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Music Media

How MP3 Was Born 108

Posted by kdawson
from the race-to-encode dept.
Actual Reality points us to an interview in BusinessWeek.com with the man most often cited as the inventor of the MP3 format — though Karlheinz Brandenburg credits many for the development, including in particular Suzanne Vega.
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How MP3 Was Born

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  • by Timesprout (579035) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @06:04AM (#18260298)
    where MP2 was recording in studio, gets wasted and gets it on with Suzanne Vega across the mixing deck leading to a bouncing bundle of MP3. It's much more rock and roll.
  • by terrencefw (605681) <`slashdot' `at' `jamesholden.net'> on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @06:17AM (#18260360) Homepage
    From TFA:

    As director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology, Brandenburg continues to be involved in the cutting edge of digital music. Researchers under his supervision are working on technology that would, for example, analyze a user's tastes based on music he or she has already downloaded, search the Internet for other tunes in the same genre, and automatically assemble a playlist. Brandenburg is also involved in research to deliver more realistic, true-to-life media than anything now available. Perhaps he'll even help touch off another revolution.

    Er, nothing like audioscrobbler/last.fm then?
  • by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @06:22AM (#18260384)

    Researchers under his supervision are working on technology that would, for example, analyze a user's tastes based on music he or she has already downloaded, search the Internet for other tunes in the same genre, and automatically assemble a playlist^W^W^W send cease and desist letters.
  • Royalties? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by grolschie (610666) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @06:23AM (#18260386)

    Even folk-rock singer Suzanne Vega inadvertently played a walk-on role in the creation of MP3. "I know on whose shoulders I stand and who else contributed a lot," says Brandenburg, now director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology in Ilmenau, Germany.
    Words are cheap. Maybe the MP3 patent holders should share the royalties? :-)
  • by FredDC (1048502) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @06:24AM (#18260396)
    I bet a lot of record company executives have a picture of this guy hanging in their office! On top of a darts board...
    • I'm sure other compression formats exist or would have existed. With the advent of the Internet, it was inevitible that the record companies would be where they are today.
      • I always thought that with the advent of broadband and cheap 10^2-gigabyte storage, FLAC would have overtook mp3, however it is not happened still. Probably by "fault" of portable players, where storage space is still critical. Are there any statistics on the average usage/trends of MP3 vs FLAC/Ogg Vorbis/wma/aac etc.?

        • by Stevecrox (962208)
          This is the second time I've heard of FLAC and I still don't know what it is and how it differ's from MP3. MP3 did well because it was small and one of the first on the seen that almost everything seemed to support. Its the interoperability, size and quality that are important. I can't hear the difference between a 192kbs MP3 and a audio CD most people can't, using earphones I can't hear a difference between 128kbs and a audio CD (I've found this to be fifty/fifty) and there is your problem. Early on you co
          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward
            FLAC is losslessly compressed, mp3 is lossily compressed. You can get down to about 50% of the original filesize with FLAC; with mp3 the limits are whatever you'll tolerate down to something ridiculously crappy (16kbps or something I think is the minimum?).

            So FLAC is for when you care about quality over file size. It also isn't nearly as supported as mp3.

          • by Yoozer (1055188) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @08:09AM (#18260884) Homepage
            Really short explanation: FLAC is like Winzip for .wav files.

            Longer explanation: Why you want to do this? You want the originals on your harddisk without bothering about ISO files which you'd have to mount first using Daemon Tools or something (which means you can't play 'm back directly). You don't want the completely ludicrous space requirements .wav demands. This way, you still have the originals - well, at least more "original" if the CD is scratched or stolen or destroyed. It's not even an esoteric audiophile reason; it's just that it works well for archiving (which in turn begs the question why you want to archive something on a portable player that faces risk every day, but hey).

            As usual, Wikipedia has a page on the subject [wikipedia.org] :).
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by sherpajohn (113531)
              I rip all my cd's into iTunes as wav - I want the original. One issue with that though is there's no meta-data, another I just discovered when I bought an iPod - 8gb is about 12 albums, no where near enough for our one week vacation! So now I had to make AAC copies of every wav file in my collection (that only took 8 hours or so), create playlists using only the AAC files and put them on my iPod. Fun Wow! well, its gonna be really nice for that 3 hour wait in the airport on the way to Mexico.
              • At the very least use Apple Lossless. It's like FLAC, but Apple-supported. It supports tags, artwork, and takes half the space.

