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.
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.