Against all odds, 2013 is shaping up to be the year when people started caring about sound quality — not only as regards their choice of headphones, but also in terms of the music files themselves.
Why “against all odds?” Because every other attempt to do this (DVD-A, SuperAudio CD, HD Tracks, even lossless compression) has been ignored by mainstream music fans, and even most superfans, who typically care more about finding the hottest jams than about making them sound as good as possible.
Nonetheless, Singapore-based MP4SLS, hopes to attract artists, labels, and music fans to its new cloud music offering, OraStream, which it’s calling “the world’s first HD-quality streaming service.” Although Creedence Clearwater Revival and a few other bands already offer OraStream apps or will do so soon, the service just became available for any artist, label, or producer to use.
Basically, this means any band can now make an app like this. It also means that if you like good sound, you can start using OraStream as an HD music locker (and due to popular demand, it now handles Apple Lossless files).
OraStream works by streaming music to fans at the best quality their device and connection can handle. Plenty of other apps employ the same technique — it’s called adaptive bitrate streaming. However, OraStream distinguishes itself by going beyond CD quality.
You won’t notice the “better than CD quality” part if you use a smartphone to access the tracks, because smartphones are not capable of playing 24 bit/192kHz audio (which is why something like this might be a good idea). And unless your computer’s soundcard can handle better-than-CD-quality, lossless audio formats are as good as it gets (in other words, no 24-bit audio for you, whether you use an OraStream app or not).
However, OraStream sends you the best audio quality you can handle.
Design-wise, these OraStream apps are pretty slick, too. In the case of the free Creedence app, you get 30-second samples of all of their music, with the ability to buy full albums for $5 a pop, which also syncs them to the buyer’s OraStream account in the cloud.
“Labels, producers and artists can now upload all their music to the OraStream Cloud, for sharing with their peers and fans in glorious HD-Quality audio,” reads the announcement. “By enabling the Store option, with one click they can sell directly to their fans, and publish their own mobile apps.”
“I also wanted to let you know that the HD Music account can be accessed via user log-in from any of the mobile catalog apps that is available for iOS, Android, and Amazon/Android,” MP4SLS CEO Frankie Tan told Evolver.fm. Those apps also allow the user to upload any high-definition music they might own — for instance, tracks purchased from HD Tracks.
HD video was a roaring success; HD music not so much, so far anyway, but that doesn’t mean it won’t take off, especially if more celebrities get behind it. Now that MP4SLS’s cloud-based OraStream ecosystem is open to any artist or label who wants to give it a shot, we’ll find out, again, whether fans actually want better sound.
Update: We asked Tan how these apps deal with offline playback, which we believe to be a crucial feature, and heard back the following. (The short story: The apps do have offline playback.)
“When the mobile app is opened, two streams are delivered from the server to the app. One is the ‘live’ stream that adapts to the network connection; there is another simultaneous fixed bit rate audio stream that is streamed and stored in cache of the app. With this dual-delivery arrangement, the player switches to cache play any time the mobile device loses network connection (goes offline, say, user enters an elevator, is in the subway, drives through a ‘dead’ cellular zone) so as to ensures continuous playback and the quality-of-service in mobile streaming.
In the offline situations cited in your mail or when the device is in airplane mode, users will also be able to play the cache copy of playlists previously played (in the app).
By default, the bit rate is set at 64 Kbps quality. This bit rate setting can be changed to 128 or 192 Kbps – the higher the quality setting, the higher storage used. (On iOS, go to App Settings, look for OraStream settings).
In this manner, the app cache stores (like an iPod) playlists previously opened for offline listening (albeit, at a lower quality).”