Dr. AIX's POSTS NEWS — 10 June 2015

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Apple is holding their WWDC (World Wide Developers Conference) this week and laid bare their plans to offer a streaming music service to compete with Spotify. It’s called Apple Music and emerges from the streaming service Apple acquired when they purchased Beats Music, which was originally MOG before it became a part of Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine’s empire back in 2012. The new streaming service will begin service on June 30th with the arrival of iOS 8.4 and will adhere to the normal cost structure of $10 per month (the family plan runs $15 per month).

The new service will have “curated” content, which is term that’s being applied to a number of enterprises. In this context, it means that actual humans will provide suggestions, programming playlists, and sharing their celebrity on Beats One as the new global radio station will be called. It’s all about the human touch at Apple Music, whereas Pandora, Spotify, and Google Play depend heavily on machine-based curation.

The tilt from downloading to streaming has already happened. In 2014, the number of music downloads slowed by 12% while the streaming market surged ahead over 50%. The way that music is consumed has fundamentally changed. Portable playback devices are rapidly replacing home audio setups and higher quality portable devices and the accompanying headphones are where the market is growing the fastest. And despite Steve Jobs aversion to streaming, Apple has finally entered the game with Apple Music.

They are going to compete with Spotify, which has recently tweaked its own system with new features, Google, Rdio, Rhapsody, and of course, Jay Z’s new Tidal service. Tidal is the only on of these services that is attempted to play the “audio quality matters” card…and they’re already misrepresenting what is high-resolution and what isn’t. I’ve learned that some of your favorite high-end music players are already in conversation with Tidal about supporting the new service AND it has been announced the MQA is going to happen on Tidal. But does quality or even “high-resolution” matter? Didn’t the NPR quiz and other surveys establish that it’s really hard to distinguish between very good quality MP3 files and uncompressed PCM masters? And that most people don’t care.

However, none of this matters for audiophiles. How the masses acquire their music won’t affect how audiophiles and dedicated music fans get their tunes, will it? Even if it’s possible to stream high-resolution audio files encoded at 192 kHz/24-bit PCM specs, doesn’t mean that we have to subscribe to Tidal. I think that downloads and even physical media will still dominate this end of the market for years. I’ve been telling customers that purchase physical discs (DVDs or Blu-rays) from AIX Records that they can get the same tracks in real high-resolution through my iTrax.com download site. I’ve already sent a few dozen coupons to customers from the recent Newport Show.

What was clear from watching the Apple WWDC keynote address is that better quality audio is not on the agenda for Apple, at least not yet. In spite of having virtually all 30 million iTunes tracks in native 96/24 PCM format, Apple Music (and iTunes) will be providing 256 kbps quality. Unfortunately, the bitter truth is high-resolution audio is a myth in the marketplace. What parades as high-res music isn’t. The new high-end portable players and home servers that brag about 384 kHz/32-bit “Ultra High-Resolution” are delivering capabilities that completely silly because almost no one producing records at that those specs…and you couldn’t hear a difference even if they were!

Perhaps someday Tim Cook will announce a version of the OS (laptop and iPhone) that will support the 96 kHz/24-bit PCM files. But it won’t make any difference in the music experiences that consumer get from their iPhones. The path forward has to be through the artists, engineers, producers, and most importantly, the labels. GIGO rules.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

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.

(16) Readers Comments

  1. We need to break free from this “AppleLand”. I am not saying that Google and Microsoft are perfect but I, for one, don’t need Tim Cook to dictate my e-needs. My Sony Xperia Z3 flags my 24/96 FLAC files as “HR”, I don’t hear the difference but it’s nice anyway. And having an SD slot means that I get high storage capacity without having to further line the pockets of Tim Cook and his merry band,

    • Thanks Hans, I happen to be a fan of Apple. But I do miss Steve.

  2. 384/32 music at a resolution only Superman could appreciate.

  3. Dr. Mark,

    I am neutral about Tidal’s streaming capabilities but where in their sales pitch do they claim to stream high-resolution? I see High Definition for their videos and Hi-Fi for their lossless option so would you direct me to where they are making theses false claims.

    Thanks

    • They used to claim “the first high-resolution streaming service” on their site. They’ve calmed down after many complaints…including from me.

