Technology

Pioneering music format has been superseded by superior technologies.

Geeks, nerds, and music fans of a certain age are gathering to pay their respects to the MP3, a digital media format that helped change the world.

Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits, which holds patents behind the MP3 format, has discontinued its licensing program.

MP3s are still plentiful and you can still play them. Fraunhofer's move merely reflects the industry's move to newer data formats that offer effective modern compression rates and better sound quality than the MP3, including AAC and FLAC.

The digital music format changed the world of portable music players by allowing tech companies to make small, lightweight MP3 players that replaced bulky tape and compact disc players. It is the data format that allowed the music industry to shift its focus from selling physical objects - record albums, cassette tapes, CDs - to selling digital audio files that could be downloaded or streamed online. Today, most users listen to music by streaming it from services like Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, and YouTube.

One of the key benefits of the MP3 format was that music files were compact. Developers of the MP3 format deliberated balanced music quality versus file size, resulting in small files that allowed users to store their entire music libraries in music players or to access them quickly via slow dial-up connections to online music libraries.

Today, music fans are more likely to stream music than to download copies. Fast broadband connections have replaced dial-up services. As a result, the MP3 is ripe for replacement by formats that provide higher sound quality.

Fraunhofer says that MP3 files are still popular but notes that streaming media services use MPEG formats such as AAC, which Fraunhofer helped develop.