Resurgence of Consumer Interest in High-Resolution Audio
In recent years, the music and consumer electronics industries have collaborated to lead a resurgence of interest in high-resolution audio. The movement is a reaction to the perceived loss of appreciation for recording-quality music resulting from the widespread adoption of compressed digital music formats (MP3, AAC, WMA) developed for digital download, players, and sharing services.
As a leading advocate in the high-resolution audio (HRA) movement, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) shows that 9 out of 10 consumers consider sound quality the most important component of a quality audio experience. CTA also reports that 37% of consumers are interested in listening to high-resolution audio.
Audio quality is measured in a combination of word length resolution, commonly indicated by 16- or 24-bit, and a sampling rate, which can range from 8 kHz to 196 kHz per second. The standard for CD-quality files is recognized as 16-bit/44.1 kHz. Along with the foundational definition, the high-resolution workgroup developed four categories (MQ P, MQ A, MQ C, MQ D) and ratings designed to make file types more easily recognizable to consumers.
Most people can discern the difference in quality between lossy MP3 files and lossless CD quality files, at least in favorable listening environments. However, most may not value the quality difference enough to overcome deterrents to demand higher resolution files, including:
Retail is also getting on board. In June 2015, Sony announced plans for a high-resolution listening area in more than 70 Magnolia Design Centers. This positions Best Buy as the first national retailer to promote HRA audio in-store.
The growth in services for streaming and downloading HRA content indicate an expanding ecosystem. More than a dozen hi-res retailers are now active in North America, including HDTracks, Naim Label, Linn Records, Bowers & Wilkins Society of Sound, PonoMusic, Onkyo Music, Technics Tracks, SuperHiRez by Acoustic Sounds, iTrax, Blue Coast Records, and Quoboz. LG recently announced a new HRA service for its premium smartphones in over 70 countries. The service will support 24 bit/192 kHz song files downloadable through the LG SmartWorld app. In addition, CD-quality streaming services such as Tidal and DeezerElite offer lossless audio and some demos of HRA audio.
Finally, the three majors labels involved in the HRA workgroup have announced that they are making their back catalogues available for re-mastering to increase the availability of content and to encourage studios and artists to record new music in HRA.
High-resolution audio is creating multiple opportunities to help consumers rediscover a quality audio experience. Anything providers can do to educate the consumer, simplify the experience, and provide maximum flexibility for enjoying these services will be greatly valued. Whether hi-res audio captures a large portion of the market or not, supporting it in device architecture is a wise investment over the next few years.
This article originally appeared in Sound & Vision Magazine.
Brad Russell explores leading-edge issues in connected consumer electronics, smart home devices and platforms, IoT data privacy and security, and data-driven applications. He has a background in marketing communications, technology startups, and online media. Brad balances the art and science of market research to generate insights that lead to more astute business decision making and value-generating practices.
Brad received his BS degree in advertising and marketing from the University of Texas at Austin. He also earned MDiv and DMin degrees from two leading seminaries with concentrations in ethics and cross-cultural leadership.
INDUSTRY EXPERTISE: Connected Consumer Electronics, Smart Home Devices and Platforms, IoT Data Privacy and Security