                And no, you're not losing anything. That's why "Lossless" is part of the name.
            • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

              by Spacezilla (972723)
              No! It doesn't beg the question! It RAISES the question!
          • by MojoStan (776183)
            "MP3 did well because it was small and one of the first on the seen that almost everything seemed to support. Its the interoperability, size and quality that are important."

            Interoperability is a problem for FLAC (most hardware players don't support it), but it shouldn't be because FLAC is free and open. I wish DVD players/changers would play FLAC files the same way current CD players play mp3 files. Using FLAC, I can probabably fit every Led Zeppelin studio album on one single-layer DVD±R. I wouldn

        • by Random Destruction (866027) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @07:26AM (#18260640)
          Its much more likely that people can't tell the difference. Most people think 128kbps mp3 is 'cd quality'. For those of us who know that that's a crock, there's V2 and V0, or even 320cbr. Almost nobody can tell the difference between 320 and flac. So why should people who want to download the latest slammin RnB hit want anything else?

          Also with the way p2p mp3s are, if flac became popular, people would just transcode their 128kbps mp3s to flac.
          • by Hognoxious (631665) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @07:32AM (#18260678) Homepage Journal

            Also with the way p2p mp3s are, if flac became popular, people would just transcode their 128kbps mp3s to flac.
            Coool. That would recover the lost quality, then?
            • Should be informative, not funny, because sadly people think you can just make lost information reappear. I had somebody tell me that they could fit an entire HD movie, compressed losslessly, on a CD-R.
              • I had somebody tell me that they could fit an entire HD movie, compressed losslessly, on a CD-R.
                Was the compression technique called machinima [wikipedia.org]?
              • by unitron (5733)

                I had somebody tell me that they could fit an entire HD movie, compressed losslessly, on a CD-R.

                Yeah, well, see, what they do is they take all the bits and shave down the sides and make them hexagonal instead of square so that they can pack them together a lot tighter.

                A micron here, a micron there, after a while, you're talking real gigabytes. (with apologies to the late Sen. Dirksen)

          • by cyclop (780354)

            Almost nobody can tell the difference between 320 and flac. So why should people who want to download the latest slammin RnB hit want anything else?

            Right *slap on my head* this answers my first question pretty easily. Anyway I still can't find, just for curiosity, a stat on the usage of various music file formats (I guess doing stats on files shared on SoulSeek would be a good indicator). If anyone knows of one, I'd like to see it.

          • by Chonine (840828)
            I store all of my music as FLAC, and I will tell you why.

            Once upon a time, mp3 was 1/10th to 1/5th the size of the original PCM audio off the CD. At this time, the benefits of the space savings were huge, while the loss in quality was negligible. My entire CD collection of roughly 200 CDs, is roughly 100GB as PCM, strait ripped off the CD. When a 14GB hard drive was considered huge, yeah, I was happier to have my audio as 128Kbps mp3 files.

            Now things have changed. The sizes of new hard drives are mo

        • '' I always thought that with the advent of broadband and cheap 10^2-gigabyte storage, FLAC would have overtook mp3, ''

          The iPod doesn't support FLAC.

          (It does support Apple Lossless, but player energy consumption is proportional to megabytes of music read, so you really don't want any lossless encoding on your iPod).
      • Indeed, other compressed formats would have, and have, come about.

        But as mp3 was the first to rule the net what is the added value of your observation?
        • The point was that the record industry can be upset with this individual for creating mp3 (not saying they are upset, just hypothetically), but that the end result was inevitible.
  • extended and changed (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bizzeh (851225) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @06:53AM (#18260486) Homepage
    the mp3 format has been extended and changed so much, and had stuff added and removed (vbr, abr, and tagging.... tagging shouldnt have even been there, since mp3 is a datastream not a container), over time. its hardly the same format now.
    • by segedunum (883035)

      the mp3 format has been extended and changed so much, and had stuff added and removed (vbr, abr, and tagging.... tagging shouldnt have even been there, since mp3 is a datastream not a container), over time. its hardly the same format now.
      So how do the patents stand up then?
      • by Bizzeh (851225)
        if original decoders cant decode a standard mp3 now, technicaly, they shouldnt, since it should be classed as a different format.
    • by metalcoat (918779)
      I disagree with the tagging effort. Although corrupt files happen I do not want to rely on one program's internal database.

