MP3 is a acronym for "MPEG 1 (or 2) Level 3" audio encoding. It allows listeners to listen to "CD-quality" stereo music on their PC's, while taking up significantly smaller storage space on your hard drive. A full bandwidth stereo MP3 file takes up about 1/11th the disc space that an audio CD requires. This allows for much faster downloads and portability.
It takes about 50 minutes to download one minute of stereo CD-quality audio using a 28.8 modem. Using MP3 instead reduces the download time to about 4-1/2 minutes. A typical music CD uses about 10 MB/minute to play back in stereo. That limits recording time on an audio CD to about 70 minutes max. Using MP3 compression, a CD ROM can easily hold over 100 songs. The advantages of the format are easy to see.
How are they able to do that?
MPEG (a technical specification which stands for Motion Pictures Expert Group) uses an audio compression scheme developed in Germany by the Fraunhofer Institute It uses a technique called "Perceptual Encoding" which basically eliminates sounds from the file that are not likely to be heard by our limited human hearing capacity. For instance, some sounds may be at a lower volume when compared to louder sounds being heard at the same point in time. Our minds don't really notice the quieter parts, so they are eliminated from the data stream. This is just one of many "Psychoacoustic" techniques employed to reduce the data size.
What do I need to listen to MP3 music?
One only needs a Pentium-grade PC, a soundcard, and a program that will play the MP3 files. There are several players available for free download on the Internet: Microsoft's latest version of
Media Player handles MP3 along with a large variety of other audio and video formats. We really like the WinAmp player available from www.winamp.com . It not only has a slick looking user interface (which can be easily changed by using different "skins"); but offers: a 10 band graphic equalizer, pan controls, volume controls, and a real-time Graphic Audio Spectrum analyzer (really cool to watch while listening to the music).
Where do I get MP3 files?
There are a lot of sites on the internet which offer free download of MP3 files. Much popular music has been converted to MP3 format. The distribution of this music is actually illegal, because copyright holders (composers and publishers) are not getting the royalties to which they are entitled. Much controversy exists presently about this situation, and we'll likely see "copy-protection" schemes developed in the near future to limit unauthorized use.