Heyday of the MP3 – A History

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via Flickr

Did you know there are over 1.2 trillion mp3 files on earth? That’s more than 171 times the number of people on the planet! It took nearly 200,000 years to grow the human population to 7.2 billion but only 20 years to produce the number of mp3s that exist in the world today. How come there are so many? What has made the mp3 so popular?

In this article we’ll take a look at the history of the mp3 and see how it gained its foothold in the audio world. We’ll also investigate some of the newer codecs that are being used alternatively to the mp3.

In 1989, the Moving Picture Expert Group (MPEG), an international standardization organization, wanted to introduce an audio standard. They received 14 audio coding proposals from participants who were then encouraged to combine their contributions. This resulted in the creation of ASPEC (adaptive spectral perceptual entropy coding), the precursor to the mp3 (MPEG layer 3). The technology was later incorporated into ISO MPEG standardization, which ultimately led to the success of its creators, the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits (FIIC).

Unfortunately, marketing the mp3 was a bit of a disaster. In 1996, consumers were able to purchase the first mp3 encoder via the internet, which quickly led to mass distribution of the mp3. Regrettably, the software was bought by an Australian student using a stolen credit card and was made publicly available. Fraunhofer’s software business may have been laid to rest, but the result was the mp3 spreading like wildfire across the internet.

What’s more, music that was encoded in mp3, often in breach of copyright, was being distributed via file sharing and torrent sites such as Soulseek, Napster and Grooveshark. At the time, an average 128 kbps mp3 took up around 3.5 megabytes of space, a size that could easily be transferred over the internet when higher connection speeds ranged only from 56k to 1.54 mbps.

Finally, the advent of the mp3 player would solidify the mp3’s existence for years to come.

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via Flickr

The last two decades have shown that mp3s were favored over formats such as AAC because they were compatible with more listening devices at higher bit-depths. They also required less storage space than large, uncompressed file types such as AIFF or WAV. This is still true today and streaming and download services such as Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and Murfie continue to support mp3s, but they also support alternative formats as well.

There’s debate about which file formats are best for consuming music, but what consumers should be primarily aware of is the difference between lossy and lossless compression and how it affects their listening experience.

Lossy file types such as mp3 and AAC are compressed audio formats that use inexact approximations and discard data to represent the content for the purposes of storing, handling and transmitting. In other words, what you’re hearing is not the audio in its entirety. It’s similar to printing a draft on your printer as opposed to a full quality print. Less ink is used and the print is often lighter, but what remains is enough information to tell you what you’re looking at. Depending on the bit-depth of these file types the listener may experience reduced audio quality. Some would argue, however, that at higher bit-rates degradation in audio quality is hardly noticeable when compared to lossless formats.

Lossless file types like WAV and AIFF, FLAC and ALAC are containers that are able to store all of the data of an audio signal. Bit-for-bit, these file formats are more accurate representations of a signal because they don’t eliminate any data while encoding. FLAC and ALAC are newer codecs, which are compressed to some degree, but claim to deliver the same quality as uncompressed formats.  Although these containers are often massive in size, they are great for storing audio files in their original condition (true CD quality). And with the advent of hi-res streaming packages like Murfie Hi-Fi, you’re able to stream your music in FLAC on your lossless-ready devices for only $10 a month!    

When you send your collection to Murfie, we’ll rip and store the data as uncompressed audio (WAV) and make it available for streaming in 320 kbps mp3 (1411 kbps FLAC if you choose the Murfie Hi-Fi plan) or download in AAC, mp3, FLAC and ALAC.  

If you’re looking to transfer your CDs, vinyl or cassettes to digital and stream them from your preferred devices, send your collection to Murfie. To get a free quote click here. To learn more about our services, contact us or check our FAQ for answers to frequently asked questions.

Ownership Matters: What Apple Music users and Jim Dalrymple should know

“This is Apple Music. And it’s just the beginning.”

Apple’s website tells all: a single user can subscribe to their new streaming service, Apple Music, for $9.99/month. Though it is in fact just beginning, the new service has been met with a cascade of criticism.

Users reported some major hiccups with the service, including the iCloud Music Library aspect, which is meant to bring your iTunes library onto all your devices for you to stream anywhere. Users were reporting duplicate songs, songs that were moved to the wrong album, and missing songs.

Apple blogger Jim Dalrymple’s situation was particularly upsetting. When he was having complications with Apple Music, he decided to turn it off on his devices, resulting in what looked like 4,700 songs disappearing from his view. It’s reason to panic indeed, although Apple Music technically does not alter any of the original song files stored on your PC or other locations.

If your music “disappears”, whether permanently or temporarily, it’s important to have a backup just in case. Choosing to buy physical music that you own saves you from losing files, and from being at the mercy of a large music service, which are both terrifying things.

