AfterDawn: Tech news

Apple, digital retailers to offer improved audio quality for music downloads?

Written by Andre Yoskowitz (Google+) @ 22 Feb 2011 16:22 User comments (17)

Apple, digital retailers to offer improved audio quality for music downloads? Apple, Amazon and other digital music retailers are currently in talks with the major record labels in an effort to improve the audio quality of music files they sell via iTunes, Amazon MP3 and other similar stores.
Current offerings are 16-bit files, downgraded from the 24-bit high-fidelity formats they original come in as pressed CDs.

After that, the audio is compressed even further, into MP3 or AAC at 256kbps (usually), in an effort to minimize download time and the amount of space a track will take up on an end user's hard drive.

Jimmy Iovine, the chairman of Universal Music Group's Interscope-Geffen-A&M record label, seemed very gung-ho about the change back to high quality audio (via CNN):

We've gone back now at Universal, and we're changing our pipes to 24 bit. And Apple has been great. We're working with them and other digital services -- download services -- to change to 24 bit. And some of their electronic devices are going to be changed as well. So we have a long road ahead of us.


The road may indeed be long, as most portable devices (smartphones, media players) lack the ability to play 24-bit audio. Most computers, and iTunes, do have the 24-bit support, however. Apple and other companies would have to upgrade future models of their devices to include support for the higher-quality audio.

If the higher-quality files were to hit digital retailers, they will likely come with a premium, speculates CNN, although any exact figure is still very unclear.

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17 user comments

123.2.2011 4:34

24 Bit isn't quality...it is a leftover from the early 1980's! They are actually in talks to bring the audio quality up to what it was 30 years ago (or rather, to make it almost as good)...at this rate, we can expect DVD-quality sound sometime in the next century.

Here is a crazy, crazy, crazy idea...

-Currently pirated MP3s sound better than Amazon MP3s.
-They are trying to equal the sound quality of pirated MP3s.
-Why not source commercial MP3s from the full-quality, pre-CD-compression archives that the studios keep? Sure, this could allow for DVD-Quality audio, even bluray quality audio for some albums...but even if it was just stereo, it would sound better than MP3s ripped from CDs, even better than FLAC if they do it right.



223.2.2011 11:52

24-bit FLAC would be ideal. 36-bit multichannel FLAC would be even better.

323.2.2011 19:34

Originally posted by KillerBug:
24 Bit isn't quality...it is a leftover from the early 1980's!

What are you talking about? Do you know anything about 24 bit audio recording? 24bit audio recording wasn't available till the mid 90's in professional studios, let alone at home.


Quote:

They are actually in talks to bring the audio quality up to what it was 30 years ago (or rather, to make it almost as good)...at this rate, we can expect DVD-quality sound sometime in the next century.

Again, you have no idea what you're talking about (neither does
the author for that matter either, but that's a different story)

24bit audio has nothing to do with compression. It's called bit depth. In short, its how accurate volume changes are within a frequency resolution (44.1khz for example or 88.2, etc etc). 24bit audio files have 256 times more accuracy than 16bit audio. From experience it is a MUCH noticeable difference as long as the SOURCE was recorded at 24bit.

If apple/amazon just up-converts 16bit wav files to 24 bit wav files, then, its the simular to try to upconvert a 128kbps mp3 to a 320kbps mp3. (just uses more space)

Quote:

-Currently pirated MP3s sound better than Amazon MP3s.


No true, but again, depends on the source.
Quote:

-They are trying to equal the sound quality of pirated MP3s.


Again, not true. They are trying to expand their market base.

Quote:

-Why not source commercial MP3s from the full-quality, pre-CD-compression archives that the studios keep? Sure, this could allow for DVD-Quality audio, even bluray quality audio for some albums...but even if it was just stereo, it would sound better than MP3s ripped from CDs, even better than FLAC if they do it right.


Sigh, ya know..... this is getting old.
Again, you have no idea what you're talking about. DVDs (the ones that people have used for watching movies/films for the past decade) only use AC3 audio, which is the equivalent of a highly optimized Mp3 at 160-192kbps.
DVD-A (DVD Audio Discs) never caught on, never will. While the specification allows for 24bit 192khz in Stereo, even the worlds best AD converters only truly can capture up to 96khz accurately.

Now if the labels (content owners) UPLOAD the finished 24bit WAV/AIF files w/o converting, then thats awesome, but there's already a service that does that.... its called hdtracks.com, and they have been doing it for several years.
This message has been edited since its posting. Latest edit was made on 23 Feb 2011 @ 19:35

-Sean-

425.2.2011 15:23

Good dig djgizmo and pretty much right on the mark. I would disagree with you on DVD's however as the common formats for audio are not just AC-3 but also LPCM & DTS too. The high quality DVD-A's use LPCM of course as it allows the highest quality (DAC) D/A conversion.

