The mp3 History

until 1987

Early 1970s: Prof. Dieter Seitzer of Erlangen-Nuremberg University in Germany begins wrestling with the problem of transmitting speech in high quality over phone lines. Although a first patent application was rejected, he establishes a group of students interested in audio coding research who start tackling the problem for their diploma and Ph.D. theses.

Late 1970s: With the introduction of ISDN and fiber optic cables for telecommunication, improved speech coding seems to become less important. As a new idea, the team of Prof. Seitzer starts research in coding of music signals.

1979: Prof. Seitzer's team develops the first digital signal processor capable of audio compression. During subsequent development, Karlheinz Brandenburg, a student in that team, starts employing psychoacoustic principles in the audio coding schemes, feeding back important findings and corrections into the science of the hearing properties of the human ear. Guided by Prof. Seitzer, Brandenburg and the team achieve continuous improvement of their coding algorithms.

1981: The Compact Disc is presented to the public. For storing audio data, it uses uncompressed linear PCM with 16 bit/sample.

1987

MP3-Team 1987, © Fraunhofer IIS/Kurt Fuchs
© Photo Fraunhofer IIS/Kurt Fuchs

The audio team in 1987 (from left): Harald Popp, Stefan Krägeloh, Hartmut Schott, Bernhard Grill, Heinz Gerhäuser, Ernst Eberlein, Karlheinz Brandenburg and Thomas Sporer.

A research alliance is formed between Erlangen-Nuremberg University and the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits within the framework of the European Union funded EUREKA project EU147 for Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB). Led by Prof. Heinz Gerhäuser (Fraunhofer IIS), the joint research team puts up a functional real-time codec of the LC-ATC (Low Complexity Adaptive Transform Coding) algorithm as the basis for its research. Up to that point, LC-ATC existed only as a simulation on computer. Due to the enormous computing time required it could be tested only with a very limited amount of audio material. The real-time codec enables testing LC-ATC under real-world conditions and leads to significant algorithmic optimizations. The hardware system comprising multiple Digital Signal Processor (DSP) modules and a number of audio and data I/O interface cards is developed by a group of scientists including Harald Popp and Ernst Eberlein.

1988

real-time implementation of the OCF algorithm in 1989

The real-time implementation of the OCF algorithm in 1989 was one of the most important milestones in the development of mp3.

The Moving Picture Experts Group MPEG is established as a working group of the International Standardisation Organisation ISO. It is in charge of developing compressed digital audio and video standards.

1989

First audio transmission in high quality over ISDN connections (1990), © Fraunhofer IIS/Kurt Fuchs
© Photo Fraunhofer IIS/Kurt Fuchs

First audio transmission in high quality over ISDN connections (1990)

1989: Brandenburg finishes his doctoral thesis on the OCF algorithm (Optimum Coding in the Frequency Domain), a codec exhibiting a number of characteristics of the eventual mp3 technology, like a high frequency resolution filterbank, non-uniform quantization, Huffman coding, and its side information structure. The software part of the real-time system for OCF is mainly developed by Bernhard Grill under the lead of Prof. Gerhäuser. In this phase, the basic OCF technology is extended towards a system that is capable of coding audio signals at 64 kBit/s in good quality for the first time worldwide. That way, transmission of music in real-time over telephone lines could be achieved.

1991

ASPEC codec presentation in 1991, © Fraunhofer IIS/Kurt Fuchs
© Photo Fraunhofer IIS/Kurt Fuchs
Presentation of ASPEC 19” studio equipment for reliable transmission of speech and music between broadcasting studios via ISDN

Presentation of ASPEC 19” studio equipment for reliable transmission of speech and music between broadcasting studios via ISDN (from left: Jürgen Herre, Martin Dietz, Harald Popp, Ernst Eberlein, Karlheinz Brandenburg, Heinz Gerhäuser).

A new high-performance audio codec called ASPEC (Adaptive Spectral Perceptual Entropy Coding) codec is presented as the result of further improvements of OCF and contributions by Hannover University, AT&T, and Thomson. The development partners had proposed ASPEC already in 1989 for the forthcoming MPEG audio standard.

MPEG in total received 14 proposals for audio coding. Encouraged by MPEG, the audio coding contributions are merged into four proposals including ASPEC and MUSICAM. After several formal tests, MPEG suggests to erect a family of three audio coding schemes from MUSICAM and ASPEC: Layer 1 is a low complexity variant of MUSICAM, Layer 2 an optimized version of MUSICAM and Layer 3 is based on ASPEC.

Due to its lower complexity, Layer 2 is selected by DAB as the audio format for digital audio broadcasting services whereas the ASPEC / Layer 3 coder with its highest coding efficiency known at that time (and higher complexity) becomes the key to transmitting high quality audio via ISDN phone lines. As a proof of concept, Fraunhofer IIS manufactures and sells a number of ASPEC 19” studio racks to professional users such as radio stations. In this way, transmitting speech and music reliably via ISDN between broadcasting studios becomes the first real application of the Fraunhofer IIS audio coding algorithms. The evolution from ASPEC to the final "mp3" (MPEG-1, Layer 3) codec involves some technological harmonization with the other planned MPEG-1 audio coders and the addition of a joint stereo coding mode, the latter developed by Jürgen Herre. In December, the technical development of the MPEG-1 standard is finished. Layer 3 offers near CD quality at less than 2 bits/sample.