When you buy a CD on Murfie for example, we’ll give you the download to add to your iTunes, and streaming access you can take anywhere. If something happens to your files, whether it’s your fault or Apple’s, you’ll always have a perfect archive of all the music you own, ready to be downloaded again at any time. If you don’t want to hang on to the CD, we’ll hang on to it for you.

If you choose ownership, you will always have access, and there will be no need to worry. This is something that all Apple users, including Jim Dalrymple, should hopefully know—and we’d love to have them try us out!

6 Reasons Why Music Ownership Matters

Why own music in the digital age? When you buy digital downloads or streaming subscriptions, you’re sacrificing important benefits that are tied to ownership.

Buying CDs and vinyl gives you several ownership rights, and with the Murfie service, you don’t have to choose between owning music and the convenience of streaming and download access. In short, Murfie exists to give your physical collection the cloud upgrade it deserves. We rip your CDs and vinyl and upload the music to your Murfie account for you to download and stream on all your devices.

But still, why even start with owning CDs and vinyl when you can just download and stream music? Here are six reasons why ownership still matters in the digital age.

  1. Your music will always be yours.

You can obtain digital music in a snap nowadays. Whether it’s streaming with a service, or listening to digital tracks you bought online, you have access to the music—as long as the service exists.

If you’re renting your music with a streaming service and the service closes, or you decide not to subscribe anymore, you end owning nothing. If you bought a digital download somewhere, you won’t have access to re-download that music after the service is no more. Even if the service stays put, oftentimes you’re limited in the number of times you can download.

When you buy CDs and vinyl records, you’ve made a real investment in your music. These are properties you truly own and control. Your money is well-spent, and Murfie helps maximize the enjoyment of the music you own by moving it to the cloud for you. And if you’d rather not store the physical disc on a shelf at home, well, store it here at Murfie!

  1. The quality is better.

Let’s take a look at popular music services and their bitrates, shall we? iTunes = 256 kbps. Amazon = 256 kbps. Spotify = 160 kbps (ouch!). Spotify does have 320 kbps available to subscribers who pay $9.99/month.

At Murfie, your CDs and vinyl are ripped in lossless FLAC format, providing 1411 kbps of audio quality. FLAC is a favorite of audiophiles who enjoy the highest quality music they can get. At no extra cost, you get unlimited downloads of your Murfie collection in FLAC, ALAC, 320 kbps mp3, and aac, and free streaming in 320 kbps mp3. We too have a paid streaming tier for $10/month—but it’s lossless FLAC streaming of course!

  1. You’re not limited to a device or service.

Buying downloads or a streaming subscription limits your listening in key ways. Many services are walled gardens that make it difficult to transfer your files when you change devices. When you own your music, you’re always in control of where, when and how to listen to it.

  1. There’s no “Buyer Beware” terms and conditions.

Did you read the terms and conditions? When you purchase digital content online, you’re agreeing to whatever that fine print clearly (or not so clearly) says. Sometimes the fine print gives the vendor rights to alter or take away what you purchased. The “Buy” button itself historically implies ownership, but that’s not true anymore.

  1. You have rights to sell, trade, or gift.

Ever heard of the first sale doctrine? It allows you to sell your CDs and records if you no longer want them. It’s a freedom that we as consumers deserve. At Murfie, you can buy any CD, stream it, and return it within 24 hours if it’s not for you. You can also decide what CDs you no longer want and sell them on the site. We also have a nifty gifting feature that lets you gift an album to a friend!

  1. You can will your music to your next of kin.

Unless you own your music, you won’t be able to pass it on to someone after you die. The fate of digital assets after death has lately become a buzz topic. Your Murfie collection, in all its digital glory, comes from your physical CDs and vinyl with ownership rights attached to them—so you can will your music just like the contents of a safety deposit box. It’s yours, after all!

Is hi-res audio worth the price?

As Onkyo plans to expand its hi-res music store to the US, it’s time to decide if hi-res downloads are worth paying more for than CD-quality files.

In recent times, we’ve seen more focus on the quality of music files online. For music lovers who enjoy digital music, this is a welcome change. Folks like musician Neil Young are taking a stance against the low-quality downloads that consumers are used to getting from online stores like iTunes.

“We live in the digital age, and unfortunately it’s degrading our music, not improving,” said Young.

To combat crappy digital music, Young launched his Pono device and its corresponding hi-res audio store online. Now, Japanese consumer electronics company Onkyo is planning to expand its hi-res audio store, e-Onkyo Music, to the US, and hopefully tap into the same audiophile market that prefers purchasing higher quality files.