      1. What happens if the database is corrupted? (rather than just a few files)
      2. How do I transfer said database to new program? (old program support withdrawn)
      3. Transferring to devices would no longer support drag and drop to standard usb players.

      Correct me anywhere I'm wrong, but I would love an extendable database that is universal to all programs.
    • by tuffy (10202)
      If they'd bothered to wrap a proper container around mp3 to begin with, adding tags would be a lot easier and junk like the Xing header wouldn't be necessary. It doesn't help that ID3v2 is a prime example of the second-system effect [catb.org]. If a bit more foresight was taken when mp3 was pushed out the door, I expect it'd be a much better format than it is now.
    • the mp3 format has been extended and changed so much, and had stuff added and removed (vbr, abr, and tagging.... tagging shouldnt have even been there, since mp3 is a datastream not a container), over time. its hardly the same format now.
      something to understand about the mpeg series, they are defined in terms of what a decoder must be able to decode so new methods of analysing the audio and deciding what is worth including and with what precision do not change the format.
    • by evilviper (135110)

      its hardly the same format now.

      No, it's exactly the same format now, as it always was. VBR vs CBR is an improvement, as are the much newer psycho-acoustic models, but it's still 100% MP3 format. The earliest decoders, if they weren't written to be very strict, could decode the newest MP3s just fine.

    • by GWBasic (900357)

      the mp3 format has been extended and changed so much, and had stuff added and removed (vbr, abr, and tagging.... tagging shouldnt have even been there, since mp3 is a datastream not a container), over time. its hardly the same format now.

      I think MP3 uses something like the RIFF container format. (I'd have to double-check.) For example, .wav files use the RIFF container format, which allows for lots of metadata to be shoved in. Assuming that the MP3 player follows RIFF specifications, (as opposed to just

  • "Suzanne Vega was a catastrophe. Terrible distortion," Brandenburg recalls.
    So it was perfect and they screwed it up?
    • Re:Uh... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by o'reor (581921) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @08:27AM (#18261020) Journal
      Hi, I've been working for a few months myself on the subject of audio codecs, at Orange (France Telecom) R&D department, and I can confirm that Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner" is a popular tune to test new codecs on (alongside with a tune from "The Cranberries" first album).

      You can judge your codec on the overall quality of sound (distortion), the rendering of consonants, the residual noise in silences between two uttered words, etc. Of course, various other kinds of samples were used too (orchestral music, plain speech, male/female voices, and so on).

      Developing codecs was fun, but I got tired of it after a while, and I went back to developing Linux programs on embedded systems in another company...

      • by Anonymous Coward
        IIRC, the issue is a fan that was runnning "silently" in the studio where Vega recorded the song. Of course, "silence" for human ears is not silence for a perceputal audio codec. The result was that the codec was throwing critical bits away trying to encode this fan noise that nobody should have been able to hear, and the rest of the song came out terribly distorted.

        Or at least, that's the story I heard from one of the MP3 and AAC inventors.
        • Similar to this, a simpler codec that I was considering (perhaps in 1994?) made one passage sound better because it didn't encode an audible background hum.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by steveha (103154)
          Okay, I just asked an expert in the field, and he told me that the issue with that song is that the mix makes little errors sound louder. I apologize, but I wasn't able to follow the technical details enough to explain them here.

          I specifically asked about this fan story and he said "No, that's not it."

          Now that I think about it, this explanation is patently silly. The whole job of a perceptual audio codec is to throw away anything that human ears cannot hear; if inaudible fan noise is being preferentially
  • Dupe :) (Score:1, Redundant)

    by dabadab (126782)
    dupe
  • dupe :-) (with link) (Score:2, Informative)

    by dabadab (126782)
    dupe [slashdot.org]
  • by BillGatesLoveChild (1046184) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @07:41AM (#18260730) Journal
    What isn't mentioned in Herr Brandenburg's interview is that Fraunhofer have been playing both sides. If you've bought an MP3 capable player, you've paid Fraunhofer royalties. But Fraunhofer have been playing both sides: developing tools to track MP3s using watermarks so record companies crack down on piracy:

    http://www.computerworld.com/securitytopics/securi ty/story/0,10801,108506,00.html [computerworld.com]
    http://p2pnet.net/index.php?page=reply&story=878 [p2pnet.net]

    They've been expanding their IP business too: Next time you run BitTorrent or eMule (they do both), run it with a network tracker. You'll see computers from Fraunhofer affiliates all over the world taking a peek at what you're downloading.

