quality than getting it in a format that pretty much every
    player can handle.

    And at 192bps MP3 is pretty darn good.
    • I imagine most people pick mp3 because although it may not be the best... it's
      by far the most wildly supported. Conversion tools between "better" codecs usually
      mean worse sound quality than getting it in a format that pretty much every
      player can handle.

      I don't doubt you, but why wouldn't most people pick a lossless format? They can always change it to anothor lossless format without data loss (by definition), put it on CD sounding as good as an original CD, or put encode a second copy on the lossy format o

      • 1) Price. AllofMP3 charges by the bit, not by the song.

        2) Download time.

        3) Lack of storage space.

        Lots of compelling reason for buying a CD in compressed format, even when a lossless version is available at the same time.
  • huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @05:37AM (#14766387)
    I used Shure E3c earbuds for testing, so the surround effect is evidently not dependent on having full-size headphones. When did headphones start having 5.1+? I know of like one set, the rest isnt going to matter... Have you ever listened to music in surround sound? Mine sucks, center channels are not meant for music... All i want is a car stero style setup: Stereo front and rears getting the same signal, music doesnt need to have diffrent stuff comming from diffrent directions unless you want to simulate being in the middle of the stage, and that would get old fast.
    • The Shure E2c is a normal 2-channel headphone.

      According to the MP3Surround home page [fraunhofer.de], MP3surround includes a technology for 'virtual surround': Ensonido [fraunhofer.de].

      With this technology, the two channels are manipulated to provide the illusion of surround sound. This isn't new technology, techniques like SRS WOW are supposed to do this as well. They involve things like shifting the phase of one channel vs. the other.
      • Re:huh? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by smallfries (601545)
        I call bullshit. We did some research into this a few years ago and producing spatialised sound through eyebud headphones is not realistic. Each person has a unique head-transform based on the curves of the earlobes amongst other things. What is feasible is telling people that it is spatialised audio and then allowing a suggestive / placebo effect to work. As they're going for surround rather than full spatialisation it is also possible that they've just boosted the bitrate on the bass frequencies so that i
    • Unless you're talking electronic music, in which case the positional properties of the sound can be just as important as it's timbre.
  • by Jugalator (259273) on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @05:44AM (#14766402) Journal
    Fourth, geeks who love MP3 for its wide compatibility can now choose from preferable open-source alternatives such as Ogg Vorbis.

    Huh? Compatibility and Ogg Vorbis? What's going on here? Just because a format is open doesn't mean it's compatible. It needs implementations in various hardware for that. If it was true that Ogg Vorbis was an mp3 alternative with wide compatiblity, I wouldn't hesitate to use it though.
    • If it was true that Ogg Vorbis was an mp3 alternative with wide compatiblity, I wouldn't hesitate to use it though.

      I find it funny that we are even talking about this anymore, as we as consumers have proved time and time again, feed us what works, we don't care about the details.

      If we cared about the details, DVDs would be playable on all Operating Systems (legally) and we could make backups. All portable music players would play only Open Sourced formats, making them cheaper, all websites could use s

  • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @05:44AM (#14766403) Homepage

    What support do FLAC and Ogg Vorbis have for surround? I keep my ripped music in these formats because I like how they provide smaller filesizes for lossless and lossy sound than WAV or MP3, but since I listen to music off my computer with a pair of headphones, I wouldn't know what support there is beyond stereo.

    Anyway, the article raises an interesting issue with MP3. This format is where it's all at. Anyone old or young understands this three characters. There was MP3 for Dummies [amazon.com] for pedestrians, and clearly there's enough technophiles out there that a Martin Ruckert found a publisher for his book Understanding Mp3 [amazon.com] , which has a pretty in-depth explanation of the format and the concepts behind it. Yet, the format itself is not offered from places young people are buying music, and we nerds have moved on to other formats. And when people say "I got an MP3 of it", they are using the acronym generically to refer to any sort of digital audio format. MP3 is a format that is alive and dead at once.

    • by TeknoHog (164938) on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @06:20AM (#14766491) Homepage Journal
      What support do FLAC and Ogg Vorbis have for surround?

