Whether or not you knew what they stood for, everyone who listened to music in the earliest days of the 21st century is familiar with the characters “MP3.” MP3 files were the new standard that began to make your CD collection obsolete. With the rise of iTunes (and illegal file sharing platforms like Napster and LimeWire), MP3 and Digital Rights Management became hot-button topics in the media, as the market for music shifted from the “physical” to the “digital.”

While the MP3 held strong as the leading format (at least in terms of prevalence) for many years, as the music industry has moved away from downloads and toward streaming, the ubiquitous file format has become increasingly obsolete. This is in addition to the rise of high-fi streaming services like Tidal, which cater to listeners who desire the highest possible sounds quality (the MP3 coding format is notorious for degrading the audio quality of music files).

Last week, the “death” of the MP3 was made official by The Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits, a division of the state-funded German research institution that bankrolled the MP3’s development in the late ’80s. The company recently announced that its “licensing program for certain MP3-related patents and software of Technicolor and Fraunhofer IIS has been terminated.”

Bernhard Grill, director of that Fraunhofer division and one of the principals in the development of the MP3, told NPR over email that another audio format, AAC — or “Advanced Audio Coding,” which his organization also helped create — is now the “de facto standard for music download and videos on mobile phones.” He said AAC is “more efficient than MP3 and offers a lot more functionality.”

Of course, referring to Mp3 as being “dead” is something of a misnomer. Just like when the CD was declared “dead” at the height of MP3 and digital audio downloads, virtually everyone out there still has a bunch of Mp3s on their computer that they listen to, and will continue to do so for some time. But with those who peddle the audio format closing the pipeline, this is the beginning of the “phasing out” of this era in music consumption.

The MP3 may be “dead” but its effect on the digital landscape is profound. It enabled easier downloading of audio files during the broadband days of the internet and drove technical newcomers to join the cyber age. MP3 players exploded in popularity and led to the iPod and iTunes, which in turn fueled the mobile technology-oriented world we live in today.

[h/t – NPR]