    http://greatinca.net/blog/emule-ip-blocker-hits-04 022006/ [greatinca.net]

    Does this mean Fraunhofer's merry band of teutonic scientists can be both co-defendants and expert-witnesses in your case?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Bearhouse (1034238)
      Good link. For those who don't know.. An 'ipfilter.dat' file can block IPs from certain companies and agencies you may not want spying on you. And here's how to install it manually. 1)Rename a blank .txt file to-> ipfilter.dat 2)Download an IP Filter List off a security website ( see parent ) and copy its contents into your ipfilter.dat. You may have to Right Click->Open With->Notepad . 3)Copy it to "C:\Documents and Settings\\Application Data\uTorrent\" . 4)In uTorrent Options->Preference
    • by richteas (244342)

      You'll see computers from Fraunhofer affiliates all over the world taking a peek at what you're downloading.

      http://greatinca.net/blog/emule-ip-blocker-hits-04 [greatinca.net] 022006/

      Does this mean Fraunhofer's merry band of teutonic scientists can be both co-defendants and expert-witnesses in your case?

      No, it could also mean that Fraunhofer's merry band of teutonic scientists is no different than other people in their usage of P2P networks. The fact that computers from some Fraunhofer Institute shows up in some IP list do

      • There are several companies who have bounty contracts with the RIAA and MPAA to track piracy. BayTSP http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BayTSP [wikipedia.org] is one. I read that Fraunhofer is another and that they'd expanded into tracking movies on BitTorrent. They scrape your PC, look for checksums and watermarks on your media, then contact the RIAA or MPAA if they find anything.

        Check the logs on that original link which has attempts by Fraunhofer recorded, or fire up BitTorrent yourself and watch Fraunhofer come to you. Try i
    • by Lars T. (470328)

      What isn't mentioned in Herr Brandenburg's interview is that Fraunhofer have been playing both sides. If you've bought an MP3 capable player, you've paid Fraunhofer royalties. But Fraunhofer have been playing both sides: developing tools to track MP3s using watermarks so record companies crack down on piracy

      Well, for one that are actually different institutes of the Fraunhofer group: He developed MP3 here [fraunhofer.de], now works here [fraunhofer.de], but the watermarks were developped (oddly enough) here [fraunhofer.de], then here [fraunhofer.de], and now here [fraunhofer.de]. Which is just a small number of the institutes in the FHG.

      • Here's the log entry from the one poking around inside eMule. Wonder if they were testing their DRM software or pirating.

        193.174.64.0 - 193.174.67.255 Hits=2 [L2]Fraunhofer-Institut
    • What isn't mentioned in Herr Brandenburg's interview is that Fraunhofer have been playing both sides.

      Why is this considered playing both sides? I fail to see the connection.

      Mp3 by itself is not "for" piracy. It is a media format, plain and simple. Legal mp3s are sold all over the internet, and I have an entire hard drive of completely legal mp3s I ripped from my own CD collection. Frauenhofer's involvement in piracy searches is testament to the fact that they want their products used for legal reasons, not for illegal ones. (It's also a good defense against making mp3 illegal because of the proliferation

      • MP3 is the world's pirated music format of choice, and everyone knows it. Including Fraunhofer. The lawyerspeak and public hand wringing on articles such as this will keep them out of RIAA suits, but we know, and they know, and the RIAA know too.

        Don't *really* expect Fraunhofer scientists to be expert witnesses for the prosecution at the very same trial they're co-defendants. Nevertheless it'd be fun to see the lawyer for the next poor sap dragged before the RIAA to try it. ;-)
  • MP3 patents have generated tens of millions in royalty payments for the nonprofit Fraunhofer, including $143 million in 2005, when the number of companies buying MP3 licenses peaked.

    Presumably then, MP3 technology is going to net Fraunhofer over $1 billion over its lifetime.

    Does this strike anyone else as kind of ridiculous? I mean, it's nice that cool inventions are rewarded. But $1 billion for one invention? I feel like this is the flipside of how patent law skews things in computer science. The other

    • by tji (74570)
      In these days of outrageous compensation, with CEO's being gifted $200Million on retirement, it seems pretty reasonable to me that the inventor of a wildly popular technology would be compensated for it.

      Or, how about Creative's settlement with Apple.. $100Million for a ridiculously obvious text menu system?

      Consider how much the companies using the technology have made. Would it be better if that $1Billion was instead given 60% to Apple and the remaining 40% divided among the various other players?