But again thanks for putting the know-it-alls in their place, good job!

525.2.2011 19:55

None, NONE, of these arguments matter AT ALL with current mastering techniques. The reason Vinyl is & sounds better isn't because of bit depth, sampling frequencies, DSPs, or any modern reproduction techniques. It's because they often use a different mastering process for the vinyl, not cranking up the loudness, and NOT destroying the fidelity of the music by compressing and and equalizing the dynamic range.

Honestly, while FLAC does have the potential to be better than MP3, it seldom is. FLAC is usually ripped from a cd, which has already been poorly mastered. The idea of going back to the original recordings and remastering from there is the only way you are going to get any benefit from 24 bit vs 16 bit. Even then, you have to hope the music was sampled at at least 96khz PER CHANNEL (bare minimum), otherwise you're still not going to be able to reproduce the music in the original quality the human ear can perceive.

Google loudness wars for some information on the worthlessness of current mastering techniques, and read this for some information on the power and versatility of human hearing http://www.silcom.com/~aludwig/EARS.htm

625.2.2011 20:28

What a joke vinyl versus even a 16bit CD I'll take the CD any day over even my Master Recorded vinyl albums which are the best you can get on vinyl. I sure don't miss the hiss, scratches, pops, and crackles of the old albums, you can have them, and in fact I have several hundred you can have.

It is true that the analog recordings are superior in their dynamic range since their resolution is infinite unlike digital and there are other factors too that just aren't worth getting into here, but your loudness bologna is a hard wash. Just as your FLAC verses MP3 is hog wash too.

With this as your opener we need to go no further about your conclusions & opinions. WAJ

725.2.2011 23:54

The CHANDOS label has had true 24bit WAV download from their site for a while.
It's classical music, so I don't think that the readers here would have heard of them.

826.2.2011 0:10

Originally posted by robertmro:
The CHANDOS label has had true 24bit WAV download from their site for a while.
It's classical music, so I don't think that the readers here would have heard of them.
Is it free? or is it a buck a tune? Of course with classical music a song (overture) could be quite long so a buck would be a deal.

926.2.2011 10:56

vinyl only sounds better if the material never gets digitized anywhere in the process. those smooth, warm analog waves will never be the same once the digital jaggies have their way with them, regardless of bit depth, sample frequency, etc.

1026.2.2011 15:03

Originally posted by six60six:
vinyl only sounds better if the material never gets digitized anywhere in the process. those smooth, warm analog waves will never be the same once the digital jaggies have their way with them, regardless of bit depth, sample frequency, etc.
Nope, becuase you can't get past the hiss, scratches, pops, and crackles even on first play of a higher quality vinyl. And as you play vinyl more things start getting really bad due to normal wear, and that's even when you handle your albums properly. Now if you can get a well mastered analog reel-to-reel tape things are a bit better however you still get hiss with mag-tapes so again it's not a perfect world. I'll take the high-frequency noise from the square wave distrotion over the "hiss, scratches, pops, and crackles" any day.

I have a very good system and CD's or better yet DVD/BD's are much better than even my best vinyl recordings.

1126.2.2011 18:40

Originally posted by Mr-Movies:
Nope, becuase you can't get past the hiss, scratches, pops, and crackles even on first play of a higher quality vinyl. And as you play vinyl more things start getting really bad due to normal wear, and that's even when you handle your albums properly. Now if you can get a well mastered analog reel-to-reel tape things are a bit better however you still get hiss with mag-tapes so again it's not a perfect world. I'll take the high-frequency noise from the square wave distrotion over the "hiss, scratches, pops, and crackles" any day.

I have a very good system and CD's or better yet DVD/BD's are much better than even my best vinyl recordings.
True all, but some of us who grew up thru the 60's & 70's still have that soft spot for vinyl, and that whole routine - lift lid on machine, carefully lift arm (if in mid record) and return to cradle - grasp record edges between palms ONLY and lift off - Prepare next record, using palm grasp - show you're cool by doing a full 360 flip of record before placing on platter - F'up the flip & watch helplessly as you drop a new record against some sharp edge and scratch it horribly - pray nobody saw you and put unscratched side on platter - carefully lift arm onto record start grooves - because of excessive beverage & bong intake, as you try to carefully move hand away from arm, you accidentally push it halfway across record making a horrid SCREECH that gets everyones attention - quickly crawl into a corner and stay away from everyone & the record player for rest of night.

