Friday, August 17, 2012

Online Digital Music Streaming And High End Audio: Never The Twain Shall Meet?

Given that it could become the main music distribution system for the rest of the 21st Century, will online digital music streaming and online digital music downloads ever achieve audiophile status? 

By: Ringo Bones 

A recent research done by music marketing groups had projected that streaming music services like Spotify and WE7 will generate up to 1 billion US dollars in revenue for the global music industry this 2012 – which represents a 40% increase over previous years. But given that online digital music streaming services and online digital music downloads are fast overtaking the good old-fashioned music store that sells “physical” music media like CDs, DVD-Audio discs and SACD discs, are the major music labels who now embrace this newfangled way to sell music ignoring the sound quality issue that are voiced by committed high-end audiophiles with almost unlimited disposable income? 

Sadly, the sound quality of their product only mattered to major music label bigwigs during the “Golden Age of Stereo” of the 1950s and the 1960s. During the oil crisis of the 1970s when making vinyl LPs are precipitously getting more and more expensive, major record label bigwig executives adopted the mantra of just good enough – instead of as good as possible – when it comes to the aspect of sound quality. And by the way, when CD was introduced around 1983 – its linear PCM 16-bit 44.1 KHz sampling system was 1970s technology. Are music company bigwig executives ignoring dedicated audiophiles with purchasing power rivaling NASA at their own peril?   

Back in 2005 as I visited audio / hi-fi fairs here in Southeast Asia, there were companies exhibiting digital processing devices supposedly to make your MP3 downloads sound closer to Red Book spec CD – some boasts that it can make them sound like late 1950s era stereo vinyl LPs. But these were expensive devices back then. In 2012, none of these make your digital downloads sound like vinyl are to be found. Instead, die-hard hi-fi enthusiasts here in Southeast Asia now talk about trading swapping pre-owned vinyl LPs given that SACDs and 24-bit 96-KHz sampled DVD-Audio discs seems to be getting extinct in front of our very eyes in this part of the world. Some say digital music downloads will probably sound like good old stereo vinyl LPs by the year 2070. 

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