No, Apple won’t soon be delivering high resolution music

“Any day now Apple will flip the switch and offer high resolution downloads,” Chris Connaker writes for Computer Audiophile. “That’s what many people have said over the years since Apple first began requesting high resolution material from record labels and artists.”

“Apple won’t release high resolution downloads for purchase or even a lossless CD quality streaming subscription service in the next three to five years,” Connaker writes. “Here are my seven reasons why the high resolution speculation has been incorrect and why high resolution downloads won’t happen in the next three to five years, if ever.”

• Wireless Carriers Don’t Want High Resolution Downloads (Or Lossless CD Quality Streaming)
• Record Labels Want Control And Revenue Again
• Beats
• Apple Has The High Resolution Content Only Because It Can
• Apple Isn’t A Specs Company
• Not Enough Apple Customers Care
• iTunes Doesn’t Support Native Automatic Sample Rate Switching

“Apple isn’t going to flip the high resolution download switch. There are too many reasons why Apple won’t offer these downloads, including but not limited to, wireless carrier push back, record label desire for control and revenue once again, and my belief that the Beats acquisition is all about streaming and so is Apple,” Connaker writes. “As a lover of music and sound quality I hope I’m incorrect. However, I stand by my conclusion that Apple won’t release high resolution downloads for purchase or even a lossless CD quality streaming subscription service in the next three to five years.”

Read more in the full article here.

[Attribution: Kirkville. Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Sarah” for the heads up.]

26 Comments

  1. “Apple isn’t a specs company”?

    WTF, did he just write that? Ah Chris, do you own any Apple products? While I agree, I prefer lossless audio but the reasons for Apple not doing this is pretty simple, it’s a business decision. It might not be ideal for you and I but we are a very, very small user group. Go buy a CD Chris.

    1. I think what he means is that Apple, unlike Microsoft or Samsung, doesn’t run around throwing spec sheets at customers in an effort to one-up the other company. Apple builds in the components and services it believes creates the best overall experience which meets and exceeds its customers’ desires.

    1. I agree. He argues this point both ways. On the one hand he says there’s not enough demand, and on the other he says demand would kill the carriers.

    1. I give a shit. 256kbps is perceptibly inferior to lossless on a decent stereo or quality headphones. Just because you can’t hear the difference doesn’t mean nobody else can.

  2. High Resolution Audio is frankly a non-starter anyway; it’s of interest only to a very tiny subset of those who are really interested in quality music.
    I would hope, however, that Apple offers Lossless downloads sooner rather than later, or, at the very least, ups the bitrate to 320 from 256; for the greater majority of people, even listening through quality ‘phones like UE TF10’s, 320Kb is indistinguishable from Lossless. I’ve compared them, through several different ‘phones, Shure and UE, and I can’t hear any significant difference.

  3. I don’t agree with the report.
    Reasons:

    Wireless Carriers Don’t Want High Resolution Downloads (Or Lossless CD Quality Streaming)
    Yes, they do. They want tiered pricing. They’ll just charge more for seamless high quality streaming/download sessions.
    • Record Labels Want Control And Revenue Again
    Yes they do. But they want more income than they’re getting from YouTube/Spotify. Apple may have a chance to bring them this.
    • Beats
    That’s not an argument for or against.
    • Apple Has The High Resolution Content Only Because It Can
    Why is this an argument against? What is the argument? Why would Apple waste time getting lossless files unless it foresaw a use for them.
    • Apple Isn’t A Specs Company
    No it’s an experience company. Imagine the best headphones in the world running the highest quality music.
    • Not Enough Apple Customers Care
    Yet — customers will care if Apple pitches it right.
    • iTunes Doesn’t Support Native Automatic Sample Rate Switching
    Apple makes Logic. That’s just a technical challenge. Apple makes Logic. It has the technology to solve that challenge.
    Otherwise I quite liked the piece.

