On the Building New Law podcast, Seth Godin had this to say:
We always destroy the perfect before we enable the impossible. For example, sonically CDs are not as good as vinyl, and MP3s are not as good as CDs. But this degradation is necessary to get to the technological point of ‘every song in your pocket,’ and audio quality will someday catch up.
And we’ve seen it before. The eight-track tape: sounded like crap but you could play it in your car. Then came the cassette, also crappy but you could go for a run with a Walkman at your hip. Compact discs eventually improved the quality and kept the mobility. But there’s another level of convenience that no one anticipated, which is the convenience of library and access. This facet was the promise of “every song in your pocket,” and that means it was a step back to move forward, courtesy of relatively lo-fi MP3s.
Are we now at the technological point of ‘catch up’ Godin mentions? For many of us, the bandwidth is now there, and bandwidth has been the primary constraint. Is it time to seriously upgrade our stereo systems for streaming? From BBC News:
Qobuz, along with rivals Tidal and Deezer Elite, offers streaming of “lossless audio” that throws nothing away.
“Is MP3 as interesting as it was ten years ago? Not really, because bandwidth has improved,” says Malcolm Ouzeri, head of marketing at French streaming and download provider Qobuz, founded in 2007. “Now the industry is going towards more quality.”
The highest quality MP3 has a bit-rate of 320kbps, while a hi-res file can go as high as 9,216kbps. Music CDs are transferred at 1,411kbps.
There is also talk of Spotify launching a lossless audio option. Some users report seeing this option in limited test cases. And then there’s the adoption of the LUFS standard by Spotify and other streamers, showing a renewed attention to sound quality. But many of these services make hi-res an add-on option. The rumor is that Spotify’s hi-res audio will be available as part of a more expensive monthly plan, as Tidal currently offers. A Qobuz ‘highest quality’ subscription is presently £349.99 a year.
I’m not sure if hi-res audio will make an impact as long as it’s seen as an add-on for those with extra change to spare. Even the option titles – such as Deezer Elite – make hi-res seem elitist. I don’t know what the additional costs are to the providers, but it will be wonderful to finally enter a world where hi-res audio is a sole and affordable option as bandwidth grows and accelerates. Once we’ve arrived, the only ticket for entry will be our choice of speakers.