The rumor that the sound quality of MP3 files decreases audibly after 10 or 20 years is circulating again and again. But can that really be? We asked the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS.
The MPEG-1 Audio Layer III (short: MP3) is already over 30 years old and was able to assert itself, especially in the noughties, with the rise of portable players. In times when music was mostly still bought on CD, it was ribs and Burn a time-consuming hobby and, by the way, a science in itself. But the MP3 files have not only survived on CDs and USB sticks to this day, music online shops also offer albums in this format.
MP3 files: Only noise after 10 years?
For years, the net has been diving again and again fears on: MP3 files lose data over time – the stored songs would literally rot until only Rush remains. A recent example is a post on Twitter claiming that MP3 files start degrading rapidly after a few years. A piece of toast that has apparently been heated for too long serves as an illustration:
The user “Heathered Pearls” writes that he “repurchased” everything from his music collection because none of what he owned was “listenable”. Burnt toast, so to speak. Well – the toast post is of course one hoax, including all sorts of other exaggerations and crazy things in the comments. When asked how best to store your music, the answer comes: “FLAC, on hard drives etched in glass”.
Fraunhofer gives the all-clear: MP3 files retain their quality
But is there a grain of truth hidden in there, do you really not have to worry about preserving your private music archive? We have that to be sure Fraunhofer Institute asked. At that time, the MP3 format was developed at the Institute for Integrated Circuits, together with the Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. kindly answered us Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jurgen Herre, Chair of Audio Coding, AudioLabs Erlangen. Here is his answer:
MP3 bitstream decoding is a fully specified, standardized process defined by the ISO/MPEG standards group in 1992. So in 10, 20, 30… years the MP3 bitstreams will sound exactly the same as when they were encoded (provided of course you use a properly working device that has no hardware or software issues 😉)
Conclusion: you have to so normally no worries make MP3 files lose sound quality.
If you still have the impression that your old MP3 songs sound(er) bad, then there may be completely different reasons. For example a low data rate (in the past 128 kbit/s or less was common for reasons of space) – or simply a glorified memory: You might have gotten your favorite song from your youth through the
green viewed through pink glasses, after all these years, that can look very different today.