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.

Evolve Your Listening Experience with Murfie!

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Imagine a time before the invention of the CD burner, back when tapes were still more popular than CDs because they were more durable and our only means of copying and cataloging music.

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I remember fearing the inevitable destruction of my CDs, a consequence made real by overplaying them or neglecting to put them back into their cases afterwards. I certainly didn’t want to pay for the albums again (though that would have been the only option since there was no internet), so I often transferred them from CD to tape.

There were moments when my CDs even fell by the wayside and all I had were tapes of albums I had recorded or mixes of the lot. After all, cassette Walkmans were still more efficient than CD Walkmans back then because CD skip protection was still in its infancy, and I liked to jog while listening to music so the choice was obvious.

When CD burners entered the scene, CD Walkman technology had improved enough that you could pretty much play a CD without skips so long as you didn’t jostle the player too much. People were already ripping CDs to their computers and storing them on hard drives at this time, but it wasn’t until awhile later that actual burning capability became a household item. Consequently, we might have just skipped burning CDs altogether and just moved immediately to file sharing and streaming if it wasn’t for the lack of technology and our learned behavior of collecting physical media.

Binders full of plain discs with hand-scribbled titles gradually replaced the authentic, colorful and provocative ones. The originals were either sold or sat on shelves or in boxes in storage. Eventually, all I had to look forward to was what was on the CD when I played it. I could no longer hear with my eyes. It’s no wonder many of us lost interest in physical media.

music-1163286_1920Today, with the advent of streaming services, ownership of music has declined. We no longer flip through tiny booklets filled with pictures, art, lyrics and production credits while we enjoy our favorite albums. Certainly, we might look at the CDs front cover as a 2″ x 2″ thumbnail through the glare of our cellphone screen, but for the most part the haptic aesthetic of albums is gone.

Additionally, we pay for monthly subscriptions to listen to our favorite tunes, but in the end we’ve sacrificed ownership. If we lose our account or stop paying, our collection disappears. Not to mention, the music we can listen to is limited because subscription services do not have everything. The collections are incomplete.

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Contrary to the latest trend, physical media still exists and will continue to exist in many forms because there is a human need to experience the world with all of our senses. An artist performing a show personalizes it by offering physical media to their fans at a merch booth. A rare box set sells because it was uniquely crafted in remembrance of a great musician. A new generation of audiophiles realizes we got it right the first time with vinyl records and begins rummaging local thrift shops for sonic delights. Not to mention, a vast majority of consumers’ shelves, attics, basements and storage continue to brim with cassettes, CDs and vinyl records.

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Subsequently, a solution that ensures consumers retain the value and ownership rights of the albums they’ve paid for must be brought into being. We need to preserve the option of the aesthetic experience of an album if a listener so chooses and alternatively provide an efficient and safe way in which to catalog and store it. Finally, we need to ensure that when music is streamed, it can be done so at the highest bit rate possible per listening device for the ultimate listening experience.

So what is the solution you might ask? Murfie.

Murfie will take your collection of vinyl, cassettes and CDs, digitize them and make them available for streaming in a variety of popular formats, such as FLAC and mp3, complete with metadata for your preferred devices. When you send us your collection, it is ripped to your personal account for you and you alone. We believe that ownership matters, and so we provide you with exclusive access to your albums as well as give you the option of selling or trading your albums in our marketplace. The marketplace is also useful for filling the holes in your collection. In addition, we provide you the option of storing your albums indefinitely in our secure warehouse to free you of the burden of storing them yourself.

What makes Murfie unique from other streaming services is that if at any time you want to cancel your account or get your music back, you are able to do so. We don’t want you to lose the music you have spent countless hours collecting. We also don’t want you to pay for albums you have already bought over and over. We encourage you to enjoy your physical media the way it was intended, but we understand that advances in technology have led us to more simplistic ways of consuming media. And that is why we are here, to help you evolve and make the decision of what to do with your physical media effortless and pain free.

