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What is an MP3 anyway?
A brief history of formats
By Russell Kibbee
(more articles from this author)
2000-10-11
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No format in recent years has had a greater impact on the music industry than the MP3 format. Those two letters and one number strike fear into the hearts of record company executives who feel it will undermine the very foundation of what their firms have built over the past 70 years. To understand the format and all it can do, you must learn not only the basics, and about its implementation in the marketplace and how it could, in the end, help the labels sell more music.

What is so special about the MP3 format that is revolutionizing the industry? In this section, we will explore the details on what the format is, and show how the little file creates big flexibility gains for the consumer.

Step 1: The Vinyl years
In the beginning there were Long Playing (LP) records. People used to listen to their favorite music via this vinyl medium. Unfortunately, these were easily scratched, which caused skipping and drove people crazy.

Step 2: Enter 8-track tapes
Eight track tapes, introduced in the 1960's, were never quite as popular as albums. They were hard to fast forward to one spot and had poorer sound quality. They had one only advantage mobility.

Step 3: Take your music with you
People were willing to tolerate the lower quality for the convenience of portability. But, the technology proved to be short lived and is now viewed as the musical equivalent of the dodo bird.

Step 4: Give the people portability
Later, the cassette tape entered the market and provided an easier to manipulate system in a smaller package. It was popular, but never really took off until the introduction of the Sony Walkman. Then, you could truly have music anywhere. The era of portable audio was born.

Step 5: CD's ring in the digital era
Finally, the Compact Disc came onto the market virtually eliminating the LP market, and when the portable CD player was developed and made available, it eventually overtook the cassette tape.


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