CD-quality audio is better than low-quality files, and hi-res audio is considered to be even better than CD-quality audio in terms of bandwidth and dynamic rage. But when the two are compared in listening tests, even to high-bitrate mp3s, a lot of people can’t hear the difference. For this reason, the question of whether hi-res is truly “better” for listeners than CD-quality is still under debate. (Try comparing them for yourself!)

So how much do places like Onkyo and Pono charge for a hi-res album in FLAC format? Here’s an example, compared to the price on murfie.com for CD-quality FLAC.

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Pono eOnkyo Murfie
quality 48kHz/24bit 48kHz/24bit 44.1kHz/16bit
price $22.99 ~$31.00 $16.00

The Diana Krall album is a new release. How about building your back catalogue with an old favorite?

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Pono eOnkyo Murfie
quality 192.0kHz/24bit 192kHz/24bit 44.1kHz/16bit
price  $24.79  ~$30.00  $3.00

High-quality music is great, but it would be outrageous to pay for a hi-res album if you can’t hear the difference between that and CD-quality audio, which is already high. Some have even claimed that the hi-res movement is profitable trickery aimed at elitists and audiophiles.

Ultimately the choice is up to you, the listener. Find out what you can hear—and can’t hear—and make the choice that makes sense for you. When you choose to buy an album from Murfie, you’re buying a real CD that you can download (FLAC, ALAC, mp3, aac) and stream on different devices (320kbps mp3 or FLAC). Then choose to store the physical disc with us, or have it shipped to you.

For us, quality is key, along with providing access to your music that isn’t limited by any brand or device. Since everything released on CD can be ripped and downloaded in FLAC, Murfie just might be the largest source of high-quality FLAC music online. See for yourself!

Ownership Matters: A way to own digital media you buy online

In his piece for PoliticoMagazine, Kyle K. Courtney describes the questionably precise positioning of the “buy” button so commonly found next to music and movies online.

“When Amazon, iTunes or any digital retailer explicitly says ‘Buy Now’ and the consumer clicks that ‘buy’ button, there is a definite presumption of purchase, and, with that purchase, ownership. That presumption, however, is not reflected in reality,” says Courtney.

If you read the pages of fine print, which many of us don’t, you’ll see you’re not really “buying” anything. Your content is only as protected as the terms say it is, and only if the retailer maintains your access to the content you paid for, as they or their service can close at any time. Most of the digital content you buy is not protected by the solid legal rights you get when you purchase media in its traditional physical format.

So why do people keep buying into media they’ll never own? Courtney says, “We are attracted — and have become accustomed — to the convenience of rapid purchases and on-demand content. When it comes time to move our online MP3 collection or transfer digital content to another device, then we face a surprising reality: We do not really own our electronic music, books and movies in the same way we do when we purchase physical books, CDs, records or DVDs.”

With the Murfie service, we’ve created a hybrid of physical and digital ownership: digital content with true ownership rights in the underlying media you own. The music you buy on Murfie can be available instantly to stream, and you can sell it to someone else if you decide it’s not for you. This is possible because each album you buy is backed by a corresponding physical copy that we store at our headquarters. It’s up to you if you want to store your titles on our shelves or yours, but the digital access is available to you anywhere.

On-demand music and movies are convenient, and it’s true that not everyone will care about owning everything they pay for. But the main issue, Courtney seems to be saying, is transparency. If we’re not really “buying” the digital content from these other big-name services, that should be clear. Then people will have the information to make informed choices about real purchases vs. rental contracts, and go for an ownership-based model if that’s what they desired in the first place.

In the future, we could have ownership that’s free of the physical backups. This could be possible with better contracts around digital content, which could allow buyers to have permanent and transferable rights connected to the media they bought, in formats that work across vendors and services. At Murfie we refer to this as a Physical Equivalent License, and we’re working on offering one down the road—and when it happens, we’ll be sure to state what you are really paying for clearly, right on the buttons in the shops.

Top Posts of 2013: Murfie Blog

We’re almost there—2013 ends today, and I know that everyone at Murfie is happy to have had an exciting year. Social media is a big part of my role here, and writing for the Murfie Blog is always fun. Our blog not only keeps you up-to-date about new features, but it gives you a good look at what goes on behind the scenes: our staffers, our favorite music, and our holiday memories, for starters.

WordPress, the site that hosts our blog, gave us some statistics that point out our most popular posts of the year. Here are those posts, along with a bit of commentary by yours truly.

1. Creative Cover Caption Contest: Finalists! 
Remember how competitive all the finalists were in the #MurfieVOCO contest?! That was a fun time for all of us. It was great to see the creativity of our members shine through. And, it was awesome to celebrate the fact that Murfie now offers lossless streaming with VOCO! That’s really boss!

