Music companies launch hi-res audio streaming campaign
By Andy Malt | Published on Friday 6 January 2017
US trade association the Digital Entertainment Group has announced a new campaign, Stream The Studio, at the CES conference in Las Vegas. With backing from the major labels, the RIAA and a number of digital music services, it aims to support the introduction of studio quality audio across the streaming music market.
To date, higher quality streaming has only been offered by Tidal and Deezer, both at a higher cost and, in the case of Deezer Elite, only via Sonos. Neither to date has offered audio at beyond CD quality, though Tidal has also just announced its own studio quality offering – more on which later. Prior to this, studio quality audio has only been available from select download retailers, such as the currently offline Pono, which founder Neil Young recently hinted had plans to move into streaming.
The main argument against offering audio quality beyond CD level is that any benefits are largely inaudible to human ears. And that’s why DEG is launching a campaign to convince people otherwise. Meanwhile, it will be nudging streaming services to all offer new more expensive premium tiers offering these audio magic beans. At launch, Rhapsody, Pandora and HD Tracks are already keen.
“Universal Music has been laser focused on Hi-Res Audio across all of our label groups”, says the music firm’s Chief Technology Officer Ty Roberts. “But without the involvement of our technology and distribution partners, all of this would be in vain. Today we’re pleased to acknowledge the support of a number of leading digital providers for this new streaming concept”.
Meanwhile, Sony Music COO Mike Fasulo adds: “Sony Electronics and Sony Music have been committed to Hi-Res Audio from the beginning. Now working with other leading companies via the DEG, we can use this high level programme to bring a unified hi-res message to a wide range of storefronts, which will encourage more consumers to experience this incredible ‘studio quality’ sound for themselves”.
Wide-eyed and thinking of the money, some of those storefronts also chipped in. HD Tracks CEO David Chesky is “excited about the opportunity”, Pandora CTO Chris Martin reckons his company “has the platform to make this big”, and Napster CEO Mike Davis is just plain “THRILLED”.
This is all backed up by a new study commissioned by Universal Music, which found that audio quality is “very important” to 85% of US consumers, and 48% would be willing to pay more to get it. I can’t believe that either of those statements are actually true, but maybe I’ll eat my words when everyone is wandering around listening to 24 bit audio files this time next year.
There is one final hurdle to all of this, however. Very few of today’s most popular audio players – ie smartphones – can deliver audio to your ears at studio quality levels. Phone makers tend to stick to old-fashioned CD quality as their maximum, due to that whole realm of human hearing thing. That’s a small detail though, and so long as people think they’re getting something better for their money, it doesn’t really matter if they actually are, right?
Sidestepping the educating of the public and getting straight down to business, as DEG was making its announcement Tidal revealed that it was adding a new studio quality audio feature, called Master Audio. Selected records across the service’s catalogue will be made available at the even higher quality level to its existing Tidal HiFi top tier customers at no extra cost via its desktop software.
The offering comes via a deal with the previously reported formerly Meridian Audio-owned company MQA, which aims to deliver high quality audio in smaller file sizes than rivals, making it more suitable for streaming.
“Tidal is committed to bringing members closer to their favourite musicians and offering MQA sound quality will allow subscribers to hear music just as it was recorded in the studio”, said a spokesperson for the company. “We’re THRILLED to bring master quality sound to our members”.
At launch, the bulk of the music on offer in this higher audio quality format comes from Warner Music, thanks to a licensing deal MQA signed last year.