New Apple Music Service: Streaming Not High-Res

It will come. The day when Apple flips the switch and begins to make available uncompressed music. Whether it’s high-resolution or not…only time will tell. But it’s not now and probably some months, if not years, away. The Apple iTunes site is the biggest downloaded music retailer on the planet but it is widely believed that the company will be announcing a new streaming music service at the upcoming World Wide Developer’s Conference in June. I’ve reported in the past that all iTunes suppliers have been required to deliver their source files in 96 kHz/24-bit PCM format. Apple ingests the source files and spits out a variety of file types including ALAC and AAC for use on the iTunes site. These are standard res files consumed by their customers. They also prepare the files for streaming, which will soon fill the pipes of Beats Music.

Apple knows they have to migrate from a downloads only posture. Spotify, the largest streaming music service, is about to get a serious competitor. According to recode.net in an article from May 8th (read it by clicking here), the service will not be free but will offer some music without charge. They include getting a free trial as an incentive to try the new service, uploading a limited number of song samples without a subscription, and listening to a new and improved Apple iRadio, featuring stations, “programmed by human beings instead of computers”.

However, if you want to enjoy Beats Music streams, you’ll have to subscribe…there won’t be an advertising supported model like YouTube and Spotify. Apple and Beats principal Jimmy Iovine have been in serious negotiations with the major labels to solidify new deals to allow them to stream the company’s catalogs.

Jay-Z’s TIDAL service has been streaming so-called “high-resolution audio” through its premium service for $20 per month. Of the millions of subscribers they have, only 10,000 or so have moved to the new “CD quality” model. The public just doesn’t care about higher quality or they’re happy enough with the fidelity currently available. After all, does it really matter what fidelity they delivery when virtually all of the releases are hammered with compressors to within an inch of their lives?

Maybe I should contact Apple and suggest they provide a “high-fidelity” channel through the Beats Music service. They could license MQA from Meridian and stream music from high quality sources…even the catalog that is offered as “high-resolution” by the HRA download sites. The channel would be a great opportunity to see if people are curious about better fidelity and whether they would be willing to pay a premium price for it.

In the meantime, real audiophiles will continue to purchase physical media like vinyl LPs, analog tapes, CD (especially XRCDs), SACDs, DVD-Audio, Blu-ray, and Blu-ray Pure Audio discs. And they will continue to explore the world of high quality digital music downloads. I’m not convinced that streaming is going to replace these established distribution avenues for audiophiles. We’re a passionate and stubborn bunch…but you already know that.


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.

7 thoughts on “New Apple Music Service: Streaming Not High-Res

  • Judson Emerick

    The promise of Master Quality Authenticated encoded music files seems great—-as reported recently in *The Absolute Sound* and *Stereophile*. I commend the people in Cambridge, U.K., at Meridian, for their most interesting initiative! Just think! Finally a wieldy file (not too big) that could be downloaded or streamed with ease (!), that anyone with a digital player could play, but which people with the appropriate hardware could play at the highest digital resolution available.
    But are there any files out there for love or money coded in the MQA format? I’m interested as I have actually purchased Meridian’s personal DAC Explorer 2 which has the requisite MQA decoding circuitry. I’d love to try it out. But where’s the software?

    • You’re right. I’ve been emailing Robert Stuart without much success. He promised to encode some of my tracks and send me an Explorer. Nothing yet.

  • You got that right Mark, I’m not going to pay for a source that I can’t own. Now offer me a high quality streaming service that I can save to my hard drive and I might be interested. But then isn’t that just a unlimited download source?

  • “After all, does it really matter what fidelity they delivery when virtually all of the releases are hammered with compressors to within an inch of their lives?” OR when the playback system costs less than $100 and the listening experience takes place while jogging in traffic?

  • Chris Wright

    Let’s not mince words here. Tidal’s initial US launch has been an unmitigated disaster. The über low number of subscribers to date can be explained by the widely acknowledged failure of the service to deliver reliable lossless streaming, when Tidal was being squarely aimed at the audiophile, to say nothing of no desktop download option and no support for ASIO drivers. Now it’s the service so many love to hate on, following one of the all time PR gaffs with its high profile investors presenting the service as the saviour of the music industry in the manner of Bob Geldof on the March for worthier causes than the down payment on a superstar’s next yacht upgrade.

    All this has, I think, somewhat distorted the perceived potential popularity of a better quality music streaming offer.

    As with any modern Apple enterprise, it’s so unfortunate that Steve Jobs is no longer around to tell everyone that it’s time to put back the soul into music etc., with one of those stunning keynotes of his. That’s how the iPod revolution kicked off and, with the right presenter at the helm, the same could happen with Apple’s inevitable future foray into higher res downloads, be they red book rips or something more exotic than that. Sadly, Tim Cook just doesn’t have the required charisma level to pull this sort of trick off.

    Nonetheless, Apple moving into the higher res/streaming space will, by definition, add credibility and much wider attention to the thought that compressed files just don’t cut it.

    • I was offered a subscription by a person at TIDAL but it never went through. I should try the system and see if there are technical, design, or functional problems. I don’t believe they will survive in the current environment and with Apple headed into the same pond.

  • I have been listening to Qobuz, French streaming service for some time at 44.1. They have a large collection of titles with a much better classical, folk blues and world music selection than Tidal. I have a free subscription to Tidal as well, awaiting my own evaluation of MQA. I accept that much currently recorded material is over compressed (who could dispute it!!!) but a vast amount is not. So good quality streaming of this vast catalogue is worthwhile and that may include MQA.I have also been interested how the bigger agenda of payment to artists and Tidal completely obliterated even a mention of MQA from Tidal recently! So yes the quality agenda is a minority interest, but worthwhile and it will be fascinating to see which players win through in delivering this longer term as the big fruit enters that pond. As regards control over content by the user versus having hard copy in the home, I don’t really see it that way. If the provider has good content I am happy to subscribe; if that stops I can stop subscribing. I can buy selected CDs or downloads as I wish but mostly enjoy the tidiness of an emptier room!


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