2. About Murfie
Well hey, it’s good to know people want to learn more about us! Hehe. Our service is definitely unique as ever, and a lot of what we do is communicating what we do.

3. Staff Picks: Top Albums for Lossless Listening (FLAC & ALAC)
This post totally earns its spot high on the list of popular posts. A lot of audiophiles out there swear by lossless listening: It’s higher quality, and it makes certain recordings sound even more rich. John, our Murfie staffer, is without a doubt an audiophile who can recommend what sounds good in lossless format.

4. Music not on iTunes
You guessed right—this post talks about what music is not available on iTunes, and why it’s not available. At Murfie, you’re buying real, physical CDs—not copies or licensed files. Since you own a CD, you get unlimited downloads and streaming of the music on your CD. So you’ll find stuff on Murfie that’s not on iTunes. Nice, eh?

5. Creative Cover Caption Contest
See #1 on the list (above). We owe it to Shawn Broderick for thinking of this tongue-twisting title for our contest.

6. Henry Mackaman
This year, we lost our friend Henry very suddenly. It really shook our staff and everyone else who Henry touched during his lifetime. It was an absolute honor to have him as a friend and creative collaborator. He will always be remembered and missed, and he is a source of inspiration for the people who were lucky enough to know him.

7. Download FLAC at Murfie
So often, we come across people online who are asking, “Where can I download FLAC music LEGALLY?”  Murfie is happy to provide this high-quality format as an option for downloads (and now streaming). I totally admit: Before I worked and shopped at Murfie, I had no idea that FLAC music sounded so much better than other formats. This is because I was stuck downloading mp3s, which is often the only file type that is provided by other music services.

8. Get Lossless Streaming with Murfie + VOCO!
Okay, if for some reason you haven’t noticed #1 and #5 on this list, let me know and I can go into more detail about this one.

9. The Move, Part 1: “Out with the old…”
A BIG change in 2013 was our office location! In order to have room for our growing inventory, we had to move our office…all the way down the street! We even made a fun video documenting the move. We like our new digs at 7 N. Pinckney Street a lot. There’s tons of good photos in this post!

10. Interview with the Simpkin Project [Podcast]
Cooool! I’m so happy to see this on the top ten posts. The Simpkin Project is a band that was recommended to me by Chris from Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad (one of my favoritest bands in the whole entire universe). In a time where modern reggae goes in all directions, The Simpkin Project holds a true rootsy style. And hey guess what…I’m flying out to California to see them play in January. Wheee!

As our main blog contributor, I want to say thanks for reading our posts, and thanks for following us on Facebook and Twitter. I couldn’t do this without the help of other blog contributors including John Kruse and Ally Boutelle. Social Media is a fun window to the goings-on in Murfieland. I can’t wait to share what’s new in 2014! Happy New Year everyone! :)

-Kayla

How to Convert Your CDs to iTunes

Digital music is a convenient way to listen to tunes virtually anywhere. Music downloads and streams are becoming more and more popular, as many people aim for convenient, instantaneous methods of consuming music, without dealing with the cluttering effects of CDs and vinyl.

So now a question comes to mind: What about all those CDs you bought? Do you keep them just to keep them? Sounds kinda inconvenient. Do you ditch them and replace them with digital files? Sounds kinda expensive. And inconvenient.

But, aha! What if you can get the best of both worlds? What if you could convert your CD collection to digital files, like iTunes music, instead of replace it—and keep the discs as a backup, but somewhere remote, not on your own shelves?

Bam. That’s where we come in. These simple steps are the most convenient way to convert your CD collection to digital iTunes music, without having to sit there forever and rip all your music yourself.

Step 1. Send your CD collection to Murfie.

Our expert-CD-rippers will rip your CDs in high quality FLAC format, and then add your albums to your online collection for you to view, play, and manage.

Step 2. Download your CD collection.

Choose your fave format: mp3, aac, or lossless formats FLAC and ALAC. Heads up: iTunes works with mp3, aac and ALAC. You can save the downloaded zip files to your desktop so they’re easy to find.

Step 3. Move the files to your iTunes

First, double-click the zip files to open the album folders. Then drag the folders from your desktop to your iTunes media player, and voila—like magic, they’ll get added to your library, listed alongside your other digital music.

Your CDs will remain safely stored at Murfie, allowing you to request more downloads in other formats. Since you really own the physical disc, you can convert it to whatever format you please, and download and stream it on a variety of devices. You can stream your music on the go with our Murfie mobile app for iOS and Android, at home with Sonos and VOCO devices, and via our website. And one of the coolest parts of all these cool parts is—your CDs will always remain yours. (And ya know, if you really want ’em back one day, we’ll send them to you.)