The ’90s were known for two things: its insane fashion and its kickass music. People flocked to the record store to pick up the new Nirvana or Pearl Jam for their Walkman. People didn’t realize they would soon ditch those CDs for something more simplistic.

Time for some coding

In 1988, Moving Picture Experts Group was established to help compress video and audio. Major companies such as Sony, AT&T, and Philips pitched in to help form proper audio coding. Four audio formats created: MUSICAM, ASPEC, ATAC, and SB-ADPCM.

While working on coding, engineer Karlheinz Brandenburg heard the a cappella version of Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner.” Since he didn’t like how Vega’s voice sounded, he cleaned it up via encoding.  “Finally [we] perfected the system and then Suzanne Vega’s voice was easy, but it gave us quite some work to have her voice in full fidelity … I think over time I have listened to the song 500 or 1,000 times,” he told NPR.

Bringing it together

After some testing, the only two formats that were suitable were MUSICAM and ASPEC. MUSICAM was chosen as the blueprint for this new audio compression format. Brandenburg joined a group of engineers to enhance this format for public use. In 1991, MPEG-1, which allowed sample rates of 48k, was finalized. As expected, improvements had to be made. In 1994, MPEG-2 was born. This version could compress over two channels at a time.

The MP3 is born

On July 14, 1995, they gave the audio a brand new name: MP3. Prior to the name change, they simply knew the audio file as .bit. With the MP3 finally launching, people were excited to listen to music in an entirely different manner. Months later, the very first MP3 player named WinPlay3 hit stores. With the ability to store music into their PCs, some folks went overboard. For our old pal Mr. Walkman, however, they knew their days were numbered.