The ground continues to rumble under the impression that Apple is readying a move to “high-resolution audio” downloads through the iTunes store.
And according to music blogger Robert Hutton (I hadn’t been aware of Mr. Hutton or his blog…but from reading few of his posts and his explanations of digital and analog audio, I have some doubts about his overall grasp of high-resolution audio…so take whatever with a grain of salt.):
“For several years, Apple has been insisting that labels provide files for iTunes in 24 bit format – preferably 96k or 192k sampling rate. So they have undeniably the biggest catalog of hi-res audio in the world.
And the Led Zeppelin remasters in high resolution will be the kick off event – to coincide with Led Zep in hi-res, Apple will flip the switch and launch their hi-res store via iTunes – and apparently, it will be priced a buck above the typical current file prices.
That’s right – Apple will launch hi-res iTunes in two months.”
Robert’s got some of this right but he simply doesn’t understand what constitutes a high-resolution audio file. Apple has been working with the labels for a long time to up the specifications of the files that are delivered to iTunes. As a small label that makes tracks available to iTunes as well, I send 96 kHz/24-bit files for conversion and uploading to the Apple site. But my files actually have dynamics and frequencies that occupy the more space in the “fidelity boxes” than virtually ALL of the tracks being sent by the major labels.
The pipeline from the major labels to Apple has been increasingly moved to 96 kHz/24-bit uncompressed audio files. Just yesterday, at a supply chain event here in Los Angeles, I spoke to technical representatives from Warner Brothers and UMG about the delivery of better quality files. “All of the labels have been preparing assets for Apple and other high-resolution licensors for a while now,” they told me. Some writers have then made a major leap and stated, “Because Apple has already accepted 24-bit files for years, it does, presumably, have a large catalog of high quality audio files that could be offered for sale, reportedly at a premium of $1 over traditional iTunes tracks.”
This is where things fall apart. Just because the labels have been sending bigger files to Apple doesn’t mean that the “high quality audio” files will sound any different or better than what we’ve been getting for years. Remember that bits are associated with dynamic range. I’ve not experienced any mastered audio from a major artist of label that uses the full 16-bit range of a standard CD. Yes, it’s important to record, mix and master with 24 or even 32-bits but consumers of pop/rock music won’t be able to tell the difference. And audiophiles won’t be interested.
If Apple plans to roll out an upgrade iTunes in early June with the first three Led Zeppelin albums in HiRes, it will be another misstep in the march towards real high-resolution audio. These reissues and lots of other so called high resolution content will not be able to sustain the additional $1 that Apple is rumored to be charging. If customers can’t tell the difference in the sound, why pay roughly twice the amount.