      Higher number of channels. IIRC, Vorbis has a limit of 256 channels and FLAC has 8. If you need more channels, you can multiplex several Vorbis/FLAC streams in a single Ogg container file.

      IMHO, one great thing about these formats is that they don't assume too much. Today's consumer level surround means 5.1 but these formats don't get stuck on it, they just give you channels without assigning them to anything particular (like front, rear, subwoofer). Therefore they can be used for future formats as well.

      For a similar reason I encode everything to FLAC these days. It doesn't assume anything about psychoacoustics, which is different for each individual listener. Plus I'll probably have much better equipment and more experienced ears in the future.

      • Plus I'll probably have much better equipment and more experienced ears in the future.

        Now that I'm getting older, I would rather have less experienced ears to hear clearly with.
  • by gusnz (455113) on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @05:48AM (#14766418) Homepage
    OK, this is rubbish for several reasons.

    MP3 does not sound "noticeably worse"; all codecs have their artifacts at low bitrates. A well-tuned MP3 encoder like LAME [sourceforge.net] in ~128kbps VBR mode will give very comparable results [hydrogenaudio.org] to AAC, with no statistical difference in a double-blind listening test. Hell, in an earlier test LAME beat WMA Standard [hydrogenaudio.org] (the most common version of the codec). And LAME in "--preset standard" mode gives nearly transparent results at around 180-200kbps.

    AAC, WMA and OGG all have their advantages, but MP3 is truly a "jack of all trades". You want your audio to play in any player or portable you choose, like iTunes/iPod, WMP, Winamp, foobar2000, AmaroK, etc. etc.? You encode to MP3. Heck, both iTunes and WMP both ship with MP3 encoders now. Like JPEG, MP3 simply isn't bad enough to forsake compatibility for a superior codec.

    Secondly, the author clearly doesn't have a solid background in audio technology. I am mystified as to why s/he thought he'd need "full-sized headphones" compared to Shure canalphones to hear the "benefits" of surround sound, when the fact is that with any stereo headphones more than 2 source channels of audio is essentially pointless!

    As for surround sound systems, AC3 in the 384kbps+ bitrate is already the standard there. I can't see why MP3 surround will displace it; MP3 surround isn't, as far as I know, mentioned in any of the current or next-gen DVD specs.
    • As for surround sound systems, AC3 in the 384kbps+ bitrate is already the standard there. I can't see why MP3 surround will displace it; MP3 surround isn't, as far as I know, mentioned in any of the current or next-gen DVD specs.

      Actually, this is not true, There are "full sized" style headphones where each headphone does not have only one speaker, but three, each at different positions around the ear canal - and none of them directly in the canal. These headphones support dolby digital surround via some s

  • by Kawahee (901497) on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @05:55AM (#14766433) Homepage Journal
    You forget that MP3 is still alive and kicking on the P2P scene. MP3's limited support of DRM has ensured that it's a popular 'standard' for pirated music.
  • Not to mention the boxes of vinyl I continue to tote from new house to new house, forever promising the missus that, yes, I WILL get around to ripping them onto the server REAL SOON NOW.

    Audiophile geeks are clearly the people to ask about The Next Big Trend, but maybe -- just maybe -- we're not the best people to check in on to determine when that trend has passed...
  • Deja Vu (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TallMatthew (919136) on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @05:56AM (#14766436)
    We went through audio format wars about 10 years or so ago, when there were phonograph records, cassettes and CDs (and there was more than one kind of CD ... remember when ADD meant AudioDigitalDigital, not AttentionDeficitDisorder?).

    Phonograph records sounded the best, but they're fragile and non-portable. Casettes are portable, but they sound horrible. CDs are more portable than records and sound better than casettes, though not quite as good as records under optimal conditions. CDs won, though it's notable that you couldn't create your own CD when that victory was achieved.

    What this would predict is that ultimately convenience wins out, even trumping sound quality, unless the sound quality is much, much worse, viz. detectable by a non-audiophile over cheap equipment. That would predict that formats like FLAC and OGG and WMA and AAC will never trump MP3 unless the industry has sufficient leverage to make that happen. Which is entirely possible.