Ah....the good ol days
This message has been edited since its posting. Latest edit was made on 26 Feb 2011 @ 18:41

1226.2.2011 23:18

Originally posted by ChappyTTV:
Originally posted by Mr-Movies:
Nope, becuase you can't get past the hiss, scratches, pops, and crackles even on first play of a higher quality vinyl. And as you play vinyl more things start getting really bad due to normal wear, and that's even when you handle your albums properly. Now if you can get a well mastered analog reel-to-reel tape things are a bit better however you still get hiss with mag-tapes so again it's not a perfect world. I'll take the high-frequency noise from the square wave distrotion over the "hiss, scratches, pops, and crackles" any day.

I have a very good system and CD's or better yet DVD/BD's are much better than even my best vinyl recordings.
True all, but some of us who grew up thru the 60's & 70's still have that soft spot for vinyl, and that whole routine - lift lid on machine, carefully lift arm (if in mid record) and return to cradle - grasp record edges between palms ONLY and lift off - Prepare next record, using palm grasp - show you're cool by doing a full 360 flip of record before placing on platter - F'up the flip & watch helplessly as you drop a new record against some sharp edge and scratch it horribly - pray nobody saw you and put unscratched side on platter - carefully lift arm onto record start grooves - because of excessive beverage & bong intake, as you try to carefully move hand away from arm, you accidentally push it halfway across record making a horrid SCREECH that gets everyones attention - quickly crawl into a corner and stay away from everyone & the record player for rest of night.

Ah....the good ol days
Sorry but that includes me too and I don't miss phonographs and albums at all! I do miss Reel-to-Reels though they were very good sounding, if you could get a clean recording. For the time I could make party tapes that would go many hours without having to be screwed with and that was huge back then. I had all of the good toys back then and even had a quad system when they came out so I'm very familiar with the good old days, again it doesn't make albums good...
This message has been edited since its posting. Latest edit was made on 26 Feb 2011 @ 23:20

1327.2.2011 12:08

Originally posted by Mr-Movies:
Originally posted by ChappyTTV:
Originally posted by Mr-Movies:
Nope, becuase you can't get past the hiss, scratches, pops, and crackles even on first play of a higher quality vinyl. And as you play vinyl more things start getting really bad due to normal wear, and that's even when you handle your albums properly. Now if you can get a well mastered analog reel-to-reel tape things are a bit better however you still get hiss with mag-tapes so again it's not a perfect world. I'll take the high-frequency noise from the square wave distrotion over the "hiss, scratches, pops, and crackles" any day.

I have a very good system and CD's or better yet DVD/BD's are much better than even my best vinyl recordings.
True all, but some of us who grew up thru the 60's & 70's still have that soft spot for vinyl, and that whole routine - lift lid on machine, carefully lift arm (if in mid record) and return to cradle - grasp record edges between palms ONLY and lift off - Prepare next record, using palm grasp - show you're cool by doing a full 360 flip of record before placing on platter - F'up the flip & watch helplessly as you drop a new record against some sharp edge and scratch it horribly - pray nobody saw you and put unscratched side on platter - carefully lift arm onto record start grooves - because of excessive beverage & bong intake, as you try to carefully move hand away from arm, you accidentally push it halfway across record making a horrid SCREECH that gets everyones attention - quickly crawl into a corner and stay away from everyone & the record player for rest of night.

Ah....the good ol days
Sorry but that includes me too and I don't miss phonographs and albums at all! I do miss Reel-to-Reels though they were very good sounding, if you could get a clean recording. For the time I could make party tapes that would go many hours without having to be screwed with and that was huge back then. I had all of the good toys back then and even had a quad system when they came out so I'm very familiar with the good old days, again it doesn't make albums good...
I know dude...was a joke. I grew up a musician and sound engineer (did StreetHeart during practice sessions) and had many top notch systems to work with, and I know their limitations as well. My fave, TEAC A3440 16chan R/R, but as you state, your recording is only as good as the master. If you record from vinyl, you get everything including any defects.
Fact is, there are people who love that medium even if it is rather archaic and prone to background noise and damage, but it's just nostalgia and you can't fault them for that.
I love working on digital medium too, but I find most of the FLAC files I get are horribly ripped with high gain and have artificial limits to avoid clipping because of stoopidly increased gain levels. Misguided effort to add "punch" IMO and I have to totally rework the files to get any dynamic range between channels back (I use GoldWave).
I still love the good ole days too, even with all that snap-crackle-pop...;), but that's all we had so we had to make do didn't we.
Later
Dave

1427.2.2011 12:29

Originally posted by ChappyTTV:
Originally posted by Mr-Movies:
Originally posted by ChappyTTV:
Originally posted by Mr-Movies:
Nope, becuase you can't get past the hiss, scratches, pops, and crackles even on first play of a higher quality vinyl. And as you play vinyl more things start getting really bad due to normal wear, and that's even when you handle your albums properly. Now if you can get a well mastered analog reel-to-reel tape things are a bit better however you still get hiss with mag-tapes so again it's not a perfect world. I'll take the high-frequency noise from the square wave distrotion over the "hiss, scratches, pops, and crackles" any day.

