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There Is Nothing "High-Res" About Apple-EMI's New Downloads Print E-mail
Thursday, 19 April 2007
Apple and major music label EMI announced a deal to sell slightly more expensive and slightly higher resolution downloads that are DRM free last week. At $1.29 the new downloads will not have the typical encryption that only allows music bought on Apple’s iTunes Music Store to be played on an Apple iPod. These new music files will be compatible on nearly every other MP3 player and like a Compact Disc will be DRM (digital rights management) free as Apple founder, Steven Jobs, called for in a recent open letter to the music business. The problem is the fact that in their press release dated April 2, 2007 Apple states that their 256 kbps AAC encoding results in audio quality that is “indistinguishable from the original recording.” Suggesting to consumers that 256 kbps downloads are anything close to high-resolution music is truly misleading and highly damaging to the audio business. These are stereo tracks with audio that is audibly worse than the standard set by the Compact Disc (1,411.2 kbps) format launched 25 years ago. Has anyone working with music at Apple heard of Moore’s Law? Products, software and overall applications are supposed to double in speed ever 18 months yet they are selling audio at less than 1982 standards as high-resolution? Anyone who has heard the audio goodness of a high-res format like DVD-Audio (up to 4,608 kbps – uncompressed PCM stereo) knows that Apple is selling the music buying public a bill of goods. While the iPod is without question the most successful audio format or component since the CD, it has also single handedly taken the art from making music – specifically the long standing practice of providing the highest fidelity to consumer formats. Now with downloads being dominated by iTunes and being played back on horrible, stock headphones for an iPod – why should people care about audio quality in stereo let alone music in high-resolution surround?

At this level, Apple – a company known for unabashedly selling $1,799 video monitors when for $299 you can buy a pretty big non-Apple LCD brand monitor – is killing the high-end audio business with its pushing of truly low-resolution audio. Why does an iPod carrying music lover need new speakers, a new amp or new preamp when the best audio they can hope for is less-than-CD quality music? Why should they buy a 7.1 surround system when Apple’s supposedly “high-resolution” Apple TV doesn’t output HD video or music/movie soundtracks in anything other than stereo?

As a long time Apple supporter, the guy who cuts the checks for $3,500 G5 Mac workstations for every AVRev.com desk – I must say I am truly disappointed with the way that Apple has picked the lowest lying fruit as the way they make their multi-billion-dollar mark in the music business. I expect Apple to have worked with an audio partner (not stick with a not-invented-here mentality) like a Dolby or DTS to create a new codec that is better than CD quality yet is a small enough file size that it can easily be downloaded. I know I would pay more for it, as would millions of other consumers – certainly more than $1.29 especially if they also marketed low-cost download options. As a leader in high-end computer technology and a truly superior operating system to anything Microsoft sells including Vista (yes, I bought a computer with Vista already for the office for site testing purposes), I expect Apple to work on a music file format that has both stereo and surround sound tracks ripped onto it. This way, when I’m on an airplane or at the gym, I can listen to high-res stereo with audio quality that rivals that of DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, HD DVD or Blu-ray disc. I expect Apple to find a way to fold down a surround sound mix and someday create an iPod with a digital audio output that when plugged into my theater, could unfold and play music back in 5.1 or 7.1 surround. Would this fantasy iPod be able to fit 10,000 songs on it? Of course not, as with larger files comes the ability to store less music on the unit, but to many users, myself included, I prefer quality to quantity. That to me, as an Apple loyalist, a music fan and technology publisher is what I expect from Apple. In fact, in the spirit of selling $1,799 monitors – how about an Apple music server that has open bays and the ability to endlessly daisy chain units. From there, Apple should be selling music by the genre on hard drives. Can you imagine having the top 500 classic rock albums on a plug and play hard drive that slides right into a bay? You might pay $750 for the drive but would get not just the cream of the crop of singles, special music not found elsewhere, but you would have the ability to download another few hundred songs from iTunes as a credit that comes with the drive. Then you could repeat the same phenomenon with classical, jazz, country, new age and so on. Like the CD in the early 1980s, people would have a reason to buy their music over again. Unlike the 1980s and today – the audio would be in surround sound and high-resolution – not wanna-be-CD or half-resolution DVD that Apple is selling consumers now and suggesting it is real high-resolution audio and video.

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