    • Re:Deja Vu (Score:3, Informative)

      by NiteHaqr (29663)
      And there was me thinking that the A in ADD with respect to CD's was for Analogue, as in the original recording was Analogue.

      ADD described a process, where the letters meant "Recorded in","Mixed in" and "Mastered in"

      So a purely digital recording would be DDD, a direct transfer of an old Vinyl record from a pressing master (or from the vinyl would be AAD.

      Sorry to be picky - but this IS /. :)

      QUICK ADDITION: from wikipedia

      Three-Letter Codes

      * DDD: digital tape recorder used during
    • remember when ADD meant AudioDigitalDigital

      Actually, it meant Analog-Digital-Digital. This told you how the disk was recorded (first letter) and mastered (second letter). It told nothing about the disk's audio quality, btw.

      (/pedant)
  • by RiotXIX (230569) on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @05:58AM (#14766441) Journal
    That's a pretty major mp3 retailer: and windows users have been encouraged to use that by various magazine/online sources.

    Not to mention that there are loads of mp3 players on the market, so I don't see it going away. The commercial market always seems to linger behind for a while - mp3 players are relatively new. They'll keep it alive.

    Although I do protest naive ipod users being locked into a manufacturers format - when DRM becomes mandatory, they'll be wondering what's going on. Some people just trust the manufacturer default settings (it's not their fault, they assume it's the best - non-geeks have mp3 players now). Personally I'm going to switch to flac format (I just discovered it) for ripping my favourite albums - I wouldn't use alac (although I'm sure many ipod users do) because it's closed, and can see the DRM restriction problem become an issue in the future for closed source media.
  • When one thinks of digital music, one thinks mp3. People refer to their digital music collection as their "mp3" collection, despite the fact that there may be few or no mp3's in the entire archive.

    Mp3 is ubiquitous. Despite Fraunhofer and Thomson's patents, portable music players will almost certainly support the standard, as will every single ripping application, somewhere in the background. Naturally, every sound player under the sun can play mp3 files, sometimes even when they can't play pcm or wav files.

    Mp3 is here to stay, like; txt, html, avi, csv, vi and ascii. The quality might not be as good, but you can rely on the fact that it will play on virtually everything. Encoders like LAME will help keep it alive too. It will be surpassed yes, but never usurped. It might be the lowest common denominator, but sometimes that's exactly what you reach for.

    Bitrates, surround sound, sample rates, quality, size, etc, etc. These are important to audiophiles, but the simple fact is; to most of the population, 128kbps stereo mp3 files encoded with something as good as LAME sound perfect as far as they are concerned.

    Hardly anyone I know even uses surround sound to listen to their music anyway. That's for TV. I have two ears, and one channel in each is plenty. Unless humans evolve three more ears , no one realistically needs 5.1 on their iPods.

    As to bitrate, quality, etc. Again, few people actually care, and even when they do, storage space is dirt cheap. I can buy 200GB for less than $100, so why waste my time encoding to a lower bitrate on a superior format? I don't know a single person who's ever filled up an iPod with greater than 40GB capacity. Lossless formats like FLAC will become popular long before people demand better quality mp3 sound.

    Even id3 tags will probably stand the test of time. id3v2 is a flexible standard, and can keep growing while maintaining backwards compatability. There's also potential for a huge amount of data in there, and again most people won't really care. What they need is simply ripping applications that enter information for them, and they're done.

    Mp3 isn't going anywhere. Its future is as the most used, listened to, encoded to and supported compressed sound format. It's competitors are more likely to bow out before mp3 hangs up its hat. The moral of todays story is; 'Sometimes, "Good Enough", is all it takes.'
    • > I don't know a single person who's ever filled up an iPod with greater than 40GB capacity.

      Hello. Nice to meet you.
    • Wish i could Mod you up. But you are already at the limit.

      You correctly said that P3 could never be usurped and has attained the status of txt, csv, etc.

    • Lossless formats like FLAC will become popular long before people demand better quality mp3 sound.

