If you read the news, you may think the MP3 file format was recently officially “killed” somehow, and any remaining MP3 holdouts should all move to AAC now. These are all simple rewrites of Fraunhofer IIS’ announcement that they’re terminating the MP3 patent-licensing program.

Very few people got it right. The others missed what happened last month:

If the longest-running patent mentioned in the aforementioned references is taken as a measure, then the MP3 technology became patent-free in the United States on 16 April 2017 when U.S. Patent 6,009,399, held by and administered by Technicolor, expired.

如果你有看过这则新闻,你可能会认为在最近不知为何MP3文件格式被正式“宣告死亡”,而现在遗留下的MP3文件都将被修改为AAC格式。而这一切都只是在Fraunhofer IIS宣告终止MP3专利许可程序后进行的简单程序重写。


如果把以上提到的使用时间最长的专利许可作为衡量标准,那么MP3 技术从2017年4月16日开始会成为一项免费专利,因为Technicolor持有的这项6,009,399号美国专利已经过期了。


MP3 is no less alive now than it was last month or will be next year — the last known MP3 patents have simply expired.1

So while there’s a debate to be had — in a moment — about whether MP3 should still be used today, Fraunhofer’s announcement has nothing to do with that, and is simply the ending of its patent-licensing program (because the patents have all expired) and a suggestion that we move to a newer, still-patented format.

Why still use MP3 when newer, better formats exist?

MP3 is very old, but it’s the same age as JPEG, which has also long since been surpassed in quality by newer formats. JPEG is still ubiquitous not because Engadget forgot to declare its death, but because it’s good enough and supported everywhere, making it the most pragmatic choice most of the time.2




MP3出现的时间非常早,但它其实是与JPEG在同一时期诞生的,而后者的使用质量却早已超越了新的文件格式。JPEG在如今仍然被普遍应用并不是因为 Engadget忘记了“宣告其死亡”,而是因为它太好用了,获得了人们的广泛支持,使它在大多数情况下成为人们最实用的选择。2


AAC and other newer audio codecs can produce better quality than MP3, but the difference is only significant at low bitrates. At about 128 kbps or greater, the differences between MP3 and other codecs are very unlikely to be noticed, so it isn’t meaningfully better for personal music collections. For new music, get AAC if you want, but it’s not worth spending any time replacing MP3s you already have.

AAC makes a lot of sense for low- and medium-quality applications where bandwidth is extremely limited or expensive, like phone calls and music-streaming services, or as sound for video, for which it’s the most widely supported format.

AAC和其他新的音频编解码器可以生成比MP3质量更好的音频文件,但这种差异只会在低比特率的条件下显现。在约为128 kbps或更高的比特率条件下,MP3和其他编解码器之间的差异是很难被注意到的, 所以这对于个人音乐收藏来说并没有很突出的意义。对于获取新的音乐,你可以选择使用AAC,但并没有必要浪费时间对原有的MP3格式进行替换。



It may seem to make sense for podcasts, but it doesn’t. Podcasters need to distribute a single file type that’s playable on the most players and devices possible, and though AAC is widely supported today, it’s still not as widely supported as MP3. So podcasters overwhelmingly choose MP3: among the 50 million podcast episodes in Overcast’s database, 92% are MP3, and within the most popular 500 podcasts, 99% are MP3.

And AAC is also still patent-encumbered, which prevents innovation, hinders support, restricts potential uses, and imposes burdensome taxes on anything that goes near it.

这似乎对视频音乐博客而言有很大意义,但其实并不然。播客需要配置一种简单的文件类型,从而迎合大多数播放器和设备可支持的播放格式,而且尽管如今AAC被广泛使用,它也并不像MP3那样得到广泛支持。因此绝大多数播客仍会选择使用MP3格式:Overcast数据库里5000万的播客节目中, 92%采用的都是MP3格式,而最受欢迎的500个中99&都是使用MP3格式。



So while AAC does offer some benefits, it also brings additional downsides and costs, and the benefits aren’t necessary or noticeable in some major common uses. Even the file-size argument for lower bitrates is less important than ever in a world of ever-increasing bandwidth and ever-higher relative uses of it.3

Ogg Vorbis and Opus offer similar quality advantages as AAC with (probably) no patent issues, which was necessary to provide audio options to free, open-source software and other contexts that aren’t compatible with patent licensing. But they’re not widely supported, limiting their useful applications.


Ogg Vorbis和Opus生成的文件质量堪比AAC,而且它们也没有专利限制这一问题,因此它们可以提供免费的音频转换、开放源码软件和其他专利许可限制的服务,但它们并不能支持大多数设备,从而制约了它们被广泛应用。


Until a few weeks ago, there had never been an audio format that was small enough to be practical, widely supported, and had no patent restrictions, forcing difficult choices and needless friction upon the computing world. Now, at least for audio, that friction has officially ended. There’s finally a great choice without asterisks.

MP3 is supported by everything, everywhere, and is now patent-free. There has never been another audio format as widely supported as MP3, it’s good enough for almost anything, and now, over twenty years since it took the world by storm, it’s finally free.



  1. There’s some debate whether expirations of two remaining patents have happened yet. I’m not a patent lawyer, but the absolute latest interpretation would have the last one expire soon, on December 30, 2017. 

  2. For photos and other image types poorly suited to PNG, of course. 

  3. Suppose a podcast debates switching from 64 kbps MP3 to 48 kbps AAC. That would only save about 7 MB per hour of content, which isn’t a meaningful amount of data for most people anymore (especially for podcasts, which are typically background-downloaded on Wi-Fi). Read the Engadget and Gizmodo articles, at 3.6 and 5.2 MB, respectively, and you’ve already spent more than that difference. Watch a 5-minute YouTube video at default quality, and you’ll blow through about three times as much. 

  1. 仍有一些争论是关于剩下的专利是否也已到期。我不是一个专利法律师,但根据最新消息最后一个专利的到期日为2017年12月30日。

  2. 这当然是对于图片或其它不适用于PNG格式的文件而言。

  3. 假设一个播客节目从64 kbps MP3格式转换到48 kbps AAC格式,每小时只会节省7 MB,而这对于大多数人来说并没有多大意义(特别是对于播客使用者,他们大都是在有Wi-Fi支持下使用播客)。阅读EngadgetGizmodo的文章,分别需要3.6 和 5.2 MB,但在转换后你可能会耗费更多流量。观看一个默认质量的a 5分钟的YouTube视频,转换后使用的流量是原来的三倍。