Heyday of the MP3 – A History

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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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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.

Amazon Echo vs. Sonos Play:1- Who Will Be Victorious?

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The popularity of music streaming continues to rise as more companies enter the market to compete and win over customers looking for easy-to-use, high-quality playback devices. There seems to be a trend in the home stereo market that’s leading buyers away from complex systems with dozens of components to sleek, simple machines that roll your tuner, receiver, and speakers all into one. Of all the choices available, the Amazon Echo and Sonos Play:1 have become two of the top contenders, but which of these devices is truly worthy of your dollar?

At a glance the Amazon Echo seems promising. It features Alexa, a voice assistant program similar to Apple’s Siri. Alexa can be commanded to stream music from your collection, give you weather updates and even help you with your math. There is a large list of commands people can use and even some “Easter eggs” to get things done or have a little fun.

Digital Music News quoted The Times, saying, “While Echo has received mixed reviews for its sound quality, its Alexa voice assistant — which allows people to quickly play music with verbal commands — has captivated the tech industry and the public.

The Echo sounds like a great investment if you have your hands dirty and need someone to scratch your nose for you, but what about its sound quality? How does the Echo compare to the Sonos Play:1 and other streaming devices?

A number of reviews state that the sound quality of the Echo is uneven (despite its 360-degree, omni-directional audio capability), and that the bass frequencies are weak at high volumes. When pushed up against a wall, it showed minimal bass improvement, a poor use of the “boundary effect.” It also lacks resolution at times, which could be due to the fact that the Echo encodes mp3s at only 256 kbps using a variable bit rate. A variable bit rate means that while complex parts of audio are playing, the overall bit rate will be higher than when less complex parts are playing, so listeners are not hearing the same quality audio at all times.    

On the contrary, the Sonos Play:1 has received rave reviews for its audio quality. Trusted Reviews writes that it, “…produces excellent, rich and meaty sound for its size. It has pretty neutral voicing, but the depth and scale of the bass the speaker is able to produce is very impressive.”

A single Sonos Play:1 can fill a room with sound almost as well as the Echo, but if you’re looking for true surround sound, Sonos gives you the option of purchasing multiple units as well as woofers and soundsbars to pair together and play as one unit. What’s more, the device allows you to stream mp3s at a constant bitrate of 320 kbps, not to mention FLAC and ALAC files at a whopping 1411 kbps. That’s over four times the bit rate of the Echo!

In addition, nerdwallet.com reports, “the Echo can play songs from Amazon Prime Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn and Amazon Music Library, whereas the Sonos Play:1 can stream music from your iTunes library, pull from over 100,000 free radio stations, and work with a number of popular online music services (Spotify, Pandora, SiriusXM, Google Play Music, Amazon Music and iHeartRadio, to name a few).”

Not to mention, you’re able to stream your entire Murfie CD and vinyl collection via Sonos. We at Murfie have been using the Sonos app and speakers to listen to music for several years now, and we love it!

Price-wise, the two are comparable. The Amazon Echo goes for about $179 retail while the Sonos Play:1 goes for $199.

There has been some debate on whether or not the Sonos Play:1 will remain a competitor in the streaming device market in the coming years. There are a number of other companies producing similar products for a fraction of the cost (i.e. Google Home priced at $129 or Muzo’s Cobblestone priced at $60). Regardless of what the future holds, the choice for audiophiles and music aficionados should be clear. The Sonos Play:1 is hands down the better buy. It may not have all the bells and whistles the Echo has, but it does what it was designed to do, provide listeners with the highest quality audio possible.

We at Murfie will continue to support Sonos because we know the importance of audio quality. When subscribers send in their collections, Murfie ensures quality playback, with full metadata, in 320 kbps mp3, lossless FLAC, and other formats, all of which Sonos is able to deliver.

To learn more about our streaming services, see our FAQ or contact us.      

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.

Audiophile Forums

Do you love talking about music? There are some online discussion boards for music collectors and audiophiles that may be of interest to you.

Forums aren’t for trolls—they’re actually quite fun and engaging! As a growing company, we thrive on your recommendations. Please don’t forget to spread the word about Murfie as a source for FLAC music, CD ripping, low album prices, lossless streaming, and more, next time you consider sharing insights on your favorite music websites.

Here are some forums we recommend:

► Head-Fi

A meeting place for headphone hi-fi enthusiasts.

► Hydrogenaud.io

A place to discuss audio technology.

► SteveHoffman.tv

A popular spot for everything from music to hardware to visual arts.

► ComputerAudiophile

A source for computer audio and music server Information and reviews.

Murfie in Yahoo’s Upworthiest Tech of 2013!

Yahoooooo!

Murfie is p-l-e-a-s-e-d as p-u-n-c-h to be on Yahoo’s “Upworthiest Tech of 2013” list, among other great names like Sonos!

We seriously want to thank YOU (yes, you!!!) for helping to make this happen. If it wasn’t for each and every one of our members, who love using Murfie, and who gladly spread the word about our service, we wouldn’t be where we are today. You all rock!

If you haven’t already, please keep spreading the good word about Murfie and share the recent Yahoo article.

Here’s to an even better 2014! ;)

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Pass It On: 2012 Forward Tech Festival

Calling all Wisconsin entrepreneurs (established OR aspiring!)—the 2012 Forward Technology Festival is taking place right now, right here in Madison, WI. One of the event planners is Matt Younkle (you know him as CEO & Co-founder of Murfie), so I asked him a few Qs about the fest and local startup communities in general.

Here are the As.

Sum up the 2012 Forward Technology Festival in 3 sentences or less.
FTF is the premier event series for Wisconsin entrepreneurs that has grown to 16 events over 11 days. The format encourages cross-connections across all areas of tech: software, web, biotech and nanotech. Many of the events involve free beer.

Who’s wearing their event-planner hat in order to make this year’s festival happen?
The best part about this event is that it’s organized by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs. More than a dozen startup founders from around Madison are involved in making things happen, including Preston and myself here at Murfie.

Is there anyone in particular who should be psyched to attend the fest?
FTF is perfect for anyone who has founded a startup or is thinking about starting something.

Why do you think the Midwest, specifically Madison, is gaining steam as a hub for high-tech development?
It wasn’t that long ago that launching a tech company was incredibly expensive. In that environment, smaller markets like Madison were at a distinct disadvantage. Tools and techniques for launching companies are now widely known, and the capital required to launch a startup is as low as ever. Take away requirements for major capital, and Madison looks pretty attractive. We have the necessary IQ (Madison has the most graduate degrees per capita of any city in the U.S.) and work ethic required to succeed, without the attitude.

In your opinion, what are the key ingredients to building a robust tech scene?
An environment that fosters creativity, innovation and great ideas, and the talent and capital required to turn those ideas into reality.

Got any nifty tips for aspiring entrepreneurs? (Things at Murfie are going pretty darn well.)
Stay lean: involve real customers as early as possible in your product development process. And, start building your network now, so you’ll be ready when you need to raise capital later.

Yep, Murfie got “Considered”

Listen to us on All Tech Considered

‘Tis true. We were featured on NPR on All Things Considered. More precisely, the series “All Tech Considered.” All Things Considered is pretty much the jackpot of NPR news programs, and in fact, it was the first news program on NPR. Suffice it to say that we are pretty amped about this press coverage. (By the way, did you know that you can check out all our media shout-outs on this page?)

I don’t have much else to say other than…listen to the NPR audio story here!