      I'm (im)patiently waiting for that day to come.

      It pisses me off that I have to incrementally take about 1 hour of a time of music into my car (an audio CD) out of the 2200+ hours of CD+ quality flac soundfiles that I have.

      Although, I might break down and get one of these [cowonamerica.com] but even then, I still have to walk the stupid thing upstairs instead of using my WAP from my driveway.

      I can't figure out if technology progre
  • Surround my ass (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Talez (468021) on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @06:13AM (#14766468)
    "MP3 Surround files are essentially ordinary MP3s with an additional layer of information that tells compatible players where to place sounds. New devices designed to support the format deliver rich and accurate surround sound -- whether through a 5.1-channel system or simulated through a pair of stereo headphones. The format adds minimal overhead, consuming just 15 additional bits per second."

    Surround with only 15 bits per second of data?

    10 bucks says its just audio steering a'la Dolby Pro Logic [wikipedia.org]
    • Re:Surround my ass (Score:5, Informative)

      by hcdejong (561314) <hobbes&xmsnet,nl> on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @06:50AM (#14766581)
      Probably not.

      From the FAQ [fraunhofer.de]:
      Are MP3 Surround files much bigger than regular MP3 files?
      No, fortunately not. The algorithm used in MP3 Surround employs psychoacoustics to recreate the surround image out of very compact spatial information. By adding surround information, MP3 file sizes increase by just about 10 percent.


      10% still isn't a lot to encode four additional channels, though.
      • Error in the article (Score:3, Informative)

        by AlpineR (32307)
        From the article:

        "The format adds minimal overhead, consuming just 15 additional bits per second."

        From the FAQ:

        "MP3 file sizes increase by just about 10 percent."

        Ten percent of 128 kb/s is a heck of a lot more than 15 b/s. Maybe he meant to say 15 additional kilobits per second.

        AlpineR

  • AllOfMP3.Com (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Sub Zero 992 (947972)
    All Of MP3 [allofmp3.com] offers MP3s ripped using LAME at a variety of bitrates, as well as Ogg, WMA and others. Pricing is very inexpensive and very fair, you pay according to the chosen file size. For me, the most important issue next to sound fidelity is compatibility. I want to be listening to my MP3s in 20 years time, on a variety of devices. For backwards compatibility, I see the MP3 format as being the one format which will always be supported by every device.
    • "Pricing is very inexpensive and very fair,"

      To whom is it fair? It offers almost nothing in royalties to the copyright owners due to a loophole in Russian copyright law.

      Just because the prices are attractive to the customer does not make it fair.

      On the other hand the record companies are asking for too much money for music. £0.79 for ONE song is ludicrous.
  • by onlyconnect (824057) on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @06:25AM (#14766501)

    Not many everyday users care about surround-sound. It's meaningless for personal listening (earbuds, cans), and only a tiny minority of living rooms are set up for 5.1 or whatever.

    Me, I'm encoding everything as MP3 because I know it will play on everything for the forseeable future. I'm also using Flac 'cos I like lossless.

    Support for MP3 and Flac is why I like Robert Fripp's music download store [itwriting.com].

  • by RafaelGCPP (922041) on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @06:40AM (#14766543)

    Apple wants AAC, Micro$oft wants WMA, Sony wants ATRAC... Everyone wants their own format to live, maybe because of royalties, or maybe just to take others away from the marketing. The fact is: most bad MP3 are actually caused by bad ripping.

    People don't know (or just forget) that all those parameters you have while encoding are somewhat critical. It's not only a matter of setting it to the highest bit-rate you can, but checking the bandwidth and audio itself to avoid aliasing, sound damping, etc. MP3 files I encode for listening on my car stereo are undistinguishable from the ones on the original CDs.

    I think I will create the RGC format and get rich, by saying MP3, Ogg, AAC and WMA sucks!

  • by dtsazza (956120) on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @06:47AM (#14766572)

    OK, so surround sound is a technological advance, and will help with certain applications - but for the main market of plain ol' music, is it going to make any difference? Is anyone really rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of being able to hear their favourite bands in surround sound?

