MT9 An Empty Promise?

Buzz Feed spots a new audio format out of Korea called MT9. The buzz seems to imply that this format will overtake MP3 as the format of choice, but I think that's awfully premature and more than a little naive.
A new audio file format that may come to replace MP3s — six channels of sound that the user can control. What’s the big deal? MT9 files allow you to remix them — turn up the bass, make it a capella, create a music-only version for karaoke, etc. They’re getting a big push in Korea, whatever that means.
What that means: This is most likely a novelty format which will probably be aimed at mobile devices. That's my guess, anyway. In Korea, where they are light years ahead of the US in terms of mobile devices. Otherwise, there are too many issues with this format to be practical for proper music production.

First, you have only six channels. That might sound like a lot to the average consumer, but to anyone who's produced music it's extremely restrictive. The last forty years of popular music has been made with at least eight channels, with current releases going beyond 128 channels, limited only by processor speed and hard drive capacity. Some pop songs have more than six tracks of vocals alone!

The advantage over MP3 is that MT9 is modular to an extent, but it appears to be a novelty music technology for non-musicians. Like Guitar Hero; I'm sure it's fun and engaging, but it doesn't make you a guitarist. The modular aspect is not a unique advantage, save for the fact that the whole song seems bundled into one file - but that tells me that it's not going to be a file of any high fidelity.

I am immediately reminded of the loop packs that have been available for more than a decade - the most recent being things like Apple's Jam Packs for Garage Band or Randy Jackson's Producer's Packs for Acid. Sure, it is customizable sound, but it's not going to make you a producer just for turning one of six tracks on or off. This is actually content that's already been produced, then parceled into incomplete chunks that consumers can pay to re-assemble.

Realistically, as this article implies, MT9 is probably little more than a customizable karaoke format. It's certainly no MP3 replacement, though the press seems to want to make it one. Karaoke is a big business in Korea and much of Asia, so maybe this will be a hit there.

After over twelve years of producing and mixing music, I wouldn't abandon MP3 for MT9; I do work with MP3, but prefer uncompressed formats like WAV and AIFF. If this new format doesn't work with existing software and player applications, it's going to have a hard time being adopted. We'll see if MT9 ever makes it to US shores.


Chris B. said...

Is it really "tracks" or are they talking about "channels" here? It sounds more like surround sound where you can limit certain channels or not and would likely need a computer or some specific hardware to decode it.

I've been messing with Ogg lately in my quest to move to open-source across the board. It sounds great at higher encode levels but the file sizes stay reasonable.

PYLB said...

Hard to tell whether they're "tracks" or "channels", particularly because the people writing about this don't seem that well informed. It appears to be six channels, which are mistaken as tracks when people start talking about remixing and mashing-up.

Anonymous said...

I kind of agree with PYLB on MT9 limitations.
On the other hand the concept interests me and I've found just that in iklax multitrack audio format that seems a lot more feasible. something to check out (www.iklax.com)

The Old Dog said...

Shit. This could usher in an age of dumbasses handing "remixes" of already bad songs off to each other.