Send us your collection today, click here for an instant quote. If you have any questions feel free to contact us or check our FAQ.

Digitize Your Tapes with Murfie!

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Image courtesy of hifiengine.com

It’s time to do some spring cleaning and you’ve come across your old tapes. What do you do with them? Do you donate them to Goodwill? Set them on a table outside your house with a sign marked “free”? Maybe you dig through your basement for the last known piece of equipment you played them on (if it wasn’t your old car stereo that is).

These are all options, but Murfie can do you one better! We will take your old tapes, digitize them, and make them available for streaming or download in the following formats: FLAC and ALAC, mp3 and AAC complete with metadata. We will also store your tapes at no extra charge indefinitely or until you want them back. No more clutter! Woo-hoo!

We are dedicated to providing you with the highest quality of product, which is why we use top-of-the-line Aiwa AD-F990 stereo cassette recorders to transfer your tapes to a digital medium. These decks are known for their “unmatched sound quality”.

Please email us at info@murfie.com to get your free quote. For information on our vinyl services, click here.

 

Spring Cleaning Checklist: Music Collection

Spring is almost here…the official first day is March 20th! I know that most folks—especially us in Wisconsin—have been looking forward to this for months!

Spring cleaning has become a yearly tradition all over the world. It’s an opportunity to open the windows and shake the dust off everything in the house from top to bottom. It’s therapeutic—beneficial for your mind and physical health, for all kinds of reasons.

Don’t overlook your music collection when you spring clean this year. Your CDs and vinyl deserve to be checked, re-assessed, and re-organized. You may not have noticed how much your collection has grown over time, piece by piece. Here are some tips for how to sell the titles you no longer want, and breathe new life into your old favorites!

CDs

white_square_yellowDownsize. Figure out which titles are just taking up space since you don’t listen to them anymore. Order a seller’s kit to sell CDs to Murfie members, or sell your CDs directly to Murfie. You’ll earn money from each sale that can be cashed out or used in the marketplace.

white_square_yellowDigitize. Send your remaining collection to Murfie, where it will be ripped and uploaded to your personal account for high quality downloads and streams. Stream your music on the web, our apps for iOS and Android, Sonos, and even more devices. Download your music in mp3, aac, FLAC and ALAC to listen offline.

white_square_yellowDeclutter. Store your discs at Murfie and free up some space. Enjoy anytime/anywhere digital access to your music. Your collection will always remain yours, we’re just storing it for you along with any album art you send—and you can request your physical collection back anytime!

Vinyl 

white_square_yellowClean. Those ol’ vinyl records can become quite dusty over the years. If you send them to Murfie, we’ll use our multi-brush wet cleaning system to remove any dust that might be damaging the quality of your records.

white_square_yellowDigitize. After we clean and digitize your records, you can enjoy streaming on all your devices, and downloads in various formats. We remove pops, clicks, and background noise. Get started by ordering a vinyl kit.

white_square_yellowDeclutter. Just as we store CDs, we’ll safely store any vinyl records you leave with us while you enjoy convenient digital access. Don’t forget, they always remain yours—so request them back whenever you want!

Get organized this spring, and give your collection the cloud treatment it deserves! Get an instant quote for digitization on our CD shipping kit page and vinyl shipping kit page. As for the CDs you don’t want to hang on to anymore, order a seller’s kit to get ’em outta your house asap!

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Seller’s kit

FAQ: Does Murfie sell FLAC music?

This is a question we hear often. The short answer is yes…but “yes” in itself isn’t entirely accurate.

Murfie is a source for FLAC music online, but we don’t sell FLAC downloads. We sell CDs, from which we provide you CD-quality FLAC downloads, and even lossless FLAC streaming to Murfie HiFi subscribers. And that’s really the key aspect to what we’re doing, which some people don’t realize!

When you buy an album on Murfie, you’re buying a real, physical CD from our warehouse that you can stream and download anytime. You can store the physical disc at Murfie or have it shipped to you.

Most CDs are ready to download and stream immediately after purchase.

