The evolution of digital music, with the ability to carry around an entire audio library in your pocket, has been considered by most consumers as a great innovation. Talk to a true audiophile, however, and you will hear nothing but complaints about how going digital has destroyed the quality of recorded music.
Because of limited disc sizes, music production companies have been in the habit of downgrading 24-bit master audio recordings to 16-bit files before they are pressed into CDs or sold as MP3 files. Some music industry leaders are now forming an initiative to stop that practice and distribute digital audio files in their original 24 bit file size.
“We’ve gone back now at Universal, and we’re changing our pipes to 24 bit. And Apple has been great,” said Jimmy Iovene, chairman of Universal Music Group’s Interscope-Geffen-A&M record label. “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.”
Iovene made that announcement during a 2-hour HP press conference to unveil the company’s new “TouchPad” tablet. Work from Beats Audio, a high-end audio venture between Iovene and Dr. Dre, will be showcased on the tablet, which will support the 24 bit audio files.
While most Macs support 24 bit audio, most of Apple’s portable electronics still don’t. Part of Iovene’s initiative is to work with Apple to make 24 bit support available in future versions of iPods and iPhones.
“What we’re trying to do here is fix the degradation of music that the digital revolution has caused,” Iovene said. “It’s one thing to have music stolen through the ease of digital processing. But it’s another thing to destroy the quality of it. And that’s what’s happening on a massive scale.”
Some artists are already offering two different versions of new releases. Radiohead, who released digital copies of their new album last Friday, offered one version at a higher bit-rate than was available on iTunes, as well as an uncompressed copy for $14. Nine Inch Nails lead, Trent Reznor, has also concurrently released higher quality versions of his albums, which have proved to be more popular than the lower bit-rate versions.
As someone who remembers recorded music before CDs and MP3s became the standard, I welcome the renewed focus on audio quality. Most kids today would likely be shocked at what a lossless audio track would sound like compared to what they’re used to hearing.