Which? uses cookies to improve our sites and by continuing you agree to our cookies policy.

The MP3 is officially dead, according to its creators

As listeners turn to different formats, the MP3 gets left behind

The MP3 is on its way out, according to the team that developed it, as newer, better-sounding audio formats have taken over the industry.

Work began on the MP3 all the way back in 1987, and the world was treated to a glimpse of the first dedicated MP3 player, the MPMan, in 1997. 20 years later, the MP3 doesn’t sound good enough for a true audiophile.

Don’t fret, though – this isn’t the end of the MP3 player and your MP3 files will still work on your device.

Best Buy MP3 players – take your music on the go with these recommended models

The end of an era – MP3 left behind

An announcement made by the Fraunhofer Institute has confirmed that the licensing for patents and software related to the MP3 is no more, which means companies probably won’t be boasting about MP3 compatibility for much longer.

The announcement from the group is a sign that the industry is changing, focusing more attention on formats that provide a better sound. A spokesperson from the Fraunhofer Institute said: ‘[Other formats] can deliver more features and a higher audio quality at much lower bitrates compared to MP3.’

So if the creators of the MP3 are saying other formats sound better, what’s the best way to listen to your music? We run through some popular online options below.

How to stream high-quality music online

How good a streamed track sounds is, in part, defined by its bitrate. The bitrate of a track is determined by the number of bits (or amount of data) processed over a certain amount of time. Technical stuff aside, the general rule is that a track with a high bitrate will sound more detailed and crisper than an alternative with a lower bitrate.

There’s no shortage of music streaming services available to try, but not every service offers streamable audio with the same bitrate. See our table below for details.

Some services switch up the quality of the music you hear depending on your subscription. Spotify, for example, has a bitrate around 96 kbps on mobile devices, while Premium subscribers on desktop PCs can enjoy 320 kbps.

Head to head: Apple iPod vs Sony Walkman

Although the MP3 is being overtaken by higher-quality audio codecs, that won’t stop you enjoying the benefits of a Best Buy MP3 player. The best we’ve tested are a great fit whether you need some tunes to relax with on a morning commute or to accompany you on a run. Some MP3 players have soared through our battery life tests too, with one managing to last over 50 hours on a single charge.

If you’re in the market for a new MP3 player, the chances are you’re trying to decide between an Apple iPod or Sony Walkman. Both big-name brands make gadgets with their own unique pros and cons. If you end up with an iPod Touch, you’ll have access to the App Store and the millions of apps that live there. Even so, you’ll miss out when it comes to hi-res audio, a crystal-clear audio format that only Sony models are compatible with.

Music lovers with a bulging music library will also have to settle for fixed storage capacity on an iPod, whereas several Sony Walkman MP3 players offer expandable memory as an added bonus. For more on the differences between these two key competitors, see our Apple iPod vs Sony Walkman guide.

To see which MP3 players impressed our audio experts during testing, see our MP3 player reviews.

Back to top