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The MP3 scene comes of age

Despite the best efforts of the RIAA, writes reader Nick Punt

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Roy Taylor's MP3 article is a little uninformed in certain areas. For instance, the MP3 technology (officially MPEG-1 layer 3), which has been used for music since early 1996, encodes audio in an 11:1 compression scheme. An average two minute file, uncompressed (either raw audio from a CD or WAV file) at 44.1kHz stereo takes up 174Kps, equating to about 20MB, can be compressed to approximately 1.95MB (not 4-5MB as published) or as I like to say. 'a meg a minute'. MP3 can use either 112kbps or 128kbps (14Kps or 16Kps) if the desired sampling rate is 44.kHz in stereo. Other options There are other options for even better compression, but quality degrades. CD quality MP3 files (112 or 128) can be effectively streamed across an ISDN line and with new technologies such as ADSL and Cable, they can be downloaded much faster than they can be played. Currently I have 384kb ADSL, which can get a three minute song in one minute. MP3s are liked for more than just the ability to get "music for free", though that's most people's major reason. Often I have noticed that MP3s I find across the Internet are not always what you can find in stores, either encoded from bootlegs or from various live recordings. I personally enjoy the ability to choose what songs I download, almost 'radio-on-demand' which previously has never existed (unless you owned a 100-disc changer and a bunch of CDs). I can make my own compilations and place them on any medium -- tape, CD, MD, MP3 player or the computer -- without any quality loss. It's interesting to note that ever since the RIAA's symbolic (and unjust) suit against Diamond was overturned, many large companies who previously were in neutral camp regarding MP3s are now either announcing their own products (Samsung) or are in the development stages (Adaptec and quite a few Asian companies.) Burn this Diamond and Adaptec are now working together to make a product that can download an MP3 off the internet and burn it to an Audio CD, as a part of EasyCD Pro (and see Liquid Audio, Adaptec unveil Net-to-CD music pact. In addition, new Diamond soundcards are being bundled with MP3 encoders. I have followed the MP3 scene very closely since the beginning. I've watched great efforts come out of the MP3 scene, such as WinAMP, MacAMP, layer3.org, scour.net, etc (which weren't around when I got there). And I've also seen my CPU utilization drop from crazy (50 per cent on a Cyrix P120+) to unnoticable (0.5 per cent on a PII 450.) Digital future or digital demise It has been harder and harder to find MP3s since the RIAA cracked down, because the RIAA sees the digital future as its demise, and it will do everything to stop new technologies (like MP3) from coming into play if those technologies conflict with large music companies' profits. Think, in ten years, there won't even be a need for large record companies. As an artist, you could hire an independent recording studio to record your works, and distribute them over the Internet. From there, agents could listen to your works and decide if they wanted to invest in your act, at which point you'd have the money to hire an artist for photographs and cover art, hire an agent to book performances, make you a music vid, etc. You wouldn't be pressured to get out x songs to put on a CD, instead you could make the music as it comes to you. It's sickening, the truth of the music industry today: an artist makes a CD, which is put out by a large recording company and sold for approx $11 (to retailers) who then sell it for $13-15. Of that, only a small percentage, $1-2, goes to the artist -- the rest is kept for either production costs or profits for the large music companies. Liquid Audio -- the acceptable face of compromise A close friend of mine is a very successful musician in computer games, and has always been on the forefront of music technology. He distributes demos of his music in the MP3 format, and is gearing up to make his own album. However, MP3 isn't encrypted or copyrighted in any way, and since he wants to distribute his music via the Internet (as well as CD) MP3 isn't a good format for the distribution of his music. Instead, he has chosen Liquid Audio, which is basically a similar compression algorithm to MP3, except it can be copyrighted and has limits on how it can be distributed. Liquid Audio may be the format that artists will eventually embrace because of this. Diamond's portable Rio player is going to be able to load both MP3s and Liquid Audio files into it (see Diamond to add Liquid Audio to Rio), which is a good first step for LA's acceptance into the thriving Internet music market. Roy Taylor replies I bow to your technical knowledge which is clearly so much better than mine. I was glad to see, however, that you are in agreement with my central argument, which is the significance of MP3 in changing the way that we record, store and listen to music. ®

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