Onkyo, the Japanese consumer electronics giant, was the first company to offer “high-resolution” audio downloads in Japan. They introduced e-Onkyo in 2005 (two years ahead of iTrax, the first high-res site in the US) as the “world’s first high-resolution music store”. I can remember talking to several people about offering my tracks through e-Onkyo, although ultimately I declined because they weren’t really providing high-resolution audio…according to my definition. And it seems they’re still providing a confused mess of tracks in all sort of formats and specifications. It’s almost impossible to tell which are really high-res because everything on the site has “Hi-Res” pinned to the corner of the album cover.
Their February 9, 2015 press release announces their plans to expand the e-Onkyo site to the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany. The new sites will be rebranded onkyomusic and “aim to be the largest high-resolution music download store”. Watch out Neil, here comes a well-established company ready to compete with Ponomusic with “hundreds of thousands of 24-bit/44.1kHz up to 192kHz hi-res tracks and millions of CD-quality 16-bit FLAC” files.
“The comprehensive selection of content on the site, sourced from 7digitals catalogue of the worlds leading record companies, currently includes over hundreds of thousands of 24-bit/44.1kHz up to 192kHz hi-res tracks (available in FLAC) and millions of 16-bit/44.1kHz CD quality files. The rapidly growing catalogue ensures the service offers users a best in class experience.
Tracks and albums will be sold a la carte at competitive prices and in local currency a hi-res album will cost the equivalent of $15-$20 while individual tracks will be around $3-$4 per song.”
Here we go again. The company 7digital aggregates millions of tracks (similar to Omnifone in the UK, the source behind Ponomusic) by ripping CDs and pushes them up to the e-Onkyo servers. At least, onkyomusic is not calling them “high-resolution” like Ponomusic and Tidal and others. However, consumers should still be wary of spending $3-4 dollars on tracks that may or may not be sonically better than what you already have.
For example, saying that you’ve got files at “24-bits/44.1” shouldn’t cause anyone to reach for their wallet. Why? Because delivering commercial music tracks…any commercial pop or rock recording…using 24-bits is a complete waste of money. Using 24-bit for recording and capture makes sense but delivering the new transfers in 24-bit buckets doesn’t improve the dynamic range at all. If you were to analyze the number of bits that are actually being used in virtually all tracks you get from iTunes or e-Onkyo, none will extend to 24-bits, most will not exceed 10-12 bits (until you get to the fade out), and most will hover around 6-8 bits. That’s the hard truth…heavy mastering and radio friendly compression removes most of the dynamics. The only reason to have long word lengths is when you have large shifts in amplitude…and commercial records don’t.
The arrival of onkyomusic in the US will simply mean that the same catalog of roughly 10,000 newly transferred and remastered albums from the majors will be available at yet another site. You might think that with more competition, the prices on the sites offering the same “high-resolution” sites would start to drop. This isn’t going to happen. The licenses that the major labels inflict on the web providers require them to maintain the high prices. It’s going to get harder for PonoMusic, ProStudioMasters, SuperHiRez and the grandfather of all high-resolution download sites, HDtracks, to squeeze success out of the limited number of customers that will drop $25 for an new “high-res” version of an old album.
Onkyo is coming to America with essentially the same catalog, and same pricing that we already have. No real news here.