I watched Tim Cook last week roll out the new iPad Air 2, the new iPad mini 3, and the iMac with its impressive 5K screen. The Apple event also introduced new revs of the iOS and Mac OS. Any rumors or hope that I had that iOS 8.1 would open their new portable devices to “lossless” quality music were dashed. The hardware can support the move to 96/24 and even 192/24 lossless audio but the downside consequences to usability are too hefty for Apple to make that move…at least now.
If Apple does decide to raise the audio standards of the music available through iTunes and playable on their portable devices, it’s only going to happen when they perceive a market demand for increased quality. I hesitate to call it high-resolution audio because of the continuing confusion, misleading advertising, and outright fraud associated with the term. Apple’s executives are very smart individuals. If their customers were clamoring for better audio quality, they would make it a part of their core upgrade strategy. I’m sure they are very aware of what’s happening at Pono, HDtracks, and HTC/Sprint but their research and market surveys show that people don’t care about this issue. Or they just plan can’t tell the difference between a good quality AAC file and a CD specification sound file. As much as it pains me to admit it, I think they’re right.
It’s a whole lot sexier to talk about Apple PAY and 5K screens than 192 or 96 kHz/24-bit audio files. But imagine an Apple event in the not so distant future when high-resolution audio does get a few minutes on the agenda. In my dream scenario, it might go something like this:
TC:There’s one more thing I’d like to share with you this morning. It’s something that Apple customers have been waiting a very long time for. Today, Apple is announcing the immediate availability of high-resolution audio playback on all iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus Smartphones, iPad Air 2, and iPad mini 3 devices. Apple has retooled its entire music delivery ecosystem to handle high-resolution audio. And to explain and demonstrate exactly what that means, we’ve invited one of the strongest advocates and most knowledgeable individuals about high fidelity audio to join us this morning. Please welcome Dr. Mark Waldrep, Founder and Chief Engineer at AIX Records, a label that has been recording, producing, and releasing new high-resolution music for more than 15 years.
MW:Thanks Tim and thanks to all of you for making high-resolution possible within the Apple community. Music consumers deserve to have the very best fidelity that can be produced. For decades we’ve been fed a steady stream of tunes that actually have less fidelity than the music I listened to when I was a university student. It’s true, the vinyl LPs and analog tapes that I enjoyed 40 years ago had more fidelity than virtually all of the music being purchased, ripped, downloaded, and consumed today. Listening to music was an active thing to do when The Beatles or Joni Mitchell released a new album…and it sounded amazing.
MW:These days we’re listening to music that is convenient. It’s been shaped by our new digital distribution system with its limited bandwidth, battery life, do all devices philosophy, and lossy compression coding techniques. However, today things are different. The restrictions of the past are generally gone. It is possible to stream and download music that matches or exceeds the fidelity that first hooked me when I was a very young man. We just have to demand it.
MW:And today Apple is very happy to commit to high-resolution audio. From now on, iTunes will sell and deliver only “lossless” music tracks. All Apple hardware will support 96 kHz/24-bits PCM playback. The iTunes store will offer files for downloading that have been prepared from the “best available masters” as provided by the mastering houses at the labels. We haven’t ripped or upres’d the existing iTunes catalog, iTunes has been getting new transfers of all delivered content at 96 kHz/24-bits for the last 5 years. This is huge.
MW:Finally, I’m very pleased to announce the iTunes UltraHD-Audio store. This new iTunes store will deliver albums and tracks that qualify as the best of the best. Every track on the UHD-Audio store will a new recording done with state-of-the-art recording equipment and the latest recording techniques…meaning you’ll hear real world dynamic range and extended frequency response. You might not hear these tracks on the radio or on iRadio, but you can be assured that you’ll be experiencing REAL high-definition audio. The fidelity of these downloads will keep audiophiles happy and just maybe convince others to accept nothing less than the best.
TC:Thanks Mark! And to prove that he means what he says, we’ve set up a number of listening rooms across the hall so that you can experience some ultra high-definition audio recordings. I’m sure you’ll be impressed.
Don’t laugh…it could happen!!