Korean music format MT9 tries to replace MP3 - with a karaoke twist

Yet another format is attempting to replace MP3 as the standard for digital music, but can MT9 really succeed where others have failed for a decade - even with its advanced features?

MT9 was developed by South Korean engineers at Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) in association with venture company Audizen, and the format has been dubbed "Music 2.0." Its creators hope to see MT9 replace MP3, but that lofty goal will likely be replaced by one more attainable: becoming the standard for karaoke.

The main difference between MT9 files and other commonly-consumed audio formats like MP3, WMA and AAC is that MT9 is essentially six channels of unmixed audio packaged within the format's own mixer. The advantage is complete flexibility in playback, enabling players to adjust -- or remove -- any channel independently.

Vocals, chorus, piano, guitar, bass and drum each have their own track contained in the MT9 audio file. Like MP3, the format has no digital rights management built in.

Unsurprisingly, the new format is being marketed as an ideal tool for karaoke fans who wish to easily remove vocal tracks from commercial recordings. The mash-up genre, though not being directly marketed as one that would benefit from the adoption of MT9, could definitely use these files.

Mash-ups, in musical terms, take two or more existent songs, and put them together to form a new hybrid song. MT9's ability to isolate any of six audio channels in each song would strip away the current need for instrumental and vocal isolation software in the creation of these new songs.

While the format currently needs its own dedicated player, both Samsung and LG have reportedly displayed interest in equipping future mobile handsets with MT9 player software. Devices these days are more than capable to handle the extra processing requirements to mix the six channels, but Audizen faces an uphill battle to gain traction in the industry.

In the early part of the decade, Universal Music Group and company Visiosonic attempted the same type of product with their "Mixable CDs." The CDs played normally in dedicated CD players, but opened a Flash-based PCDJ remix tool when inserted in a PC. The effort, while creative, was a bust.

MT9 was, however, selected as a candidate for a new digital music standard by the Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG) last month, and Audizen is selling MT9 albums -- only older releases -- in Korea for around $2 each. But even with MPEG certification, Audizen will need support from those companies selling music -- most of whom already have their own formats.

Moreover, consumers largely have no interest in yet another music standard when existing formats work just fine. MP3 Surround debuted three years ago to offer a multi-channel alternative to MP3 that was backward with the original, but it has largely been ignored.

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