    I might be missing something here, but to me surround sound is more Training Day than Green Day...

  • Because it is DRM-free (unlike the commercial formats) en most players support it (unlike Ogg).
  • lossless compression (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bombula (670389) on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @07:01AM (#14766606)
    I may be a bit behind the times, but I'm surprised there hasn't been more of a shift away from lossy compression algorithms to lossless compression. As more and more of the market shifts away from the 650-700MB capacity constraint of traditional CDs, file sizes for songs are becoming less of an issue. As portable players get up to 60GB+ capacity, having files that are 6MB instead of 3MB starts to have less of an impact on people's ability to have the music they want at hand - since, if my math is correct, that's still enough memory for 10,000 songs. I mean, I don't personally know anyone who has more than a couple thousand songs - I'm sure there are people out there with much more - and that at least indicates that file size is not going to affect the average user that much.

    Obviously there is room above lossless compression to improve quality - higher sample rates, multi-channel sound as this article says. Nevertheless, I'm just surprised there isn't more demand for audio that hasn't been poluted by compression.

    • It's funny that people these days are interested in expanded audio capabilities like 5.1 channel systems, while accepting the reduced audio quality that comes with lossy compression. In a way, it seems that gimmicks are more desirable than quality, which is not really surprising.

      As a technology trend, however, it is weird because technology tends to evolve by improvement. Lossy compression is a step backward from CD quality, no matter how small the perceived difference actually is.

      Another way in which t

    • Terrible math (Score:3, Informative)

      by David Rolfe (38)
      > I'm surprised there hasn't been more of a shift away from lossy compression algorithms to lossless compression. As more and more of the market shifts away from the 650-700MB capacity constraint of traditional CDs, file sizes for songs are becoming less of an issue. As portable players get up to 60GB+ capacity, having files that are 6MB instead of 3MB starts to have less of an impact on people's ability to have the music they want at hand - since, if my math is correct, that's still enough memory for 10
  • by GuyFawkes (729054) on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @07:10AM (#14766618) Homepage Journal
    The market dictates what rules.

    Audio cassette was lower quality than anything else at the time, but it was convenient and durable and most important of all offered longer playtime than anything else.

    I currently have 100+ gigs of mp3's.

    Yes, theoretically the sound quality isn't all it could be, no matter, perhaps as many as 0.1% of music listeners have both the equipment (eg amp stage and speakers) and enviornment (eg anechoic audio only "music" room) to spot the difference with any degree or reliability or repeatability, and they won't be touching digital anyway...

    mp3 is not going anywhere, and probably won't for several more years...

    imagine, a new codec that offers DOUBLE the file size compression with no extra degradation, ooh wow, I'll save a whole 50 bucks worth of hard disk space, and I still won't use it unless everyone and everything I can touch supports it, just like mp3 today.

    Why do people still use jpeg, there are "better" ways out there, provided you exclude universal transparency and platform independence from your definition of "better"

    I went/lived through reel to reel, LP vinyl, 8 track, audio cassette and red book CD, and mp3 blows everything else away.

    What with the ever increasing storage density of hard disk (solid state or otherwise) media, I really cannot see or concieve of ANYTHING on the horizon that is about to dent mp3.

    To all intents and purposes mp3 is free, is open, is universal, and is good enough, prtability is an issue for people like me with 0.1 TB of mp3's, but that is coming, I can fit it all on a new 2.5" laptop hard disk

    The ONLY POSSIBLE reason I can see for mp3 being supplanted for audio is people wanting 24/7 indexable and searchable records of their lives as an audio stream, a new codec and file format optimised for that purpose would beat mp3, for that purpose.

    Sorry, that's a lot of business plans, planned obsolescence and pet projects dead in the uterus, tough.
  • by CUGWMUI (639218) on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @07:14AM (#14766634)

    MP3 as a format is not going to die out very quickly. The main reason is that many individuals already have vast libraries of their music in MP3 format. The fact that new/store music is not MP3 has only a minimal effect, as most people who keep compressed/digital music are getting a majority of their new music via pirated sources (a.k.a torrents, Gnutella etc).

