Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Today in ‘Things Apple Must Do’: Offer a Lossless Streaming Service

Tim Ingham of Music Business Worldwide broke the news today that Amazon is preparing to offer a high-quality streaming music service:

MBW has heard this whisper from several high-placed music industry sources, who say the price of Amazon’s new tier will likely be in the region of $15 per month. It’s expected to launch before the end of 2019.

“It’s a better bit rate, better than CD quality,” said one source. “Amazon is working on it as we speak: they’re currently scoping out how much catalog they can get from everyone and how they’ll ingest it.”

Ben Lovejoy, 9to5Mac:

I argued a couple of years ago that Apple should, at the very least, offer lossless music downloads on iTunes. But now that so many of us have switched from downloads to streaming for much of our music listening, it’s really time for Apple to offer hi-res streaming music too.

There are challenges to this, of course. Hi-res music streams use more data, and as the music labels charge more for licensing, then Apple Music would have to charge more for a lossless tier.

But consumers would be able to choose their bit-rate, and the existing services have proven there’s demand at $20/month. All I’m asking is for Apple to give us the choice.

But have they, though? Tidal has claimed to have three million subscribers, but an investigation by a Norwegian newspaper found that the true number was less than half that number — and that counts every subscriber, including those at the $10 per month lossy format tier. Deezer has seven million subscribers but, again, there’s no indication of how many of those subscribe to their higher-priced lossless tier.

For comparison, Apple Music has over 50 million paying subscribers worldwide, and Spotify has 96 million. Neither one offers a lossless subscription tier. The idea that Apple “needs to” offer a higher-quality option — to summarize Lovejoy’s headline — is very silly, indeed.

Apple itself frequently makes reference to the importance of music to the company. For example, when acquiring Beats, Apple said ‘music has always held a special place in our hearts’ and Phil Schiller said ‘music is in our DNA.’ So why not give it the respect it deserves, and let us listen to it at the quality the artists intended?

I would love desperately for Apple to use its influence to help improve music quality, but allowing users to stream or purchase lossless audio — especially this idea of “better than CD quality”, which is, pragmatically, bullshit — is not the best way to do that. The most important thing is for more pressure to be put on music labels, producers, and mastering engineers to deliver well-mixed tracks with wide dynamic range. That, alone, will make music sound noticeably better than moving from 256 kbps AAC to a CD-quality file format.