1992

mp3 field testing during the Olympic Games in Albertville in 1992.

mp3 field testing during the Olympic Games in Albertville in 1992.

Early audio testing equipment at Fraunhofer IIS

Early audio testing equipment at Fraunhofer IIS

MPEG concludes its first compression standard, MPEG-1, for use in video CDs (CD-I); the first edition is released as ISO/IEC 11172 in August 1993. In its audio section, a generic family of three codec formats (Layer 1, 2, 3) is specified. Being the most efficient of the three codecs, Layer 3 soon becomes a popular way to store music on the relatively small hard disk drives of PCs and to transfer music files over the Internet through 28.8kbps PC modems.

1994

First mp3 player prototype without movable parts (1994), © Fraunhofer IIS
© Photo Fraunhofer IIS

First mp3 player prototype without movable parts (1994).

First mp3 decoder chip from Micronas and mp3 encoder card for PC. © Fraunhofer IIS/Kurt Fuchs
© Photo Fraunhofer IIS/Kurt Fuchs

First mp3 decoder chip from Micronas and mp3 encoder card for PC

The first generation of one-chip mp3 decoders by Micronas are introduced: in a Solid State Player.

1995

The name “mp3” is coined. In an internal poll, Fraunhofer researchers unanimously vote for .mp3 as the file-name extension for MPEG Layer 3. In the same year, Fraunhofer provides a first PC based Layer 3 codec as shareware.

1996

Three minutes of digital music, compressed and uncompressed. © Fraunhofer IIS/Kurt Fuchs
© Photo Fraunhofer IIS/Kurt Fuchs

Three minutes of digital music, compressed and uncompressed

Worldspace Radio chooses mp3 for audio coding.

1997

Michael Robertson starts mp3.com as a web site for information about mp3 technology, encoder, player, and anything else related to mp3. Not long after that, mp3.com was the biggest legal mp3 music sharing service.

1998

When it was presented in 1998, the Saehan MPMAN was the first portable mp3 player. © Fraunhofer IIS/Kurt Fuchs
© Photo Fraunhofer IIS/Kurt Fuchs

When it was presented in 1998, the Saehan MPMAN was the first portable mp3 player.

The era of portable mp3 listening begins with the introduction of Diamond Multimedia’s "Rio 100" in the U.S. and Saehan Information Systems’s "MPMAN" in Korea. They are the first portable players using solid-state flash memory to store and play compressed mp3 music files either downloaded from the Internet or encoded from a music CD.

2000

In the U.S., the first portable audio devices equipped with hard drives and the first headphone CD players with mp3 functionalities are brought to market. mp3 increasingly becomes a cultural phenomenon, too, with hundreds of millions of mp3 capable computers and consumer electronic devices sold annually.

2004

Fraunhofer IIS and Thomson introduce mp3 surround, an mp3 upgrade for high quality 5.1 surround sound. The data rates of mp3 surround are comparable to those of stereo mp3. mp3 surround is compatible with every mp3 end device and software.

2006

In Germany, mp3 secures more than 10.000 jobs and the tax revenue for the German state sums up to around 300 Million Euros each year. Germans spend around 1.5 billion Euros on mp3 players and mp3 related products.

The possibility to store thousands of mp3 encoded songs on a small portable player, search them by album, artist, title, genre or even to have play lists generated automatically has reawakened millions of people's love for music. You no longer have to look for a misplaced CD in order to listen to a song you have missed for years. The whole music collection is available at the push of a button. In fact, inexpensive 40GB mp3 players today can store over 10,000 songs of CD quality readily available whenever and wherever you are.

mp3 is more than just a technology. It is a sensational development that connects musicians with music lovers, speakers with their listeners, artists with their audience.

2000 - 2006

The increasing popularity of mp3 portables triggers dozens of companies to launch similar portable devices for compressed music playback, and stimulates the development of additional audio codecs for use in PCs and consumer electronics.

2007

The mp3 development team together with State Minister Dr. Günther Beckstein (3rd from left). © Fraunhofer IIS/Kurt Fuchs
© Photo Fraunhofer IIS/Kurt Fuchs

The mp3 development team together with State Minister Dr. Günther Beckstein (3rd from left).

In 2007 Fraunhofer IIS celebrates 20 successful years of developing audio coding algorithms. Today, the German institute is the worldwide leading independent research lab in the field of high quality audio compression technologies for the modern media world.

In May 1987, developers at Fraunhofer IIS achieved a first important milestone: They presented a real-time implementation of the “Low Complexity Adaptive Transform Codec”, in short LC-ATC. That way, music could be compressed in real-time for the first time – a huge advantage as before compression of audio signals took hours even using high performance computers. Preliminary work started already in the 70s with the goal of compressing music for transmission over phone lines.

World-renowned formats such as mp3 or MPEG-4 AAC evolved from the early beginnings. Thanks to these developments, Fraunhofer IIS enjoys an excellent reputation as the leading independent research lab in the field of audio coding.

2009

Technicolor introduces the result of another collaboration with Fraunhofer IIS: mp3HD, the solution for lossless audio coding.

mp3 HD is compatible with every mp3 end device.