    Disclaimer: There are some people who exclusively "purchase" compressed music and don't just get it "from the net". However, they are in a minority today, and will be for some time to come.

    There are also many like me who purchase CDs and immediate rip them to the computer for listening, while keeping the CDs safely tucked away. For most of us, the preferred format is MP3, the only reason being wide compatibility.

    MP3 WILL die as a format, just not anytime soon.

  • All we have to do is compare the availability of mp3s via p2p as compared to ogg, aac, wma, or any other format you care to name. About 99% of what you'll find will be in mp3 and it doesn't appear that the average downloader is at all interested in moving to another format. Even if he/she were, the time required to reacquire or re-rip your library just isn't worth the effort for most people. Why go to the trouble when a 192 kbs mp3 is of a quality beyond what most people can tell the difference on anyway
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @08:13AM (#14766874)
    Well you can all think what you like but the future of MP3 but in my household it's there to stay until I die.

    I've currently got 35,000 + mp3s on my home server; a good 80%+ of which I've ripped from my own CD collection with the remainder mostly coming from mates CDs. All of these are encoded with lame using the VBR --alt-preset-extreme setting and amount to about 150 Gb of fully IDV tagged data. Playback is handled in three rooms via Slim MP3 players.

    To make sure these stay with me I've got the lot backed up onto external hard drives. One is used for a weekly backup. One is used for a monthly back up and which spends the remainder of its time "hidden" in my loft. One is a copy of the loft drive which is backed up every two or three months and is then taken to a friends house; at which point I take one of her removables back to my loft.

    I've also taken the step of stocking up on some "cheap & cheerful", reasonable sound quality, DRM free, flash based mp3 players and have one 512Mb and two 1Gb units stored in various places. That way when my current 512Mb player gives up the ghost/gets lost/stolen etc. I have backup hardware.

    Thanks to the latest Sony rootkit fiasco though I've now stopped buying CDs altogether. If I want any new music I intend to get it from "the source that must not be named" :) The idea that I would ever spend my hard earned money to buy a compressed, DRM encumbered soundfile from something like iTunes is laughable, toatally laughable. I'll only pay for full CD quality, 441.1Khz, stereo WAV or better, files and then only if they're pressed onto a CD. No I won't pay for CDs burnt for me by a shop.

    So I for one..

    1 Will not have any DRM crippled device in the house.
    2 Am not interested in transcoding my collection to some other format as one lossy encoding is quite enough.
    3 Couldn't give a shit about surround sound audio etc.
    4 Am quite happy with mp3 for either playing off my PC or playing in my portable.

    You may of course choose to follow the new "best ever" format of the day but me, I couln't care less. Non DRM mp3 works for me and I'm sticking with it.

    P.S. And in case you're wondering why yes I do share my files. On a private FTP network and by occassional post to the "the source that must not be named" :)

  • As proof of this, the author is encouraged to visit IRC...specifically #mp3_collective or #mp3passion on the Undernet, as but two examples.

    A couple of major reasons why mp3 won't be going anywhere soon:-

    1. AFAIK anywayz, it doesn't have DRM attached at all, unlike the proprietary formats. The corps can crow about better sound fidelity all they want; as long as they keep DRM, mp3 will stay. This is one instance where freedom is something people do care about.

    2. Encoding software is free. (as in beer, and pos
  • I bought an iRiver [iriver.com] IFP 899 purely because it said it supported Ogg Vorbis. However, I'm at a loss to get most of my files to play on it [calum.org]. Apparently, things have to be encoded at a minimum of 96k/s and a max of 224. But even supplying oggenc with those parameters, it still can't play them.
    /me shakes fist at iRiver.
  • First, it doesn't sound as good, byte-for-byte, as files purchased from iTunes Music Store (in the AAC format) or any of the Microsoft-compliant stores.

    The fact is that an mp3 file can have the same quality as a wma or an aac file. It just uses more memory. Memory is cheap and gets cheaper every day.

    This gives me two choices:
    1. Have my music in a non-standardized format like wma... and then buy a new music player when I realize that everything but the iPod sucks... or vice-versa.

