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.