Why Major Record Labels Are Touting High-Resolution Music

MusicAlly presents a transcript of a discussion among representatives from Universal, Sony, and Warner Music about high-resolution music. These major labels are jumping on the high-res bandwagon.

Of course they are. Because they see it as a way of getting music fans to buy their favorite music again, just like when the CD was introduced. The difference is, however, that CDs did sound better than vinyl (and still do), and, even though there was rampant price gouging, the result was better, more durable recordings. With high-res music, most people won’t hear a difference, unless they have very good audio equipment. And since the majority of music is streamed, or listened to on Bluetooth speakers, it’s just a waste of money.

But the record industry is going full propaganda. For example:

… the devices that support hi-res audio are becoming much more affordableÂ… it’s no longer [just] high-end premium audio for audiophilesÂ… Portability and affordability, I think, are two amazing factors to capture that opportunity and to make hi-res audio more accessible to younger generations.

[…]

We’re talking about Gen X and Gen Z that are now discovering this hi-res audio. You saw it in the resurgence of vinyl sales that was mostly driven by the young generation…

“Younger generations” are streaming music, they won’t have the bandwidth for high-res, and they certainly don’t have the hardware. Thinking that they will shows that the music industry is once again trying to create an alternate reality.

This delusion is especially evident in this statement by Morvan Boury, VP of global digital development for Sony Music:

It’s very important that if you ask your Sony speaker or your Google Home speaker or your Alexa speaker ‘I want the hi-res version of Beethoven’s Symphony’, that you actually get it…

Not only are these cheap speakers, but they’re not even stereo. Sure, some people may stream from a device like this to a stereo, but I think that number is very low. Pretending that high-res makes a difference on an Alexa or Google Home speaker (or Apple’s coming HomePod) shows that these people are living in a land of make-believe.

High-resolution music has it’s pros and cons. Some think it’s great, others don’t see the need. (Listen to this episode of The Next Track podcast for a cogent discussion of the good and bad of high-res.) But these people from record labels are pretending that it’s somehow magical, that it will sound better on a smartphone with earbuds, or on an Alexa speaker. All they want to do is take your money.

4 thoughts on “Why Major Record Labels Are Touting High-Resolution Music

  1. I was working in the European TV manufacturing industry in the late 80s when widescreen was being developed. It was widely acknowledged at the time that solid state TVs had become so reliable that it was having a negative impact on sales, so a change in format was required to drive demand and convince people to replace their perfectly good TVs. Thankfully developments since then have delivered tangible benefits. Digital TV allows for more channels in a given spectrum of transmission frequencies, and anyone who has put their back out lifting a decent sized CRT TV will appreciate flat screen technology. HD was noticeably better than SD, but arguably 4K marks a return to change for change’s sake. Most people won’t notice the difference between HD and 4K on average sized screens at normal viewing distances. For a person with 20/20 vision viewing a 50″ TV from at least 7 feet there will be no perceivable difference moving to 4K. In fact you’d need to sit no more than 3 feet away from a 50″ TV to get the full benefit of 4K. And so it is with high-resolution music. When most people are happy listening to the results of 128kbps lossy compression, never mind Red Book CD, there is absolutely no reason to pay more for hi-res.

    • Yes, I remember the switch to widescreen in Europe. It was around the time of the World Cup in France, and TVs sold quite well among fans of that sport. But widescreen TVs did offer the advantage of being able to show widescreen movies more correctly, and they were quite beneficial. Interestingly, the US didn’t make the switch to widescreen until HD came along.

      I think it’s a lot easier to see the difference between 1080p HD and 4K. But, as you say, you need to have a TV of a certain size. As larger and larger TVs become common – I have a 60″ myself – the 4k advantage will become more obvious. But it’s clearly related to physics; size, distance, and visual acuity. High-res music in much more subjective, and requires much more expensive hardware to make a difference.

  2. I was working in the European TV manufacturing industry in the late 80s when widescreen was being developed. It was widely acknowledged at the time that solid state TVs had become so reliable that it was having a negative impact on sales, so a change in format was required to drive demand and convince people to replace their perfectly good TVs. Thankfully developments since then have delivered tangible benefits. Digital TV allows for more channels in a given spectrum of transmission frequencies, and anyone who has put their back out lifting a decent sized CRT TV will appreciate flat screen technology. HD was noticeably better than SD, but arguably 4K marks a return to change for change’s sake. Most people won’t notice the difference between HD and 4K on average sized screens at normal viewing distances. For a person with 20/20 vision viewing a 50″ TV from at least 7 feet there will be no perceivable difference moving to 4K. In fact you’d need to sit no more than 3 feet away from a 50″ TV to get the full benefit of 4K. And so it is with high-resolution music. When most people are happy listening to the results of 128kbps lossy compression, never mind Red Book CD, there is absolutely no reason to pay more for hi-res.

    • Yes, I remember the switch to widescreen in Europe. It was around the time of the World Cup in France, and TVs sold quite well among fans of that sport. But widescreen TVs did offer the advantage of being able to show widescreen movies more correctly, and they were quite beneficial. Interestingly, the US didn’t make the switch to widescreen until HD came along.

      I think it’s a lot easier to see the difference between 1080p HD and 4K. But, as you say, you need to have a TV of a certain size. As larger and larger TVs become common – I have a 60″ myself – the 4k advantage will become more obvious. But it’s clearly related to physics; size, distance, and visual acuity. High-res music in much more subjective, and requires much more expensive hardware to make a difference.

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