I usually take the time to watch the September Apple event. I haven’t had a chance to check out the entire presentation but I did watch the opening few minutes of CEO Tim Cook’s keynote during which he said, “We’ve always had a deep love of music. It’s inspiring. And it’s such a key part of our product experience.” Then he continued providing updates on the Apple Music service, which he claimed has 17 million subscribers. If I had driven Mr. Cook to the auditorium, I would have asked him why Apple keeps pushing down the fidelity of music played through their devices? I mean it should be obvious to any Apple follower that they are moving in the wrong direction when it comes to audio quality. The new iPhone 7 and it’s move to wireless communication between the device and the new AirPods Earphones moves the quality needle down instead of up. Maybe when Bluetooth 5.0 comes along we’ll get real high-resolution specifications but in the meantime, there’s no reason to get excited about the new iPhone if you’re turned on by music fidelity.
By losing the wires, they’re bound by the transmission protocols in use by the telecommunications industry. That is currently Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. They claim to be able to run 48 kHz/24-bit WAV or AIFF files on the new W1 chip but the source coming from Apple Music or iTunes is much less than that and the uploads from the record labels don’t cut it as well. The fidelity will remain at AAC quality at 256 or 320 kbps. And that fidelity is perfectly fine for the vast majority of tunes consumed on portable devices. Remember Hi-Res Audio and Hi-Res Music are myths promoted by the labels and consumer electronics makers to generate higher profits while doing nothing for the fidelity of the source materials that are released from the major labels.
Already companies like Astell & Kern are busy introducing products that can work around the new iPhone. They announced the XB10, which connects via Bluetooth 4.2 and provides headphone devotees a method to maintain their wired connections. How do they deal with Bluetooth well known sonic limitations? They — and plenty of other companies — “solve” the problem by using aptX HD, a Qualcomm technology after their acquisition of CSR. When you read about aptX HD, you notice the copywriters step very carefully around the issue of fidelity and focus on bit length and distortion levels. AptX was touted as capable of “CD-quality”. The enhancements incorporated in the HD version bring the virtual bit length to 24-bits. Too bad none of the music you will ever stream or download contains 24-bit quality. In fact, the dynamic range is steadfastly less than 16-bits. It’s all a game of numbers.
In the article I read about aptX and aptX HD, it was curious to see Dr. Stephen Smyth’s name associated with its early development in the 1980s in Ireland. This is the same Dr. Smyth of Smyth Research that is behind the A8 and new A16 Room Realiser. It’s a very small world when you’re dealing with cutting edge and innovative audio technologies. Their Kickstarter campaign eclipsed $330,000!
Apple has more money and resources than any company on the planet. They’ve got plenty of very smart audio engineers — including Tomlinson Holman of THX fame — and music people (Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine). So why can’t they be a leader in portable audio quality instead of keeping the brakes on development of devices that produce better sound? I’m saddened by the continual meaningless claims of “high-resolution audio” by companies, engineers, experts, and writers that can’t distinguish between the same old audio quality and audible higher quality.
I doubt that it will ever change. Slick animations and clever ad campaigns won’t improve recordings made by an industry that is content with the same old over compressed hits.