      If anyt
    • by Kelson (129150) *

      Does this strike anyone else as kind of ridiculous?

      No, since they actually invented it. If someone else had invented it, then gone out of business, and they'd bought up the patent and made tons of money on it, then it would be ridiculous.

  • I remember (back before TechTV got bought out and became crap) that Suzanne Vega was on The ScreenSavers and talking to Leo Laporte about this very topic. If I remember correctly, she was actually very unhappy about the whole MP3 idea, especially since it was her music that they used to help fine tune the codec. It surprises me a bit that the article states that Karlheinz met her at the MP3 commemoration event.
  • Overrated... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by evilviper (135110) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @01:47PM (#18265350) Journal
    MP3 is simply overrated. Today, with all the vast improvements to MP3 sound quality that have been made by LAME, such as VBR and psycho acoustic models, it's still less than a 33% bitrate reduction over MP2.

    At the time (mid to late '90s) when it was still CBR, and sounded pretty lowsy. It was barely any improvement at all over the MP2 files that were popular around the web. What's worse, MP3 used significantly more CPU power to accomplish that small bitrate savings.

    It seems those who forget history are doomed to repeat it... It's a whole new level of sad to find people talking encoding their music to high-bitrate MP3s for better sound quality... It's been pretty universally accepted for a very long time that, at 192K or above, MP2 sounds far better than MP3 can ever hope to, at any bitrate. The frequency domain coding required by MP3 causes distortions that the time domain coding of MP2 does not. This (plus better error resiliency) is why broadcasters use MP2, and won't touch MP3.

    And nobody better try to tell me they need MP3s for compatibility... MP3 is 100% backwards compatible... Rename your MP2 files to .mp3 and any MP3 player in the world will handle it.

    While I'm ranting... the same goes for MPEG video. MPEG-1 looks better than MPEG-2 videos at low bitrates, and even better than MPEG-4 (IMO) at very low bitrates. Any format that can play MPEG-4 can play MPEG-2, and anything that can play MPEG-2 can play MPEG-1 (which happens to be patent-free for years now).
    • Sure, 30% savings over mp2 doesn't seem like much today when the difference is what? 5 seconds of downloading time. But way back when I downloaded my first mp3, I would have been using my trusty 14.4K USR Sportster.

      Anyway, at modem speeds, 30% is like 5 minutes!
      • by owlman17 (871857)
        Yes, I agree. And that's just for one song. At that rate, a savings of five minutes per song translates to about an hour's savings for an album of 12.
  • German Law? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JimDaGeek (983925) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @02:00PM (#18265540)

    Brandenburg hasn't become a dot-com zillionaire from his work on MP3, but he received a substantial cut of the royalty payments under a German law that entitles researchers to a share of the profits from their inventions. (He won't say how much.)
    What law is that? Do we have anything like that in the USA? Man, that sounds like a great law. Usually the researchers/scientists do all the real work and then the corporate execs get all the big salaries.
    • by Enlil (1062246)
      in the U.S. investors/shareholders enjoy most of the profits from research; execs' profits come in at a dismal 2nd. incidentally, most of the research is funded by tax dollars via the NSF and defense spending, and the resultant technologies and products are then shelled out as corporate welfare (free tech for corporations). these technologies and products are then sold to consumers in the U.S. by the very companies they have subsidized. true story.
    • by Ozan (176854)
      It is the German "Arbeitnehmererfindungsgesetz", "employees' invention law". The employee receives a share of the earnings through patent royalties based on his involvement in the creation of the invention.

      It considers the employees initiative and involvement in finding a new solution for a problem. How much exactly the employee is paid for is calculated in a complex formula. I could not find an english page about it but maybe you get the idea by looking at this http://www.arbeitnehmererfindungsgesetz.de/ko [arbeitnehm...sgesetz.de]
      • by JimDaGeek (983925)
        Thanks for the link. I had German in high school, though I am _very_ rusty. While I am a natural born American, my heritage is German and Irish (grandparents), so those are two cultures that I really love.
    • by Tablizer (95088)
      Do we have anything like that in the USA? Man, that sounds like a great law. Usually the researchers/scientists do all the real work and then the corporate execs get all the big salaries.

      Hey, that's the American Way: little guy does all the work, and some big shwanky pig at the top parties with bakini babes. If you did away with that, we would be like.....like.....Germany and Canada.
           

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