Why Apple Won’t Be Selling High-Resolution Music Files Any Time Soon

06/17/2014

I’ve written about high-resolution music here several times, notably pointing out that it’s a marketing ploy to get you to spend more on music. Not everyone agrees, and I’m fine with that. One bastion of high-resolution apologetics is the Computer Audiophile website.[1] Chris Connaker, who founded the site, wrote an interesting article yesterday, explaining why he thinks High Resolution Audio Isn’t Coming Soon From Apple.

Chris makes the following points:

One. Wireless Carriers Don’t Want High Resolution Downloads (Or Lossless CD Quality Streaming)

Two. Record Labels Want Control And Revenue Again

Three. Beats

Four. Apple Has The High Resolution Content Only Because It Can

Five. Apple Isn’t A Specs Company

Six. Not Enough Apple Customers Care

Seven. iTunes Doesn’t Support Native Automatic Sample Rate Switching

I agree with much of his argument, though I think he’s mistaken about some of the points. I’m not convinced that wireless carriers have a problem with this. First, I can’t see a lot of people streaming high-resolution audio; any supposed gain in quality requires expensive equipment, and the ambient noise surrounding listeners when they’re mobile would eliminate any such quality. On the contrary, mobile carriers would love to sell users phone plans with higher data, at a price. Lower-priced plans have limited data, and to get unlimited data, you need to pay a pretty penny. (There are some exceptions, but all signs point to mobile carriers eliminating unlimited data plans.)

The iTunes issue is moot; Apple could add such a feature if they wanted to. And the point about Apple having high-resolution content is merely for their back end; they have this content to create Mastered for iTunes files, but they only have a very small amount of high-resolution content. They’ve only been requesting high-resolution files for a couple of years, and there are decades worth of music where high-resolution masters don’t even exist.

One point Chris misses is the fact that Apple announced a new audio library at the WWDC, which can use an iOS device’s Lightning connector to output music at 48 kHz; that’s not the high resolution audiophiles want; they want at least 96 kHz. If Apple’s developed the software and hardware to meet the specs of 48 kHz – that’s the sample rate for DVDs and Blu-Ray discs – they’re not going to suddenly increase that; they clearly thought about that limit.

But the biggest point is number six: Not enough Apple customers care. I’d go further: not enough music listeners care. High-resolution music looks good on paper, but any potential gains in quality are imperceptible, or require very expensive stereo systems. So it’s pretty much a non-starter to expect Apple to go this route.

On the other hand, I can see Apple selling music in lossless formats in the foreseeable future, as I recently discussed. Even though most users can’t tell the difference between 256 kbps AAC files and lossless, there’s a perception of having something inferior among enough listeners that it might make sense for Apple to sell lossless files as a premium product.

But all that is moot for now. Following Apple’s acquisition of Beats, I think the next place to look is streaming. Apple will surely be focusing their music efforts in that area as soon as the Beats deal is signed.


  1. I mean no disrespect; I think Computer Audiophile is an excellent website, and I recommend it highly.