The trend towards streaming better quality audio just go a little more interesting thanks to an offer that Jay Z, the rapper and very serious entrepreneur made last Friday for Swedish company Aspiro better known by audio enthusiasts as Wimp/Tidal. One of his companies has offered a reported $56 million for a service that only has 512,000 paying users. The cost of streaming CD specification audio (of as Tidal has erroneously termed their content “high-resolution”) is $20 per month or about twice the cost of other streaming services from Spotify and Beats.
You can read about the business deal and the other competitors in the space at the New York Times. The gist of the deal according to a spokesman for Jay Z said the acquisition, “offers great potential for increased entertainment consumption and an opportunity for artists to further promote their music. Panther’s strategic ambition revolves around global expansion and up-scaling of Aspiro’s platform, technology and services.”
There was no discussion of the higher fidelity that Tidal has been promoting on its website and via a Coke vs. Pepsi type challenge, which turns out to be another example of hyping one set of files over the other by boosting the bass and tweaking up the treble (it reminds me of the MAX D fraud that I wrote about months ago).
This new brings a couple of questions to mind. Is Jay Z looking for an opportunity to bring Tidal to a wider audience through his fame and connections? Or is the fact that this streaming service, which is one of the first to bring “standard CD fidelity” to the streaming world, an important enough component of the service that Jay Z had to jump on the train that Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine rode to a $3 billion plus deal with Apple?
My personal opinion is that Jay Z couldn’t care less about higher fidelity streaming. I’d be willing to bet that he couldn’t tell the difference between a really good MP3 file at 256 or 320 kbps and a CD res file. Moving to 96 kHz/24-bit would be even more of a stretch. It’s clear that streaming will soon abandon the lowly MP3 and rally around CD spec audio as the “floor” as Neil Young says. Getting past lossy audio in portable audio devices and home systems is a very welcome development. But it will have no impact on audio/music enthusiasts that are already in the CD fidelity camp and waiting for something better…the world of high-resolution audio. I don’t think these people care about streaming. They want physical discs (Blu-rays or vinyl LPs), they want packaging, they want ownership, and they want what they’re used to in terms of process and playback. The rest of the audio consuming world may be entranced by streaming but I think true blue audiophiles won’t accept streaming music any time real soon for active music listening.
That leaves the question about Jay Z and his empire. He knows the music business and accepts that streaming services are the future on his side of the fence. It’s a reasonable assumption that Tidal will gain marketshare with his name attached to the venture. Is there another Apple out there willing to throw excessive (way excessive!!) amounts of cash at a standard resolution streaming service? I don’t see one…but I’m willing wager that some company will acquire Tidal/Wimp from Jay Z somewhere down the line for more than his initial $56 million.
Here’s my final question. Do regular music listeners care at all about better quality audio (regardless of whether is comes from a disc, a file, or a piece of vinyl) or are they fixated on portability, ease of use, price, and selection? You can pick for yourself…but my experiences over the past 15 years of doing real HD-Audio is that we’re small niche and likely to stay that way.