Download Formats FLAC, ALAC, mp3, aac
FLAC Streaming Sonos, NAD Bluesound, Voco
MP3 streaming (320kbps) Web Player, iPhone, iPad, Android, Sonos, NAD Bluesound, Voco, Samsung Shape, and more ways added all the time!

Why CDs? Buying a CD instead of a download gives you ownership rights to the content on that disc. You can download your files as many times as you like, stream your music on various devices without restrictions, and even pass on your collection to your heirs. What you’re getting when you collect with Murfie is a high quality music investment that will last you a lifetime.

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!

Mom-Approved Modern Music for Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day can often mean a trip back home to spend the day with a certain woman who raised you. I love a good family tradition (and I love my mom even more), but let’s face it: A day of listening to music released circa your mom’s high school years can get a little, well… old. Here are three suggestions to bring your mom into the 21st century, music-wise, this Mother’s Day. Take them for a spin this Sunday—they’re guaranteed to not contain too many lyrics that will make family listening time uncomfortable. (Author’s Note: All albums have been successfully test-driven by my mom.)

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Frank Ocean

This 2012 record was the beginning of something big: Frank Ocean is one of the most incredibly talented singers and songwriters of our time. This record is packed full of the stuff of legends: One-of-a-kind lyrics, an ambitious sound, and a sizable helping of passion and philosophy. Ocean is a storyteller, and his stories highlight the best and the worst of what it’s like to be alive.

Musically, this album is a mishmash in the best possible way. It fuses influences from decades past (think ’70s funk sounds and ’90s hip-hop) with a new and thoroughly modern groove, including truly awesome use of quiet electronic percussion. There’s also heavy soul influence here–moments on this album suggest flashbacks to Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. I rarely listen to R&B, but I sure would if it all sounded like this. The songs have tight verses that hit you with incredible impact. The sheer force of emotion on this album hits you hard, creating a soundtrack for those who have lived, loved–and most of all, lost.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Bad Religion”, “Pyramids”

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Jack White

Up until now, Jack White has been part of a group, whether alongside Meg White of The White Stripes or the rest of The Raconteurs. On this album, however, he’s the star: Not only is this a great solo record, it also holds its own among White’s incredible discography as part of a band. White’s reflections on life and love might tear you apart, but you’ll manage to enjoy every moment of the gut-wrenching process.

For White, going solo means that all his crazy musical ideas and influences find a home. This album contains traces of everything from old-school R&B all the way through modern country music. From his cover of Little Willie John‘s 1960 hit “I’m Shakin” to his use of fiddles and mandolins on “Blunderbuss”, a lot of ground is covered here. Jack White isn’t an easy man to figure out-—nor does he want to be: despite track after track lamenting the heartbreak of love, his female backup chorus includes his ex-wife Karen Elson. A few listens of this album, however, leave you with the impression that Jack White does his best work when he’s a little shrouded in mystery.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Love Interruption”, “Sixteen Saltines”

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The Black Keys

For a group with such a stellar big-band sound, it’s hard to believe that The Black Keys are a two-man show. This album comes after both members took some time away from their main band, trying their hand at other projects. It was a well-needed break: This album is their best release in years, cementing their own unique sound and their position atop the blues-rock food chain. This is nothing incredibly new or different, but that’s why I love them: Consistency is key with a group that constantly delivers music that just sounds like a good time.

This album very successfully plays around with a variety of styles, incorporating everything from up-tempo beats on “Howlin’ For You” to quiet, haunting harpsichord on “Too Afraid to Love You”. My personal favorite addition, however, is vocalist Dan Auerbach’s incorporation of falsetto, For a band that’s made a name with its bluesy sound, a falsetto was certainly a surprise (and a welcome one at that). He nails the sound on tracks like “Everlasting Light”, bringing a much-needed new edge into the mix. For longtime fans like myself, this album set a new standard for the band, turning classic bluesy sounds into something fresh and creative.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Everlasting Light”, “Howlin’ For You”