Music Industry Shoots Self in Foot, Again, with High-Resolution Music Labeling

High-resolution music is a marketing ploy, but marketing only works when it’s done well. The music industry seems to not have learned from its past errors, and, in its new attempt to market high-resolution music, has created an alphabet soup that will confuse all but the most die-hard consumers.

Andrew Everard reports, on his blog, that the music industry has developed a new labeling system to describe high-resolution music. To begin with, it’s important to note that the “high-res” moniker tossed around willy-nilly covers a wide range of audio formats. It’s generally considered to be anything at a resolution higher than CD; in other words, at a bit depth or sample rate higher than the Redbook standard for CD of 16 bits, 44.1 kHz sample rate. So, a 16/48 recording is high-res; so is a 24/192 recording. And a DSD – Direct Stream Digital – is also high-res. But looking at the numbers, you can see that there’s a big difference. 24/96 is higher res than, say, 16/48, and DSD (2.8224 MHz) trumps them all. (But then there are even higher-res DSD formats…)

Remember the early days of CDs, when we had AAD, ADD and DDD recordings? This was somewhat easy to understand; in order, it was the recording, mastering and pressing formats. All CDs had the third D, but only some were recorded and/or mastered in digital, at least for a while.

Now, with high-res audio, you’ll have MQ-C, MQ-P, MQ-A and MQ-D. Huh? These follow the adoption of HRA (High-Resolution Audio), which consumers simply don’t use.

What do they mean?

  • MQ-C: From a CD master source (44.1 kHz/16 bit content). In other words, lossless CD-quality audio.
  • MQ-P: From a PCM master source 48 kHz/20 bit or higher; (typically 96/24 or 192/24 content).
  • MQ-A: From an analogue master source.
  • MQ-D: From a DSD/DSF master source (typically 2.8 or 5.6 MHz content)

But, as Everard points out:

OK, so at least the new labels will make clear the source of the recording – sort of –, provided the consumer is savvy enough to know the difference between PCM and DSD, for example, or between 48kHz/20-bit and 96kHz/24-bit. However, what the new system looks set to do is legitimise releases upsampled from CD quality to ‘HRA’ as genuine high-resolution: after all MQ-C is still going to be labelled as Master Quality.

In the end, this will further marginalize high-resolution audio, which is already something that only the geekiest audiophiles purchase. Which is probably as it should be.