Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sound of MP3 players

Today I would like to introduce a very special guest post from Alexey Eromenko.
Alexey known also by the nick name 'Technologov' is involve in the "contrib" project; also in GNS3 which is a graphical network simulator that allows simulation of complex networks; 
Among other things he is part of the Dynamips community which is a Cisco router emulator, the original project was abandoned for a long time but the community decided to keep improving it under the name of "Dynamips community version" or "Dynamips-community"

On his spare time he is beta tester for OpenSUSE and wrote most of the articles in "Lessons for Lizards" community book about openSUSE. 


Multimedia Codecs supported by portable MP3 players, including smartphones

Out of curiosity, just decided to do a global analysis of various portable MP3 players, and what they do support. Analysis includes both dedicated players and smart-phones, by world-wide units ever shipped in history.

Major formats/codecs:
1. MP3 (The world’s first popular audio codec)
2. AAC (Advanced-audio coding, MP3 successor)
3. WMA (Microsoft Windows Media Audio)
4. OGG Vorbis (*.ogg; Free Software and patent-free codec)

First format is of course - PCM WAVE. (*.wav; uncompressed lossless CD-quality audio; one song often takes 80 megabytes at 1400 kbps !) Due to the huge size each song takes, it is rarely used for portable audio or for Internet downloads.

MP3 - the universal format, standardized in 1993. Became popular to due online sharing of illegally downloaded music in early 2000’s (Napster, Kazaa) and due to the little space it takes, which is especially useful on portable players. Good quality can be achieved at 128 kbps, compared with 1400 kbps for uncompressed PCM Wave makes for a 12x storage efficiency. Open specification, but requires patent royalties.

AAC - the successor of MP3, ratified in 1997. Provides good quality, even at 64 kbps. Open specification, but requires patent royalties. This is pretty much the standard on Apple Mac OS X and iPhone devices. Due to it’s MP3 succession, more logical name would be a (*.mp4), but it got (*.aac) extension instead, while the MP4 format is usually used to describe MPEG4 based videos.

WMA - First released in 1999, Microsoft decided to develop their own codecs, to reduce dependency on world’s standards, as well as to collect royalties from others. Most music gets encoded into it by Windows Media Player, that rips CDs into this format by default. It achieves good sound quality at 64 kbps. Open specification, but requires patent royalties to Microsoft. It comes default on any modern version of Windows.

OGG Vorbis - Developed in 2000, This is the world’s first 100% Free-software format, that is also patent-free and high-quality lossy audio codec. It was developed by the Open-Source Linux community, as an answer to the patent-encumbered MP3 format, and is widely deployed and recommended in the Linux world. As a Linux user, I use this codec, and it achieves great sound quality at 64 kbps. This is the only audio codec, that is massively supported under GNU/Linux desktop systems. (even MP3 is not.) It can be installed as a separate codec on your Windows PC too, of course.
Vorbis advantage is two-fold: It sounds much better than MP3 at low bitrates (64 kbps) and allows you to save a lot of space, and is widely supported by Free and Open-Source Software.

NOTE: Vorbis too, has a successor, released in late 2012, codec named “Opus”, that got IETF certification standard, and is considered the best audio codec in the world. I expect future Android releases to support Opus. It is a universal codec, that may replace both Vorbis and speech-related (VoIP) codecs at ultra-low bitrates, and with low delay. On top of Vorbis advantages, it adds flexibility. It can go from 6 kbps up to 256 kbps per channel. Skype already announced their intent to adopt Opus.

Major dedicated portable MP3 devices:
Apple iPod (~66%, or 2/3 of dedicated MP3 device market), at 300 million units sold. [1]
Others combined (30%; iRiver, SanDisk, Chinese S1 MP3, Creative, Microsoft Zune, …; 150 million estimated)

Codec supported by Non-iPod devices: (150 M devices)
MP3 = 100% of devices. If a device does not support MP3, then it is not an MP3-player ;) @_@
*AAC = 75%. (not supported by some SanDisk models and by Chinese S1 MP3)
*WMA = 60%
*OGG Vorbis = 20% (?; iRiver, some Chinese S1 MP3 models, some SanDisk models, Cowon, and few other brands support it.) [5]

[*] Based on my observation in local shops in Israel, as well as some online shops of MP3 players. Additional information source:

