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Chapter 8. Playing, Serving, and Streaming MP3

The MP3 revolution will not be televised. The MP3 revolution will not be sold in stores. The MP3 revolution will, however, be available online.

Whether MP3 is in fact a revolution remains to be seen. But it is no less than a grassroots phenomenon that is changing the way people listen to music, the way musicians build audiences, and the way record companies and promoters do business. So what is so exciting about MP3? Simple: the MP3 format provides relatively good audio quality in small file sizes, which means that music can be transmitted more easily over the Internet, and people can build file-based music collections without overstuffing their hard drives. It also means that artists have a new way to reach audiences without having to rely on the recording industry.

The MP3 format allows the person doing the encoding to establish his or her own quality-to-file-size ratio, so files can be very small with low fidelity, or comparatively large with high fidelity, or anywhere in between. These ratios usually are established by adjusting the sampling frequency and the number of bits per second (the bitrate) devoted to storing audio data. The de facto standard is considered 128 kilobits per second (Kbps), 44.1 kilohertz (kHz). At this quality level, a four-minute MP3 file weighs in at roughly 3.5 MB and sounds nearly as good as a compact disc. The same track in uncompressed WAV or AIFF format would be a whopping 40 MB. MP3 encoding can reduce the size of uncompressed audio by a factor of 10 or more while still retaining audio fidelity that approaches CD quality.

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