  4. You can especially hear the difference through quality headphones. Much of what we listen to is crap. Even my aging ears can hear every snap, crackle, and pop in vinyl, so I’ve never been the fan some are. However, I’ve never, ever heard the Beatles sound better than Paperback Writer in mono on a British Parlophone vinyl single, it sounded like Zeppelin. We need to go forward, though- not backwards and not sideways.

  5. 8) Apple isn’t interested in high resolution music. That’s why it recently patented a proposal for headphones that connect via Lightning and which can decode and playback high resolution audio.

    Oh hang on a minute ……

  6. It was the iTunes Music Store that stemmed the rising tide of illegal music downloads back in the day; but ironically, the very limited availability of high-resolution downloadable music files may eventually drive serious music buffs back to Pirate Bay and the like.

    Right now, the only way to get most recordings in lossless format is to buy CD’s, but Apple computers don’t even have optical drives anymore. I do not agree with those who think that only a tiny minority of music lovers care about high-quality music. Most people may be seduced by the incredible convenience of iPods/iPhones combined with the iTunes Store; but some people (and not an insignificant minority by any means) will eventually long for higher-quality music reproduction. The difference between a 256kbps compressed track and the lossless version is very obvious once you compare the two side-by-side.

    1. But what you just said is the real kicker — most people won’t compare the two side-by-side. Most people are happy with 256kbps (heck, some were happy with less). Most people don’t buy good enough headphones to hear the difference, or they are listening to music as more of a background than actively sitting and paying attention.

      Bottom line is the commercial cost of delivering high resolution audio simply hasn’t lowered enough (and demand isn’t great enough). That is not just monetary cost to Apple or the consumer, but costs in length of time to download a song, storage capacity, etc.

  7. This could be something that Beats has in its streaming pipeline that Apple is very interested in. I don’t agree with most of his reasons given, especially not the wireless carriers.

    What actually makes the most sense is that lossless or high resolution files simply take too long to download, require better/faster internet connections, and customers will be upset with the time delay, particularly in streaming.

    The vast majority of people listen to music on so-so or cheap headphones, via Bluetooth speakers, or in their cars. Most people don’t listen to music from their iPhones at home through a dedicated, high-end stereo/speaker system capable of playing high resolution audio. If they have such a system, they rip their own CDs or buy vinyl.

    IOW, the people who really, truly want high resolution music aren’t Apple’s target market because they are a small sliver of the customer base. That doesn’t mean high resolution audio won’t every happen, because Apple is clearly preparing for that time, but it means the infrastructure and cost/benefit analysis does not favor it right now.

  8. I watched the hour-long re/code interview with Iovine and Cue. What I got between the lines is that Apple is now ready to focus on audio. Specs be damned, I expect a better audio experience in subjective sound quality from all Apple devices, and easier access in finding and listening to music. Having said that, the iMac has had the best stock built-in speaker sound quality I have ever heard from an off-the-shelf computer. They wanted to do this ten years ago but their focus was elsewhere. Now Apple, in their own way, is ready to focus on sound and music access. I expect something wonderful but I can’t say exactly what form it will take. I do have guesses:

    Apple has patented ear-recognition for headphones recently. If a pair of headphones can recognize a specific person’s ear then it can know what that ear wants to listen to and at what volume and EQ settings. With GPS the device with or without the headphones knows when and where the person is. If I’m at the office my system knows to play classical piano music at a low volume. It I am out jogging it knows to play my “Eye of the Tiger” playlist. After dinner it knows to play metal at medium to high levels. Contextual, personal preference, curated so streamed songs don’t jar from one to the next. I expect something along these lines and I expect the sound quality to impressively improve through whatever means current technology will allow. I expect this because Apple said they are now ready to go all in with the audio experience.

  9. I can’t say I agree much with this assessment, and here are my reasons as to why. I would love some REASONED feedback on whether I am likely correct or not. I am very open to counter thoughts as I would very much like to see HD audio from Apple, and I would pay extra for it (not a LOT, but something reasonable), and think the author of the article of optic is completely off base.

