Dr. AIX's POSTS NEWS — 21 August 2014

By

I heard about the rumored YouTube Music Key on NPR the other day as I drove home and read a little more about it this morning at Techhive and Android Police. According to these sites, for a mere $9.99 /month after an introductory free month, users will get access to an ad-free, streaming service featuring many unique bonus materials, remixes, cover tunes, concerts, and personalized playlists.

YouTube, one of Google’s most prized possessions, is already a major music channel. Sony, Universal, Warner Brothers and most indie labels use it to promote their music and artists. But there is also a tremendous amount of music uploaded to the site that is not approved by the labels and which generates income for YouTube’s advertisers…but not for the labels.

This might be a problem when it comes to securing the licenses necessary to launch a competing streaming service. When I met with the labels in New York in June, I asked them whether anyone had approached them about streaming in high-definition. I was told that Qobuz.com is the only one that has requested “higher quality” files but that no decision had been made regarding CD quality files for streaming. YouTube undoubtedly has more clout than Qobuz but moving to high quality streaming presents a number of unique challenges.

140821_YT_music_key_screens

Figure 1 – A collection of screen shots from YouTube Music Key service according to Android Police. Photo from Android Police site. [Click to enlarge]

The Android Police site claims that the images they’ve acquired show the site boasting of having “over 20 million high-quality tracks”. Just what constitutes a “high-quality” track at YT? We’ll have to wait and see but if the different levels of video quality on YouTube are indicative of how the audio might be made available, we might get audio that’s better than Spotify or Pandora. Maybe.

Right now, you can watch videos in a variety of different formats and resolutions on YT. At the top of the list is 720p. The “p” is for progressive…meaning every line of the video scan is displayed in order rather than “i” or interleaved which alternates the lines. Then there’s 480p or standard definition and various lower resolution down to 144p. It turns out that the only way to get the best audio quality on YouTube is to use the highest video setting. But the “highest” quality audio is still less than CD-Quality. So where would a paid premium YouTube music service come in to the mix?

Google might be the ultimate beneficiary of a paid music service on YouTube as it opens the door on a number of the services that Google has already in place…including content creation and curation. You already see the “ghost inside the machine” every time you do a search. For listener/subscribers of YouTube Music Key, it might mean that your playlists come curated, expanded, and even tailored to your own audio fidelity preferences…maybe that wishful thinking but I can dream.

The era of personalized music delivery is upon us…YouTube might be the first company to pull it off.

Forward this post to a friend and help us spread the word about HD-Audio Forward this post to a friend and help us spread the word about HD-Audio

Share

About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(9) Readers Comments

  1. The whole phenomenon of youngsters finding out about music on You-tube is scary. Not only does music stand on it’s own w/out video, but there is a seeming acceptance of mediocrity with little quest for better coming from the 20-35 set. Will they ever own great loudspeakers, stop just consuming music “appetizers” and get to “the main dish”? Will hi-res have appeal to this group, oh, and women, the single biggest music-buying group? These should be our big concerns, not OCD about provenance. I asked last time I think; do you really believe Neil Young and Pono will fleece people? Be so kind as to give me your actual feelings, which will require detaching a bit from the AIX path to ensure un-biased beliefs.Thanks as always, Craig

    • Like it or not YouTube is a huge factor in the acquisition and auditioning of new music. In fact, I’ve used it plenty of times…including the other day to hear Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit In The SKy” track…fidelity was not an issue. I’ll have to find a comment that I got from another reader that insisted that music doesn’t stand on it’s own. It’s always been a visual art as well as sonic one. Just because we separated the them due to technology constraints doesn’t mean that don’t belong together.

      High-Resolution Audio has no appeal to the younger demographic…just look at the number that are entranced by vinyl LPs. They like the cool factor and bragging rights but really don’t care about the fidelity. They aren’t going to buying home theaters with surround sound of any type. A Smartphone, good set of phones and they’re content.