  4. As an audio enthusiast with aging ears, I don’t purchase music in the highest resolution that I can find…rather, I purchase music in the highest resolution where I can hear a difference with good content on my various systems (which are all quite good). I’ve A/B tested 192/24, 96/24 and various DSD recordings and have concluded that 96/24 is the highest resolution where I can hear an audible difference. So, I try to purchase recordings with 96/24 resolution whenever possible. However, for music discovery I really like having a streaming service. Currently I subscribe to Pandora and SiriusXM (both stream lossy files at 192 kbps). I’m not sure I need a higher resolution streaming service for music discovery (whether that be Apple Music, Spotify, or Tidal). Even though Tidal streams lossless content, I doubt they will stream true Hi-Rez anytime soon…simply due to bandwidth issues for most folks. Maybe I am a diminishing breed because I actually purchase albums from the artists that I find during discovery.

    • Mark, I don’t think aging ears will make any difference. When you reach 96 kHz/24-bit PCM, you’re getting everything you need to appreciate the “soul” of music. Tidal and MQA will make a splash but it will be the same issue of provenance as we have with downloads.

  5. My only thought here is that within a relatively short time ,a few years, 24/96 streaming will be the norm from virtually all devices that can stream. And though I completely understand your valid objections to the shaky marketing tactics that have become ubiquitous, I still think that it was a mistake to use the word high w/ the public at this point; it was an over-hyped term well before the provenance wars began. All that really matters is that folks who want the best sounding iteration of music can get it; who cares what it’s called?

    • Losing the term “high-resolution” will be a good thing…but it’s not going to happen.

  6. Sadly, in some respects, Apple is no longer a trailblazer, post-Jobs, and this week’s presentation was as luckluster as it was “me too” in terms of this new Music service.

    That said, Apple has a long history of carefully drip feeding improvements to products and services, so we can still expect a high res option down the line, I think.

    In the meantime, however, breathing space has been created for someone, possibly Qobuz, to steal Apple’s thunder and offer a genuine high res streaming service. Rumours I hear from Europe are that just such a thing may be happening soon.

    What about Tidal, you may ask. Well, I get the feeling that the new owners regard the lossless streaming feature as little more than a sideshow. The good news, however, is that they finally have a new desktop app and far more robust streaming, so clearly someone in the company cares about quality.

    • Apple is certainly going to flip the switch at some point…we’ll see how they package and promote that when it happens.

  7. It’s All About The Money
    Higher res streaming will come and it won’t be long. Soon there’ll be half dozen or more streamers in place all offering the same catalogs for $10 a month subscriptions. So how do they compete? Someone will break ranks (probably Tital since everything is already in place) and offer there High Quality service for the same $10 a month.
    And a couple more years down the road someone will offer MQA HDA for the same $10 price. Has to happen, there’s just nothing else to offer the customers in the way of better value for the same money. Then better quality audio will become the big sales pitch and it will be a numbers game war.
    As to the Audiophile community, your right, they’ll continue to buy expensive HDA downloads and discs. That market has all ready proven that its not value driven. Todays Stereophile market is buying systems that cost the equal of the mass markets homes. But the future there is questionable. I’ve watched it shrink tremendously in the last 25 years. But then again there’s always a market for multi million dollar collector cars. High End market is totally fad driven. Can $200k turntables and $5k interconnects be justified in any other way?

    • The move to surround “immersive” music via speakers and headphones will also be in the mix.

  8. I imagine that it is just a matter of time (<12 months?) before Apple Music will offer 96/24. Hopefully, with a wonderful twist…. Julian

  9. How much more proof do we audiophiles need to know that Apple does not care about high resolution audio or lossless CD-quality audio? Stop hoping for a bone thrown to us from Apple. Search for the device Apple made years ago called “iPod Hi-Fi”, essentially a portable boom box for the iPod.

  10. Doesn’t bother me one way or the other, I’ve never been an Apple fan, I’m an audiophile and to me Apple was the pied piper that lead the music world down the road to low quality mediocrity with horrible sounding MP3 files at a buck a song, ipods with ear buds and that whole world of audio crap they lead our kids to. I hope they lose their butts on their “me too” streaming service.

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