I have a very good system and CD's or better yet DVD/BD's are much better than even my best vinyl recordings.
True all, but some of us who grew up thru the 60's & 70's still have that soft spot for vinyl, and that whole routine - lift lid on machine, carefully lift arm (if in mid record) and return to cradle - grasp record edges between palms ONLY and lift off - Prepare next record, using palm grasp - show you're cool by doing a full 360 flip of record before placing on platter - F'up the flip & watch helplessly as you drop a new record against some sharp edge and scratch it horribly - pray nobody saw you and put unscratched side on platter - carefully lift arm onto record start grooves - because of excessive beverage & bong intake, as you try to carefully move hand away from arm, you accidentally push it halfway across record making a horrid SCREECH that gets everyones attention - quickly crawl into a corner and stay away from everyone & the record player for rest of night.

Ah....the good ol days
Sorry but that includes me too and I don't miss phonographs and albums at all! I do miss Reel-to-Reels though they were very good sounding, if you could get a clean recording. For the time I could make party tapes that would go many hours without having to be screwed with and that was huge back then. I had all of the good toys back then and even had a quad system when they came out so I'm very familiar with the good old days, again it doesn't make albums good...
I know dude...was a joke. I grew up a musician and sound engineer (did StreetHeart during practice sessions) and had many top notch systems to work with, and I know their limitations as well. My fave, TEAC A3440 16chan R/R, but as you state, your recording is only as good as the master. If you record from vinyl, you get everything including any defects.
Fact is, there are people who love that medium even if it is rather archaic and prone to background noise and damage, but it's just nostalgia and you can't fault them for that.
I love working on digital medium too, but I find most of the FLAC files I get are horribly ripped with high gain and have artificial limits to avoid clipping because of stoopidly increased gain levels. Misguided effort to add "punch" IMO and I have to totally rework the files to get any dynamic range between channels back (I use GoldWave).
I still love the good ole days too, even with all that snap-crackle-pop...;), but that's all we had so we had to make do didn't we.
Later
Dave

Apple? Isn't that a fruit?
No, I download my music legally. I can install the music on any device I choose.
Refuse to be married to an idiot company.
Jeff
This message has been edited since its posting. Latest edit was made on 27 Feb 2011 @ 12:29

Cars, Guitars & Radiation.

1527.2.2011 16:16

Originally posted by ChappyTTV:
Originally posted by Mr-Movies:
Originally posted by ChappyTTV:
Originally posted by Mr-Movies:
Nope, becuase you can't get past the hiss, scratches, pops, and crackles even on first play of a higher quality vinyl. And as you play vinyl more things start getting really bad due to normal wear, and that's even when you handle your albums properly. Now if you can get a well mastered analog reel-to-reel tape things are a bit better however you still get hiss with mag-tapes so again it's not a perfect world. I'll take the high-frequency noise from the square wave distrotion over the "hiss, scratches, pops, and crackles" any day.

I have a very good system and CD's or better yet DVD/BD's are much better than even my best vinyl recordings.
True all, but some of us who grew up thru the 60's & 70's still have that soft spot for vinyl, and that whole routine - lift lid on machine, carefully lift arm (if in mid record) and return to cradle - grasp record edges between palms ONLY and lift off - Prepare next record, using palm grasp - show you're cool by doing a full 360 flip of record before placing on platter - F'up the flip & watch helplessly as you drop a new record against some sharp edge and scratch it horribly - pray nobody saw you and put unscratched side on platter - carefully lift arm onto record start grooves - because of excessive beverage & bong intake, as you try to carefully move hand away from arm, you accidentally push it halfway across record making a horrid SCREECH that gets everyones attention - quickly crawl into a corner and stay away from everyone & the record player for rest of night.