      When I do play real HD-Audio content for young people, they hear it and they recognize the benefits of higher fidelity but the music they like isn’t going to be available with any improved fidelity anytime soon.

      I thought I answered the question…yes, I believe Neil Young is in it for the money, the legacy, and publicity. I believe he really believes that he’s restoring the soul of music in recordings. But some of the things he says (using sample rates for “color”) shows me that he’s not really very up on the realities of better fidelity.

      • Hi Mark, your frankness was greatly appreciated, and points to the source of our occasional disagreements. A small, high-end software (or hardware) vendor such as your own very praise-worthy venture is inherently a low volume, targeted/limited market approach. This stance is very common in high-end. I am much more concerned with good sound for everyone than great sound for the few, and this is why I am enthusiastic about Pono and not ready to diss or doubt until the proof is in the audible pudding. Mr. Youngs’ effort is likely the last chance to re-engage the public interest in combining great sound and music; the success or failure of this will have far greater meaning than how many discs/downloads you or Dave Chesky sell next month. Why has good hi-fi and music enjoyment which used to live on Main St. U.S.A. now been banished and seen by the public as an averse, ‘lunatic fringe, ivory tower’ activity. I know many proposed answers to this question, don’t need any here, but high-end and hi-fi in general will eventually fade away as principals fade as well unless an iconic figure such as Neil Young strikes a public nerve. Let’s hope he does, you will sell more then as well. I love ya Mark, but icon you are not, and we need one to lead the charge. Thanks as always.

        • There simply aren’t enough “everyone” people out there that can tell the difference, care about fidelity and are willing to spend addition money for it. Pono will fail…in fact, it already has because of the availability of high-resolution cell phones and better quality streaming. You heard about the YouTube streaming service. It’s a niche at best. Neil Young can get people’s attention but after you stand up and have people applaud you have to perform. And there’s no way that Pono can. HiFi and audiophiles have been a niche for a long time. It will remain that way for a long time to come.

  2. “The era of personalized music delivery is upon us…”.
    No thanks – all I need is a search field.

  3. The issues are same. Always been same.

    Price and convenience.

    Maybe, MAYBE the price of hardwares is less insane now. There are DAC/headphone amp that are capable of playing at least 24/192 are now below $200 and ones can play 24/96 can be bought under $100. Coupled with decent headphones (e.g Sennheiser HD558), one can get a good personal audio system under $300.

    But the albums are too expensive. I believe the highest possible ‘reasonable’ price for high-res album is just under $20 (that said, HDtracks’ pricing on typical albums work well). And here and there I see albums costing more than 35 bucks…

    There are too many other great things that can be obtained with 35 bucks. Adding the fact that the benefit of high-res format is still being debated, high price really does not help the situation at all.

    Convenience is less a issue now with more and more android smartphones support 24/192 playback now, but the big file size and whole DVD/Blu-ray disc drm issues make high-res file playback still painful to implement.

  4. The top of the video Youtube resolution list is actually 4k, although most HD on Youtube is either 720p or 1080p (at least from videos I’ve submitted) the final resolution is the resolution of the submitted video and always progressive (ie youtube de-interlaces).

  5. A few random thoughts:
    I think WiMP Music out of Europe is either currently or soon intends to stream lossless. It would be neat if you interviewed them for an article to discuss the unique challenges of lossless streaming, if they’re willing to be open about it (understandable if they aren’t given the competitive environment, but they are proclaiming this effort on their website).

    There seem to be more outfits in the streaming music biz than can be long-term survivors. Pandora and Spotify (and to a lesser extent last.fm) have had success, but with Google in the game and Apple taking over Beats’ streaming service, my gut tells me that there is a shakeout coming, either via consolidations/acquisition or tent-folding. In other words, even if you wanted to get into high rez streaming, I have no idea how to even figure out your competition or the keys to success.

    The more expensive music becomes (for example for high rez versions), it seems the more reluctant consumers will become to paying again for something they already own to gain the ability to stream. In that light, the music matching and personal cloud storage services that Google, Apple and perhaps others offer seem fairly important to those who already own high rez music.

