October 30, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Sound Engineer: iTunes Is Accepting High-Resolution Music

high-resolution itunes music

Your smartphone will never abandon transistors in favor of vacuum tubes like the ones in this audiophile amplifier, but it could start playing higher-resolution music.

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.

Evolver.fm has received word from legendary sound engineer Tony Faulkner that Apple is accepting high-resolution music files for iTunes, even if it is not selling them (yet?).

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

  • Riff

    This is definitely great news but a couple of things i find peculiar. In a perfect world recording above 44.1khz doesn’t give you any extra quality. Recording at 96khz was invented to push the audio filters well out of range of inaccurate sample conversion.

    Also uncompressed audio requires less power to stream as no decompression algo’s are needed to be run through the CPU. They will however require more storage space.

    Thirdly the converters on the output of my macbook pro and iphone 4 make 320kbps mp3s and CD indiscernible to my ears, isn’t all this a bit over kill. I think compressed lossless 44.1khs 16bit is fine for 99% of our planet. Something which even my old iphone 3gs could handle with ease

  • Shaun Green

    @4b4ecb2ae1cf2f4ef22332e5d06334fe:disqus

    It’s not your ears that are at fault it’s your audio equipment. There have been plenty of studies from professional sound engineers that demonstrate the clear sound quality differences. If you can’t hear it that’s the fault of your poor quality headphones and/or cheap iPod speakers. Invest in a decent set-up and the difference is very noticeable, just like going from DVD to BluRay. I think there are enough people (audiophiles or not) who given the option of the current lossy tracks or slight more expensive lossless and/or HQ tracks will go for the latter in the same way many people prefer to pay a little more for iTunes HD content over SD content.

  • Anonymous

    If you’re listening to audio critically, then you’re probably not in a mobile situation. And if that’s the case, and you’re playing the audio stream back from a portable device, shouldn’t you be near power?

    I don’t know what most audiophiles’ systems look like these days, but my guess is that they’d be streaming content via a dedicated, audiophile-grade D/A converter connected to their computers.

    I’m one of the lucky ones who thinks that 192 kbps is good enough for most of the time and 256k-320k is fine for critical listening.

  • Riff

    Shaun that’s an assumption that i’ve got bad equipment. I should of mentioned I’ve got a £1000 D/A converter, £1000 active monitors, a passive impedance matched volume controller, balanced shielded cables, A acoustically neutralised listening position, bass trapping and systematical decoupled monitoring and 3 pairs of over £100 headphones. Maybe my ears a shot but the D/A’s on all my Apple portable devices don’t bring out any discernible difference between 320kbps mp3 and 44/16 pcm.

    I think we come from completely different backgrounds. In all the documentation i’ve seen a good converter running at 44khz will beat a bad converter running at 96khz. I suggesting that apple improve their DACs before they think about all these extra bits. I also suggest that studios don’t exceed 12db RMS as so much audio quality is lost due to the competition of loudness.

  • Audiognome

    If you can’t hear a difference in a blind test, there is no difference. If the test ain’t blind, it’s worthless.

  • sceptic

    i dont believe a word you said. you do not use “£1000 D/A converter, £1000 active monitors, a passive impedance matched volume controller, balanced shielded cables, A acoustically neutralised listening position, bass trapping and systematical decoupled monitoring” for 100£ headphones. thats simply retarded. if you would have a 2300£ budget, you would of put a lot of it on the headphones. 100£ cans have a limit well below the need for that type of equipment. if you do have that setup, for the love of god buy decent cans.

  • no budget no puppet

    i dont think 2000£ setup is exactly considered “audiophile” quality grade