    2. Use a little bit more m
  • by TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @09:06AM (#14767141)
    Music is a stereo format. We only have two ears, so it only makes sense to encode two channels for music. Surround music is a superfluous and unnatural extension of digital music.

    All our lives, we listen to music, even live music, coming from a single source. Whether its an individual voice or instrument, or a band, or even a symphony orchestra, we here music being radiated from essentially a point source, radiating to hit our ears. We turn to face the music, generally don't listen to live music from behind. We don't here music coming at us from all directions. Most of us have never sat in the middle of an orchestra or even in a band, so we have no point of reference to hear violins at our right, drums behind up, wind instruments off to the rear left, etc, etc. Most of us would find that cacophony of music to be distracting and distasteful. We don't need to "artificially" master music to come from multiple channels. There is no need for the vocals to come front center, the guitar to be played front right, drums rear left, bass rear right, and backup vocals off center to the left.

    The only point I could see of multi-channel music is to record the reverb that actually radiates from behind us. And that would be a waste of bytes. Computer technology is capable of taking a stereo source and applying algorithms to add reverb back, so you can sound like your listening to music in a concert hall, or the intimate muted environment of a jazz club. There is no need to discretely record reverb. Recording reverb will only mess up the recorded source, as some people don't like the echo of a concert hall, so why record it and force people to hear the echo. Some people don't like the muted sounds of a jazz club, so why force them to listen to the music muted. Recording the music free of reverb and letting people fine tune playback of music using digital signal processing has succeeded in making music a popular entertainment format.

    This is unlike movie soundtracks where a 2D screen is trying to record 3D reality. Having a car or helicopter roar from the background before appearing on screen overhead or an explosion off to the left is one of the ways to immerse viewers into the movie,we are expecting to hear sound coming from multiple points around the room, not just flatly projected from the front.

    Multi-channel music will simply cause MP3's will become bloated, storing discrete 5.1 channels would increase file sizes by 2.5 times. For what purpose? None that I can imagine would actually make the MP3 format more popular.

    MP3 also hopes to become the standard for encoding movies and games in 5.1 surround. Why? Don't we already have 2 competing standards that are more then capable of offering high quality multi-channel sound? (DTS and Dolby Digital), we don't need another format that doesn't have a chance to compete.

    I would prefer if MP3 became a high fidelity format, storing music in BETTER then CD quality, storing music with higher bit and sampling rates. Storing more of the information, not just the audio range humans supposedly can only hear. These "inaudible" sounds create the ambiance that is missing from digital music, the stomach vibrating lows and the highs that interact with the environment in ways that we can FEEL rather then here. This is what is missing when digitally recording live music. I would rather MP3 files double or triple in size due to more of the original sound data being stored, rather then to store multiple channels of audio.

    Multi-channel audio has failed to catch on, because it is unnatural. DVD Audio and Super CD both failed as a music format. Also, quadraphonic records back in the day didn't translate into quadraphonic CD's. Multi-channel MP3's will fail to catch on as well.

  • eMusic (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chuckaluphagus (111487) on Tuesday February 21, 2006 @10:17AM (#14767630)
    eMusic does lack a lot of what plays on the radio, but I stopped regularly listening to the radio about five years ago when I decided it was too much trouble sitting through thirty minutes of terrible, over-played garbage while waiting for a song I liked. eMusic has a huge catalog of excellent Jazz, Cuban, Classic Rock, Indie Rock and Comedy, and it's cheaper by far than the other pay-per-file download services (the most you're going to pay is $0.25 US/track, it gets cheaper if you buy more per month).

    Another nice thing about eMusic is that the music isn't just MP3, it's MP3 encoded at high variable bitrate (LAME 3.90, I believe, alt-preset-standard). It's pretty much the same setting I'll use for the CDs I buy myself.

    And in the end, I have a music file that sounds good and that has no restrictions against copying to my notebook, MP3 player, a CD for playing in the car or anything else. That's worth a lot to me.

There is no royal road to geometry. -- Euclid

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