Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Downloads: the high price of high quality

You could say that they were the bits of the story that everyone ignored. The big hullabaloo about EMI getting into bed with Apple concentrated on how the major music company’s catalogue will be available free from all digital rights …

Fri, Apr 13, 2007, 09:49

   

You could say that they were the bits of the story that everyone ignored.

The big hullabaloo about EMI getting into bed with Apple concentrated on how the major music company’s catalogue will be available free from all digital rights management (DRM) restrictions for the very first time. But the fact that these tracks will also be available as higher quality downloads seemed to pass everyone by.

From May, digital music buyers will be able to buy tracks by EMI artists from Apple’s iTunes store encoded at 256k bps (bits per second). This means that the audio quality will, according to many audiophiles, be virtually indistinguishable from the original recording.

Of course, higher quality means a higher price: you’ll pay €1.29 per track if you want these super-duper, DRM-free tunes, as opposed to 99 cent per track the other way. The extra 30 cent might go some way to addressing EMI’s 20 per cent decline in CD sales in the first seven weeks of this year.

The Apple move will probably come as welcome news to those who shop at high-end music equipment stores. They are a constituency who have long bemoaned the audio quality of digital music and feel the majority of MP3s are not fit to sully their Van Den Hul cables, Primare amplifiers and MartinLogan speakers. Given how much they talk about how much their sound systems cost, the higher price will probably be to their satisfaction.

On the other hand, the move will probably not make a blind bit of difference to the growing number of music fans who listen to music on mobile phones, digital music players and through computer speakers.

To them, the most important considerations are price and convenience.

When it comes to purchasing music, the latter group are now in the ascendant, as can be seen in how the growing volume of digital download sales are beginning to dwarf conventional CD sales. Just week, the media research company Enders Analysis predicted that, by 2009, overall music sales will slump to half their 1997 $45 billion global peak due to the decline in the CD’s fortunes.

Is better audio quality going to address this fall? As more and more people swap home systems for portability, chances are the industry will have to rethink this one yet again