Maybe my October 19, 2015, article entitled An Open Letter Tim Cook Regarding HD Music actually worked. MacRumors.com is reporting that Apple has plans to launch 24-bit/96-kHz hi-res audio streaming in 2016. Specific details are scarce, but the story suggests that the Lightning connector on newer Apple devices with iOS 9 or better can support audio up to 24/192 and that third-party audio manufacturers are already working on their own Lightning cables in anticipation of this announcement. Of course, it's all rumor at this point, as Apple has made no official announcement. The company's annual Worldwide Developers Conference, during which many big announcements occur, doesn't happen until June of 2016.
The success of streaming services like Pandora and Spotify has allowed mainstream music lovers to enjoy music in new ways. These services can create innovative playlists automatically that are crafted to your own tastes. They can allow you to listen to preprogrammed musical moods without much effort. Listeners are no longer slaves to the order and cadence of an album, a trend that the younger Millennial generation seems to like. What these services lack, however, is the audio quality. MP3 audio simply sounds lousy. It lacks the resolution to even attempt to re-create the sound that is on the original master tape. Respectfully, CD audio has been given an easy time considering that its 16/44 resolution is over 30 years old and far from "perfect sound forever," as it was billed in the early 1980s.
24-bit audio can be stunning to listen to--whether you're an advanced audiophile or a newbie Millennial who's never experienced higher-quality audio before. It finally provides audiophile systems the high octane fuel that they need to reach their technical and emotional potential. Simply put: music in 24-bit high-resolution formats is the ultimate audiophile upgrade. No change in preamp or digital-to-analog converter can make this much of an improvement to the way music sounds through your speakers.
Others are trying to play in the HD-music game, but Apple owns the pipeline for mainstream consumers to adopt the format as a meaningful replacement to the Compact Disc, MP3, or even low-resolution streaming sources. CBS News reported recently that, in early 2016, Apple will sell its one billionth iPhone. Millions of the newer models can stream music in HD. That's not counting all the iPads, Macbook laptops, Apple TVs, and desktop computers. Moreover, Apple's iTunes Music Store is the dominant online retailer for music today. People already have accounts. They already have devices connected and cross-connected, thus the ball is already on the tee. Apple just needs to knock it down the fairway 300 yards to have yet another success on its hands.
Naturally, there are many questions. Would this hi-res offering just be a streaming service, to compete with the likes of Tidal, or would it include HD downloads, like HDTracks.com? Would it be part of Apple's recently launched Apple Music streaming service, or would it be its own entity? And the big question is, how much of Apple's vast library of music would be available at the higher resolution? If it's a meaningful amount, I will happily move my $20 per month from Tidal over to Apple, as the connectivity is just that much better. As long as Apple makes sure the artists are paid fairly for their participation, I think there would be an outpouring of support for HD music from the artists and labels themselves.
I have been yelling and screaming for Apple (or Google or Amazon) to do something with music in HD. The audiophile community can only grind the Nth degree of performance out of speakers, amps, and other components for so long. The weak link in giving music-loving consumers the "master tape" experience is the quality of the source material itself. The 30-plus-year-old Compact Disc isn't good enough...24/96 is. The combination of 24/96 audio with Apple's ease of use is a meaningful reason for millions of mainstream consumers to start listening to music the way it was recorded on the master tape, and that's a change to the audiophile hobby that is long overdue.
C'mon, Tim. Do it...
• Six AV Trends We're Thankful For at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• How to Choose a Subwoofer for Surround Sound or Stereo at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Which Multi-room Wireless Audio System Is Right for You? at HomeTheaterReview.com.