We’ve heard rumors that Apple would start selling high-resolution music — as in “better than CD quality” — for years, but so far, “lossless” has been as good as it gets, and the only way to get it in iTunes is to rip your own CDs.
To be specific, Apple is asking for 96 kHz, 24-bit WAV files. The company could be doing that in order to process its own “mastered for iTunes” versions, because starting with a higher-resolution version makes for better processing. Regardless, it certainly lends credence to the idea that a high-resolution iTunes music format could be on the way.
We first heard from Faulkner as part of our ongoing debate about whether high-resolution music formats such as the “Pono” format proposed by Neil Young actually sound better to the human ear. Faulkner claims they do (stay tuned for more on that front) and hopes high-resolution audio will become a new standard, accepted by music fans at large in addition to pointy-headed, golden-eared audiophiles.
“My hopes rose when I was asked to remaster some of our past hi-res LSO [London Symphony Orchestra] Live recordings for iTunes,” said Faulkner via email. “They were originally recorded at 176k4 and iTunes asked for 96k/24 uncompressed wavs. So far they have only appeared as new ‘Mastered for iTunes’ lossy 44k1 downsamples.”
So, why doesn’t your phone already play these magical (according to some) files, the way this thing does? According to Faulkner, the problem is that converting all those extra 1s and 0s to an analog signal eats up too much battery life. (Notably, batteries are the only thing in technology that appear immune to Moore’s law.)
“There has been regular tittle tattle about both lossless and 96k downloads on iTunes in the future, but the last I heard there were still issues for Apple with battery life of their portable devices,” said Faulkner. “Battery life of a cellphone should not uniquely define the parameters for the quality of the reproduction of music, not in my book anyway.”
Will smartphone and computer manufacturers start making devices that can handle these files? In a different world, they wouldn’t have to. For now, high-resolution audio remains largely a theoretical matter for the vast majority of music fans, but evidence just keeps mounting that we could be moving beyond CD quality before too long.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Vitro Cantus