As a teenager, “MP3” described the new, all-the-rage hand-held players that suddenly allowed me to store all the music I had magically downloaded, out of thin air, from sketchy peer-to-peer (read: questionably legal) file applications.
On the plus side, I could finally download all the latest Britney Spears singles without having to rely on tape-recording the radio. On the downside, Britney was taking out her vengeance on the family computer’s hard-drive.
MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3 technology (dubbed “MP3” on July 14, 1995) was an efficient, new format for encoding high-quality digital audio, enabling music files to be stored in bulk on computers or transferred, at tolerable speeds, across the Internet.
Why is this significant? (You know, in addition to catering to the posh needs of the era’s teeny boppers.)
In the mid-1990s, computers only had a hard-drive capacity of 500 MB. Because one second of music corresponded to roughly 176,000 bytes of data, even one album’s worth of music was too big to fit. And (compounding the matter) let’s not forget the atrocious connection speeds of the then-standard 56K dial-up modems, which meant one album took literally all day to transfer over the Internet.
That’s where the audio engineers (read: the real heroes) stepped in.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, teams (from Fraunhofer IIS, University of Hanover, AT&T-Bell Labs, Thomson-Brandt, CCETT, and others) used a “perceptual” compression method that eliminated over 90 percent of the data in an audio file without compromising sound quality. The approach depended on how human-beings actually hear (or can’t hear) sound. (An example is our inability to distinguish the quieter of two sounds played at the same time.) The standard, recognized by the Motion Pictures Experts Group (MPEG), meant that a song would only eat up 2 or 3 MB of space, rather than 32 MB.
I’d say that’s something worth singing about.
Filed Under: M2M (machine to machine)