MP3 (formally MPEG-1 Audio Layer III or MPEG-2 Audio Layer III) is an audio coding format for digital audio. Originally defined as the third audio format of the MPEG-1 standard, it was retained and further extended—defining additional bit rates and support for more audio channels—as the third audio format of the subsequent MPEG-2 standard. A third version, known as MPEG 2.5—extended to better support lower bit rates—is commonly implemented, but is not a recognized standard. MP3 (or mp3) as a file format commonly designates files containing an elementary stream of MPEG-1 audio and video encoded data, without other complexities of the MP3 standard. In the aspects of MP3 pertaining to audio compression—the aspect of the standard most apparent to end users (and for which is it best known)—MP3 uses lossy data compression to encode data using inexact approximations and the partial discarding of data. This allows a large reduction in file size when compared to uncompressed audio. The combination of small size and acceptable fidelity led to a boom in the distribution of music over the Internet in the mid to late 1990s, as an enabling technology when bandwidth and storage were still at a premium. The MP3 format soon became associated with controversies surrounding copyright infringement, music piracy, the file ripping/sharing services MP3.com and Napster, among others. With the advent of portable media players, a product category also including smartphones, MP3 support remains near-universal. MP3 compression works by reducing (or approximating) the accuracy of certain components of sound that are considered to be beyond the hearing capabilities of most humans.
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