Poll: Would you pay more for high-resolution music on iTunes?

When will iTunes get around to selling high-resolution music files? There's nothing stopping Apple, but who would pay a premium for better-sounding music?

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
2 min read
The jumble of resolution numbers can be confusing, but the bottom line is that higher-quality downloads will be more expensive Steve Guttenberg

Last month the Internet was ablaze with articles like Mark Milian's "Apple in talks to improve sound quality of music downloads." Milian did mention that the improved sound might be accompanied by higher prices, but no further details were covered.

He also said, "Many models of Mac computers can play 24-bit sound, and the iTunes program is capable of handling such files. But most portable electronics, and many computers, don't support 24-bit audio." Right, so I can't see why significant numbers of iTunes buyers would even consider purchasing higher-resolution files.

Download times for those files would definitely increase and take many times longer than the current iTunes. But a price premium, of 25 or more percent, shared between the record companies and Apple, would surely diminish the potential market for high-resolution music.

I thought the music business would have learned that lesson after the previous high-resolution formats--SACD and DVD-Audio--crashed and burned years ago. It wasn't just the format war that doomed those bona fide high-resolution discs; I never believed there was enough market demand for a better-sounding-than-CD format. Only a very small number of music buyers care enough about sound quality to pay a premium over the price of the mainstream format. I don't see that mindset changing anytime soon, so I can't imagine why Apple would offer high-resolution iTunes.

And despite all the talk about improving sound quality, upping resolution won't do a thing to counter the trend to releasing overcompressed, highly processed recordings from most of the major and independent music labels. That crispy, crunchy, headache-inducing, loud-all-the-time sound is pervasive, and the record labels could reduce compression on all formats, regardless of the resolution immediately. Dynamic range compression makes a singer's whisper sound as loud as a scream, and that type of compression is the main problem, and increasing resolution won't do a thing to change that.

Of course, there's nothing stopping anyone from encoding all of their iTunes in Apple Lossless right now; just buy the CD and rip it to iTunes yourself. Depending on the CD, that move won't cost much more than the standard iTunes version, and might be even cheaper if you buy a used CD. Apple will, if it ever sells lossless files, charge more for them, so why not just do it yourself?

Tell us what you think in the Comments section and vote in the poll.