Ah....the good ol days
Sorry but that includes me too and I don't miss phonographs and albums at all! I do miss Reel-to-Reels though they were very good sounding, if you could get a clean recording. For the time I could make party tapes that would go many hours without having to be screwed with and that was huge back then. I had all of the good toys back then and even had a quad system when they came out so I'm very familiar with the good old days, again it doesn't make albums good...
I know dude...was a joke. I grew up a musician and sound engineer (did StreetHeart during practice sessions) and had many top notch systems to work with, and I know their limitations as well. My fave, TEAC A3440 16chan R/R, but as you state, your recording is only as good as the master. If you record from vinyl, you get everything including any defects.
Fact is, there are people who love that medium even if it is rather archaic and prone to background noise and damage, but it's just nostalgia and you can't fault them for that.
I love working on digital medium too, but I find most of the FLAC files I get are horribly ripped with high gain and have artificial limits to avoid clipping because of stoopidly increased gain levels. Misguided effort to add "punch" IMO and I have to totally rework the files to get any dynamic range between channels back (I use GoldWave).
I still love the good ole days too, even with all that snap-crackle-pop...;), but that's all we had so we had to make do didn't we.
Later
Dave

I agree with you Dave and have the same problems with peoples FLAC rips too; saturation is murder but makes great square waves (LOL). I loved that TEAC it was one of the best units made although Akia's with their GX glass heads I liked more but the professional recording industry pretty much hands down relied on TEAC gear.

I've thought about building another tube amp since Russia makes tubes and it seems there will still be some life there. I would also like to build some new kit amps that are bridgeable as I miss playing with those too, I could get some serious movement with my old kit amps!

I even enjoyed playing with the old DBX compression/expansion units but those toys are long gone, however there are new toys like this today to play with so all isn't in the past.

1627.2.2011 16:52

Originally posted by Mr-Movies:


I agree with you Dave and have the same problems with peoples FLAC rips too; saturation is murder but makes great square waves (LOL). I loved that TEAC it was one of the best units made although Akia's with their GX glass heads I liked more but the professional recording industry pretty much hands down relied on TEAC gear.

I've thought about building another tube amp since Russia makes tubes and it seems there will still be some life there. I would also like to build some new kit amps that are bridgeable as I miss playing with those too, I could get some serious movement with my old kit amps!

I even enjoyed playing with the old DBX compression/expansion units but those toys are long gone, however there are new toys like this today to play with so all isn't in the past.
"saturation is murder but makes great square waves (LOL)."
Gawd yah...horrid lookin things to me! PITA to go thru all the reprocessing to even make some of them playable.

Dude....BUILD IT!!!
That would be awesome to build a new tube setup, that warm sound tubes generate just can't be digitally re-created (very well anyway). I think tubes won't die for a lonnggg time, even today most top equipment, (for real bands anyway) still employ tube amps.
I miss ALLOT of my old gear, but my A3440, along with the rest of an 1500W system & huge AAL monitors, got me the down payment on my first house in 85, got $9500 for it. Wifey always complained the system was too complicated and too big for us to keep anymore...never shoulda listened to her.

Later!
Dave

1727.2.2011 18:06

Originally posted by ChappyTTV:
Originally posted by Mr-Movies:


I agree with you Dave and have the same problems with peoples FLAC rips too; saturation is murder but makes great square waves (LOL). I loved that TEAC it was one of the best units made although Akia's with their GX glass heads I liked more but the professional recording industry pretty much hands down relied on TEAC gear.

I've thought about building another tube amp since Russia makes tubes and it seems there will still be some life there. I would also like to build some new kit amps that are bridgeable as I miss playing with those too, I could get some serious movement with my old kit amps!

I even enjoyed playing with the old DBX compression/expansion units but those toys are long gone, however there are new toys like this today to play with so all isn't in the past.
"saturation is murder but makes great square waves (LOL)."
Gawd yah...horrid lookin things to me! PITA to go thru all the reprocessing to even make some of them playable.

Dude....BUILD IT!!!
That would be awesome to build a new tube setup, that warm sound tubes generate just can't be digitally re-created (very well anyway). I think tubes won't die for a lonnggg time, even today most top equipment, (for real bands anyway) still employ tube amps.
I miss ALLOT of my old gear, but my A3440, along with the rest of an 1500W system & huge AAL monitors, got me the down payment on my first house in 85, got $9500 for it. Wifey always complained the system was too complicated and too big for us to keep anymore...never shoulda listened to her.

Later!
Dave
That is the biggest problems with wives, cost of something they aren't interested in and BIG (anything) is never good too. If it is something they like you can spend the farm on it but stereo gear no way!

They do make solid state amps now that are as good as the old tube amps but I do really like a good tube amp. There are some extremists that would argue your warm analogy but I don't as I use the same term whenever I refer to a good tube amp.

Take care Dave

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