    And as you’ve already figured out, the range of streaming quality (real and perceived) is only growing, which creates an opportunity to offer a curation service either to the streaming companies or to customers to navigate the confusing choices and separate myth from reality in what is actually offered. What if you could offer your own subscription-based service to focus on curating and navigating to the truly high quality music streamed by others? In this light, your service would be more of a high rez/high quality portal for streaming users rather than a streaming site. But the ability to offer a streaming portal service may be too difficult from an app perspective, especially if the streaming APIs try to prevent that very portal service I have in mind (Cries of MBAs running amok declaring “to own the customer you must own the customer portal” still echo in my head – I cried them myself years ago).

    I am a bit optimistic that yutes (aka “youths” – a reference to a favorite Joe Pesci movie) – and I’m talking the ones older than high school – actually do care about sound fidelity and may be willing to spend more on content in the near future if convenience and marketing factors are dealt with a ways I haven’t solved. I’ve always been puzzled by yutes who are willing to spend a relatively large amount on hardware and relatively little on content – just look my favorite example of this on head-fi.org. Perhaps it’s because of the tangibility of hardware. Or the ability of hardware makers to make outlandish claims that yutes fall for, and for which nothing has been found in the content space with a similar appeal (for better or worse: I think Pono has recognized this and has brought hardware fluffery to content in a very deliberate, cynical fashion). These afflictions are hardly unique to yutes – gray-haired audiophools have been doing the same, just with different hardware fetishes, for decades. Those dysfunctionalities are both a barrier and an opportunity – the latter because the money is being spent in this space, just not in the right content versus hardware mix by many. (As an aside to my aside: I’ve never seen any economic study of customer utility maximization of hardware versus content spend in audio or video markets, but boy would that be interesting to see. What range (or curve) of hardware versus content spend brings the most satisfaction to listeners? Right up the alley of Sean Olive to look at this, but given Harman’s latest direction with their Distortion of Sound vid I’m not sure where rigorous science fits in with Harman at this point).

    The other source of optimism is that yutes are in fact spending very heavily on high quality home theater, but without the snobbishness or faux-science appeals of the 2 channel audiophile world. They just go about it in such a no-nonsense way that it’s not controversial, and therefore gets less attention from audio-only forum devotees. Avsforum, for all the bluster of its audio theory testosterone contests, is actually home to a large group of very vibrant, scientifically sound, heavily-spending young professionals and homeowners with very impressive home theaters. Same at hometheatershack.com. Wanna really bust open the audio high rez/high quality audio market? Find a way to market high quality audio in a manner that appeals to the high quality home theater crowd. Put another way, what’s my opinion of what young or middle-aged and affluent engineers, software developers and scientists are spending their home entertainment money on? High quality surround sound systems with really good video. Appeal to that crowd and everyone wins. Combining thoughts from others, what if you offered great surround high rez mixes with great studio or concert videos? I don’t think that’s being done right now, and the crowd you want as your customers have already spent the huge bucks on the systems to reproduce it. Perhaps put a few cameras in your studio to capture the performer and engineers doing their thing and a brief interview or two and offer that video up with your recordings (or just as a blu-ray that combines both and see how that appeals to your current customers and make a test marketing push to home theater lovers at the sites I mentioned.

    Summing up the last two paragraphs a bit differently, I think you and I are largely in agreement that Pono will likely fail with the young//middle-aged/educated/somewhat affluent, and I think the source of that failure is your market opportunity. All over the map on this comment, hope some of it was worth the time to read. I listened to Michael Nyman’s soundtrack to “The Piano” while I wrote this, so I got something out of this no matter what 🙂

    • I think you’re going to get the award for the longest comment. I think you’re basically correct about the younger demographic and their appreciation or need for high-resolution. We’ll have to wait and see. But I’m very confident that if it’s not dramatically different…like surround is…they won’t go for it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

four × five =