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Straight No Chaser

by Dan Richards

New sound technologies are always around long before they reach the attention of consumers. The importance now in looking around the next corner is that it's coming faster than you realize and it's bigger than you think. It's bigger, because it's smaller (which is bigger). While you're riding that wave of MP3's and T1 lines, I'd just like to direct your attention to the rear view mirror. There is a tsunami on the way.

Right off the bat, let's get something straight. MP3 has been around long enough that most of us know that it's a hip slang term for MPEG1 layer 3, which is a format developed by the MPEG or Moving Picture Experts Group. Good Enough. So, what's this we're hearing about an MP4, the next big development? Nope. Is it this MPEG-4 we hear about? Nope. There's more to it than that. Typing MP4 in a search engine only adds to the confusion so let's cut to the chase.

What is MP4? The impostors.

What is now passed off as MP4 is in fact a perfectly good standard with some promises that might fare better without trying to ride on the coat tails of MP3. It's also not getting the biggest reception either, perhaps because it's fairly new. Global Music is marketing their audio web technology, which is actually a licensee of a2b Music and marketed as MP4. It's currently available on Windows only. No word yet about a Mac OS release.

Here are benefits listed by Global Music exactly as it appears on their website:

  • "MP4" interfaceBetter sound quality from significantly smaller audio files
  • The player is embedded - no seperate install necessary
  • All songs are distributed with the authority of their owners
  • Simple to attach to email and send to anyone, anywhere
  • Free redistribution provides ongoing residual value - each MP4 contains a direct link to the artist or copyright owner's website
  • Fully functional built-in oscilloscope with L-R volume controls
  • Embedded Solana Technologies digital watermark allows tracking even when broadcast in an AM/FM radio signal
  • Includes a color graphic, web hyperlinks and unlimited scrolling text
  • Customizable color scheme can be co-ordinated with artwork
  • Easy built-in one-click music manager lets you create limitless custom compilations

So here's a list of Mindjack's a2b technology disadvantages:

  • All songs must be individually launched (no shuffling fun and can't "take it with you")
  • No open development (case closed)
  • Confuses consumer's into thinking this is the next MPEG development (reason enough)
  • It's no fun (try it, it reeks of music industry bullying)
  • They can't spell separate correctly (MPEG and MIT would never do that)
  • Any movement of a song can be tracked . (No thanks, brother)
  • Too much smoke and mirrors (unless you like to watch yourself cough)
  • No separate player (that's half the fun)
  • Who likes receiving 1MB emails? (maybe you do?)

Advice from this camp would be to check out a2b's technology enough so that you know what it is, and then leave it alone. Tell your friends to do the same. It will die out soon enough anyway.

Another new audio compression format that is often mistaken for MP4 was developed by Yamaha and is called Sound VQ or Twin VQ, which uses VQF files. VQF files are about 30% smaller than MP3 files. There's even a new player currently on Windows only called Kjofol that will play both MP3 and VQF files. There are plus and minuses for both MP3 and Twin VQ, but the fact is that MP3 is out of the gates and running whereas VQF is just getting started and is already bogged down by the "illegal audio battles" now being waged. Wired's recent article Nipping at the Heels of MP3 tells the story of an interesting technology with bad timing. The title really says it all. But VQF may yet get it's chance as it has been accepted as a part of the MPEG-4 standard.

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b i o

Dan Richards lives in New York City where he tinkers with trying to place his entire recording studio on the internet.

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