MP3 Obsolete Already?
While the debate rages on (sort of) regarding MP3 vs AAC vs Ogg vs LAME vs (insert CODEC here), one new format seeks to differentiate itself as the new "Music 2.0" system. This month, the Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG) will decide if MT9 - the new kid on the block - will be adopted as a new international standard.
MT9, also branded and referred to as "Music 2.0" splits an audio file into 6 channels. As a practical example, this means that if properly encoded, music can have separate channels for vocals, bass, drums, lead guitar, rhythm guitar and, I don't know - accordion.
Audizen, the South Korean company behind MT9, wants the format to replace MP3 as the dominant compressed music format on the market. But that's a lot like replacing the gas guzzling vehicle with hydrogen power. There are a lot of MP3 players on the market that can't support the new format. Still, MT9 has a lot going for it:
- Music stores and suppliers of digital content can easily modify or replace their inventories - after all, it's digital
- The new format is actually substantially different and just "gimmicky" enough that manufacturers and consumer alike might be tempted to want to "re-mix" their own music with the new format.
- MP3 players cycle new products into the market at a rate of 12-18 months - so refreshing hardware capabilities is hardly an insurmountable task.
Of course, MT9 has a lot going against it as well:
- Will the format end up being perceived as being "too gimmicky" by the public. After all, while you may want more bass, will consumer mixes of audio actually be more satisfying than those of professional mix engineers?
- How will this new technology be applied to older titles without having to re-mix and re-encode from master tracks - something that is hardly to catch on quickly.
- The level of cooperation between manufacturers, labels and digital retailers would be enormous - and all for a new format that doesn't necessarily promise improved quality.
- Thompson (think RCA) failed twice so far to introduce new MP3 formats as a dominant solution: mp3PRO and MP3 Surround. Both were marginalized by consumers, labels, retailers and manufacturers.
What makes all of this so interesting is that the digital music download business really needs a "kick in the pants". Offering MP3 is no better than simply ripping a CD - and those can be had for a reasonable price from several key retailers. The question is a) is MT9 that jump-start the industry needs and b) will the industry even lift a finger to help itself or rely (once again) on market forces driven by the likes of Apple Computer to deliver the next wave of innovation?
We'll have to wait and see.
Note: It certainly doesn't help that Audizen's Trial Downloads of the technology appear to be broken - at least for US-based users.
All MT9 appears to be is a container format for an unmixed record. That is, instead of taking a multitrack production and downmixing all the instruments to stereo, you encode each instrument to a separate track as .MT9 and let the player do the downmixing. There's no technical innovation involved here. MT9 is probably (well hopefully) just a container around a mainstream codec like MP3 or AAC.
Therefore, MT9 does not in any way compete with MP3 or other mono/stereo lossy codecs - although it may be able to use them internally. As is mentioned, it could be used as an alternative means to deliver music, but the odds of it ever catching on in popular music are rather slim. That all press discussion (and MT9's own web site!) have focused on that aspect is quite unfortunate.
From a encoder standpoint, this is still kind of a win - because there's a 1 to 1 correspondence between channel and instrument, you no longer have to worry about weird stereo collapse issues, you only have to tune the encodings for mono, etc. The bitrate would likely still be much higher than MP3 for high quality, simply due to the number of channels involved.
From a playback quality point of view, the MT9 system precludes the use of global dynamic range compression and limiting. That is, because mixing is deferred until playback, mastering must also necessarily be deferred until playback. This, of course, is a partial solution for ending the loudness war and is a huge win. Compression can still be applied to individual tracks, but because the listener has control over the volume of individual tracks, there would be much less impetus for producers to try to make a particular track stand out in the mix. Of course, this also strongly implies that producers would not need to employ mastering engineers in the traditional sense, bringing costs down.
This has virtually no chance of supplanting other formats for commercial music. But the deals with karaoke and possibly cell phones are probably the perfect application for this at the moment: very closed markets, and the music is often custom produced anyway so doing a multichannel production is not a big deal. But as I mention, I suspect I wouldn't mind buying normal music in this format either.
MP3 will just keep improving with tag upgrades, and better codecs.
they had mp3 surround and my mustache didn't even moved for that.
All I care for is if they could remove those damn low-bandwidth files, should they be mp3, wma, abc or xyz!! They are really destroying my music enjoyment! I downloaded ONCE from a store… thinking it would be lossless… NO! Now I had to go back to HMV to buy the fn album over again to be able to enjoy the full dynamic range of the recorded music.
Listening to 320kbps mp3s or FLACs though is a real digital enjoyment!
corey, post: 424494
LAME Ain't an Mp3 Encoder
“At one time, LAME was simply a set of patches against the separately distributed ISO demonstration source, hence the claim that it ”is not an encoder“. The ISO code had a restrictive license but was available without charge.
In May 2000, the LAME project reimplemented the last of the ISO source code, and thus LAME was then a totally new implementation compiling recent versions of LAME no longer requires the ISO source code.
As recent LAME releases are no longer a patch against ISO encoder code, LAME is now itself an MP3 encoder; the LAME acronym has become a misnomer.”