    1 – I think the Wireless Carriers would be pleased with HD audio downloads or streaming over their networks as it would justify their favourite thing in the world… tiered pricing. I have service from Cricket (formerly Aio) over AT&Ts network for $40/month (less $5 for auto-pay) and it gives me up to 500MBs of 4G/3G and then throttles to 2G. I can pay extra for more 4G/3G, but 500MBs works fine for me so far as ~98% of my mobile activity is iTunes Radio, and even then, my usage is fairly low. If I got HD audio from iTunes Radio, I would surely need to pay for a higher tier. More money for Cricket (AT&T actually).

    2 Whilst I agree that the labels want increased control and revenue, I think they would get at least the most important bit, the increased revenue from higher priced HD audio.

    3 The idea that Apple bought Beats for Beats Audio is simply ludicrous. It’s overpriced, and has only a few hundred thousand subscribers, compared to the tens of millions that iTunes Radio has. Apple did not need to spend $3 billion to add the elements that make Beats special. They could have simply hired a lot of highly qualified music experts directly – just poached them from Beats. I am thoroughly convinced they bought Beats mainly for the ability to push a significant change in a very contentious issue with smartphone design – ditching the mini audio jack connector to the Lightning connector. They needed a VERY popular headphone line to support the lightning connector right away, to help drive the change with additional features built into the headphones, and then remove the audio jack socket in the iPhone 7 once it has received some market entrenchment.

    Even if I am entirely wrong about the audio jack/lightning connector though, the argument that Apple bought Beats is entirely spurious, and simply it neither a reason for or against HD audio in any way whatsoever.

    4 That Apple already has HD Audio content is also spurious and neither an argument for or against HD audio.

    5 I agree that Apple largely ignores specs, but if a person wearing good headphones. Rather, Apple is about elating their users, and providing higher quality audio though higher end headphones (Beats may not be the best, especially compared to most like-priced competitors, they are certainly MUCH better than the tinny (and tiny) earbuds that comes with iPhones. HD music would sound stunning on some Beyerdynamics and others, but would also sound much better on Beats, and let’s not forget Apple’s push into the living room and cars, two places where upper-midrange audio is fairly standard these days.

    6 Another spurious argument. Apple never has waiting for customers to ask for things in the past. Most Apple customers only know they want something after Apple tells them about it.

    7 Yet another spurious argument. That iTunes does not yet support native automatic sample rate switching is just a technical issue, that can be easily added whenever they want to add it. It’s just software, and even if it were hardware, when has that EVER stopped Apple from adding new things before?

    So, whilst the article makes several spurious points, and really no salient ones whatsoever, it was an interesting read. However, I only say that because I was bored with nothing else to do as I am resting, recovering from a medical condition.

  10. For the last 15 years, we have been enjoying the benefits of ultra high-quality audio on optical media from SACD (Super Audio CD) and DVD Audio. These two were involved in a format war in the early 2000s, but both seem to have survived, although you wouldn’t notice. Both offer audio quality comparable to 96kHz/24bit (SACD a bit below that, due to its bitstream encoding; DVD Audio above, as it uses PCM), and both are still in business (sort of). You can find albums in both formats on Amazon. Majority of releases are re-masterings of analogue recordings from 70s and 80s (“Dark Side of the Moon”, “Hotel California”, etc)…

    The point is, there is apparently a market for high quality audio formats, but it is practically non-existent.

    What is intriguing is that we often get comments from audiophiles on this board, who would very much love to have high-resolution releases (from Apple or elsewhere), but nobody ever mentions SACD and DVD-A, even though they’ve been around for 15 years.

  11. “nobody ever mentions SACD and DVD-A, even though they’ve been around for 15 years”

    Most likely because people have little to no interest in buying physical media anymore. The place to get HD audio today is from HD Tracks and their ilk, and they do seem to be doing pretty well, and growing, so there certainly is a market for HD Audio.

    I think of it as one of those “once you’ve…” sort of things. Once you’ve experienced high end audio, it’s often hard to go back.

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