NYTimes on the Surround Sound MP3 Format (Now with DRM!)

All the World’s a Soundstage as Audio Formats Evolve

Few paid music services use MP3 because, unlike most other formats, it does not have a built-in digital rights management mechanism to restrict copying and swapping, although companies can add that capability. That same trait, of course, has made the MP3 format wildly popular for ripping music from CD’s to compressed files and swapping them over the Internet.

But the surround-sound version of MP3 is unlikely to have much appeal to swappers because, unlike conventional stereo CD’s, the Super Audio and DVD Audio discs that contain surround-sound music use formats that prevent ripping.

Dr. Herre of the Fraunhofer Institute said he had just begun speaking with record labels about using the MP3 Surround format for legal downloading. The Recording Industry Association of America, which is pursuing an aggressive legal battle against music trading, has not taken a position on the format.

Another seeming barrier for surround sound in MP3’s or other formats is that the main devices using them – portable music players – have only two speakers: the left and right headphones. So some manufacturers view the issue of surround sound as largely irrelevant.