High-Res Music: We Say We Want It, But Does It Stand a Chance?

Last week, Sony gave me a demo of their new line of high resolution audio gear. I loved it.

One of the tests involved listening to an MP3 of Bob Marley’s “Is This Love,” a song recorded on old-school analogue tape back in 1978 at Island Records Studios in London. The MP3 sounded exactly like I expected. Then I heard Sony’s High-Res Audio version.


I heard bass notes in the mix that I’d never, ever heard before. Bob’s voice had more presence and sparkle. The snare had a tighter snap to it. And there were little percussion effects–unheard until now–that emerged from the background. It was stunning. Switching it up for A/B tests using Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck and Coldplay yielded similar results.

Again, wow.  Sony lent me a player and some headphones to take with me on vacation, and I gotta tell you something: I’m really enjoying this re-immersion into high-quality audio.

Over on Geeks&Beats side of the ledger, a high-res streaming company out of Norway called Tidal has offered Michael Hainsworth an I a seven-day trial of their new service. I don’t have anything here at the NE Caribbean Command Outpost to put it through the test, so I’m going to wait until I get home to give that a go.

So high-res audio seems to be making inroads. But will it succeed with a general public that has long ago signaled that MP3s (and worse) are “good enough?”  From the Globe and Mail:

New services, meanwhile, continue to flood the market. Each tends to be remarkably similar – universal access to millions of songs for about $10 a month – with only nuanced differences, like the availability of certain artists’ catalogs.

One new service, launching in Canada this week, is trying a wholly different tactic: a whole other value proposition at twice the price point.

Tidal, a new service from Norway’s Aspiro Group, streams ultra-high-quality digital music for $20 a month. Its “lossless” files are compression-free, meaning audio has lost no quality after being converted to playable digital files from the original recordings, unlike mp3s and other files commonly used in streaming. Tidal also offers curated (and Canadian) editorial content and HD videos, but high-fidelity audio is at its core. Chief executive Andy Chen calls it “the ultimate musical experience” – the next logical step in the proliferation of streaming.

It’s a brilliant offering, but a huge gamble, because the target market Tidal is aiming for is incredibly niche.

Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38321 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

5 thoughts on “High-Res Music: We Say We Want It, But Does It Stand a Chance?

  • If it’s good enough and audiophiles are willing to pay the premium for it, it will be the niche market it’s always been.

  • I think Its huge. I recently started listening to CD’s in the car as opposed to my plunged in iPhone or my iPod – specifically Pink Floyd, The Wall. I couldn’t believe how immersed in the music I became which is something that I haven’t really felt in a long time. The kick drum popped right out of the speakers, the compression on the recording was so subtle which kept all of the dynamics in tact. As a musician and producer myself, I suddenly realized that so much music that I’ll do or mix has way too much compression applied to it. Its strange because, using the car as a “listening room” many times and hearing that popping kick drum on The Wall, I thought, “man, I would never mix something like this – it would be almost wrong to do buy today’s standards” yet here was an album mixed in the late 70’s that has lasted all this time and it sounded better than anything I’ve heard lately. Listening to CD’s brings me back to the place that made me fall in love with music years ago and led me to make my own music. I love the idea of Hi-Res audio and look forward to hearing clean digitally mastered music that is at an even higher res than the CD format. PONO will be my first step.

  • Up until recently, hi res audio meant major investment in storage alone. Maybe if storage space remains low and streaming costs (not the $20 a month for the service but also the extra 20, 30, 40 in bandwidth) come down its possible.

    Colour me sceptical.

  • I need to be convinced high-res audio is more important than good (non-loudness wars) mastering.


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