All portable MP3 dedicated hardware:
MP3 = 100%  (all devices; 450 million)
AAC = 92% (300+112 M = ~412 million)
WMA = 20% (90 M out of 450 M)
OGG Vorbis = 7% (30 M out of 450 M)

Well, AAC supported almost universally, except for the Chinese S1 MP3 player, and few others, while OGG Vorbis has poorest support among the portable hardware MP3 players.
Apple supports only MP3 and AAC codecs, of the popular four. [3]

Major smartphone MP3 devices:
1. Apple iPhone - 200 million devices
2. Android - 500 million installed base. (of those about 40% also support WMA, due to vendor customizations of Android O.S itself) [2]
3. Windows Phone (WMA, MP3, AAC) - ~20 million devices. [4]
4. BlackBerry (MP3, AAC, WMA, and Vorbis on newer models, say 50%) - -~200 million devices [6]
5. Nokia Symbian (MP3, AAC, WMA) -~ 250 million devices [7]
(***NOTE: Here I do not count music-capable dumb-phones, because I really don’t know the percentage of dumb-phones (S40?), that can play user-supplied music at all, besides built-in ringtones)

Smartphones: (1170 million)
MP3 = 100% (all smartphones, that I know of, support MP3)
AAC = 100% (all smartphones, that I know of, support AAC)
WMA = 57% (500 M*40% = 200 million Androids with WMA + 200 M BlackBerry + 250 M Symbian + 20 M Windows Phones = 670 million)
OGG Vorbis = 51% (500 M, all Androids and 100 M newer BlackBerry support it, but no other smartphone does = 600 million)

Total devices installed base: (1170 M smartphones + 450 M MP3 players = 1620 million devices total)
MP3 = 100% (1620 M, yay !)
AAC = 98% (1582 M; all smartphones, plus most MP3 players support AAC)
WMA = 47% (670 M smartphones + 90 M dedicated players)
OGG Vorbis = 39% (600 M smartphones + 30 M dedicated players)

Yeah ! Total portable music players, with the advent of smartphones, have surpassed one Billion (with a B) units sold !!!

Now, with the stunning success of Android, the free codec, OGG Vorbis, is quickly catching up to Microsoft WMA.

Apple devices make up almost one third (500 million out of 1620 million) of total devices. Same for Android.
Apple in the meantime keeps selling 5 million iPods per quarter in 2012, and while I see the need for mini-MP3-players (such as the Nano and Shuffle, for sport activity), I see zero use cases for the full-sized iPod Touch. If you know about any use-cases, please share.

A word to cell phone and music player manufacturers: If you wanna sell devices to Linux users, you better support Free Software formats out-of-the-box, including OGG Vorbis audio, new Opus and WebM video; Supporting FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) and Speex is a bonus. Needless to say that I own an Android-based super-phone, the Samsung Galaxy S III, and recommend it to people.

[1] 300 million iPods:,2817,2394061,00.asp
[2] WMA on Android: For example, Samsung Android 4.0 on Galaxy S III *does* support WMA (and WMV), while vanilla Google Android 4.0 (on Nexus and cheap Chinese Androids) does not. Some Motorola Android devices also support WMA. Official formats supported by Android:
Google: 500 Million Android Devices Have Been Activated Globally
[3] iPod: About compatible song formats
[4] Supported media codecs for Windows Phone
[5] SanDisk MP3 players supported codecs
[6] BlackBerry codecs support
According to Wikipedia, BlackBerry sold 200 million smartphones by Q3 2012 during history:
...and 100 million of those 200 in the last 2 years.
[7] Multimedia Codecs available in Nokia Symbian devices:
Nokia shipped 250 million Symbian smartphones:

Open Questions:
What is the exact total number of iPhones sold till Q3 2012? (my number is approximate)
What is the exact total number of iPods sold till Q3 2012? (my number is approximate)
What is the approx. total number of other MP3 players sold till Q3 2012?
What is the approx. total number of MP3-capable dumb-phones (S40 ? Brew?) sold till Q3 2012? ...and which majors OSes they run, and which codecs do they support? How to analyze dumbphones ? By major companies and firmware family / O.S ?

Extra sources of data :
Look At the (Cell-phone) Handset Industry, Market and Installed Base in 2012 (by Tomi Ahonen)

You’re permitted to USE, COPY, MODIFY this document under the terms of BSD license. See:

by Alexey Eromenko “Technologov”, Dec.2012.


Please share your thoughts and insights ...

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