The MP3 format has had a major impact on how we collect, distribute, and listen to music. Despite that, many people still aren’t sure how MP3 files work.
First things first: what is an MP3? In simple terms, MP3 is a coding format that allows us to compress CD-quality songs without noticeably affecting their sound. By using the MP3 format, we can compress a song to about a tenth of its original size.
This works because of CD stores a song in high resolution. It samples music 44,100 times per second, with each sample taking up 16 bits. This comes out to 1.4 million bits per second, which means a 3-minute song consumes about 32 MB.
That’s why storing these songs in an MP3 format is far more efficient. Here are 5 other things you should know about MP3 files.
Above, we mentioned that it’s possible to compress a song without a noticeable impact on its sound. That said, your mileage may vary.
See, we use compression to make our images smaller all the time. As you may know, .jpg and .gif files are both examples of compressed image files. Image compression is easy enough to apply and understand, which makes it very useful.
Compressing music is a bit different. For this, we need to use a technique called perceptual noise shaping. This technique relies on the characteristics of our ears. The human ear hears some sounds better than others and can’t hear some sounds at all.
Using these facts, we can remove certain parts of a song without damaging its quality. Still, the MP3 version of a CD-quality song won’t sound exactly the same. That’s the price we pay for compressing a song by a factor of 10 or more.
MP3 Bit Rates
The compression method we talked about is often described as lossy compression. By comparison, the lossless format allows you to keep all audio information.
The nice thing about MP3 files is that you can choose how much information they’ll lose during compression. In fact, you can create several different MP3 files from the same source. The key lies in the bit rate, or the number or bits encoded in the file.
Most encoding software allows you to choose the bit rate during MP3 conversion. The lower the bit rate, the more information your file will lose. If you want the same sound quality as a CD, you need a bit rate of 160 Kbps or higher.
Of course, some audiophiles look down on the MP3 format altogether. For them, even the highest bit rate settings can’t make MP3s equal to CDs. Other people argue that our ears can’t notice the difference between a CD file and a 320 Kbps MP3 file.
Some musicians also claim that the MP3 format has changed the way studios mix recordings. As the theory goes, MP3 files “flatten” the differences in pitch and volume. This results in most new music having a similar sound.
The Effect on Music
The arrival of the MP3 format soon led to the creation of the MP3 movement. This has done many important things for music.
First, MP3s made it much easier for anyone to find and access music. They also made it easy to distribute music for free or at a negligible cost. Finally, the MP3 movement taught people a lot about manipulating sound on a computer.
That third one was mostly an accident, but it’s still important. See, a big part of the MP3 movement was that it brought many powerful tools to our computers. These tools made things such as downloading MP3 files accessible to everyone.
Listening to MP3s
To download and listen to MP3 files, you need a computer with a working sound card. You also need an internet connection and an MP3 player.
Most new computers come with software that can play MP3 files out of the box. The easiest way to check whether this is true is to download an MP3 file and try to play it. If it doesn’t work, you likely need an MP3 player.
As for downloading MP3 files, you have hundreds of sites to choose from. Many of these sites also allow you to listen to the song of your choice as a streaming file. You don’t need a specific MP3 file downloader — your browser will do the trick.
Once you amass a collection of MP3s, you may want to take it with you. You can do so by using a USB cable to transfer these files to your smartphone. If you’re serious about this hobby, you can also use a portable MP3 player.
Interested in converting your CD collection into MP3 files? If so, all you need is the right ripper and encoder software.
A ripper is what you use to copy the songs’ files from your CD onto your HDD/SSD. Once you’ve done that, you’ll use the encoder to compress the songs into the MP3 format. This is the best way to take your music collection with you anywhere.
You can also invert the process by converting MP3 files into an audio CD. However, doing so won’t restore the information lost during the original MP3 encoding. Also, converting MP3 into audio tracks limits the number of files that you can fit on a CD.
Keep in mind that there are plenty of other files you can convert to MP3 files. For example, you can convert the audio from any YouTube video. To learn more about how to convert YouTube to MP3, click on that link.
More on What Is an MP3
As you can see, the MP3 format is a key part of the music industry. Even today, this format is the most versatile and convenient way of storing music.
The only downside to MP3s is that their popularity makes them prone to misuse. The illegal sharing of MP3 files, in particular, is a big issue for the industry. As easy and tempting as swapping MP3s may be, it’s still a breach of copyright law.
Want to know more about what is an MP3? Interested in what YouTube to MP3 process involve? Check out our “Knowledge Base” section!