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24-bit downloads coming soon to the iTunes Store?

  • I wouldn’t normally report on rumours because rumours aren’t news…but this one’s a biggie: MacRumors has today reported that 24bit downloads might be just round the corner for the Apple iTunes store. Never mind a simple jump to plain old lossless, Cupertino might be looking to leap-frog 16-bit and get straight up in it with hi-res audio (HRA).

    But why now?

    I’ve already seen it suggested that this must be a direct result of Neil Young’s Pono initiative. Not so fast, Tonto. Let us not forget that the PonoMusic store doesn’t even exist yet and that the PonoPlayer will (likely) sell less than 20 000 units via its Kickstarter campaign. That’s a super-impressive number in the context of audiophilla, much less so against the backdrop of its broader mainstream ambitions.

    We should acknowledge that the ever-increasing market penetration of hi-res audio has gained momentum from numerous, longer-standing quarters.

    France’s Qobuz have been offering 24bit masters of numerous titles for some time now and to ignore the groundwork laid by the likes of Audioquest and HDTracks is to do them both a huge disservice. HDTracks have proven there’s a viable (albeit niche) market for HRA downloads whilst Audioquest have pushed hi-res decoding capability into ten of thousands of homes since launching their quietly revolutionary Dragonfly. That’s a buzz worth acknowledging.


    More tellingly, music download sales dipped for the very first time in 2013 so it’s just as likely that Apple are opening up to new ways of adding value to their content library, probably to slow the encroachment of streaming services into their market $hare.  This is about Apple making iTunes downloads look more attractive in the face of the same-same lossy compressed content being provided by the likes of Spotify and Deezer. Why buy an lossy encoded album for $16 when you can stream from a lossy library of millions for less (per month)?

    I sincerely hope that iTunes does bring forth a whole swathe of hi-res content. Without the requisite source material behind it, hi-res audio is just technology for its own sake. Remember my non-review of the Schiit Loki DSD DAC? I didn’t review it to make a point about the dearth of DSD content then available for download. It’s still slim pickings but as soon as a DSD download of Steely Dan’s Gaucho reared its shiny, balding pate, I was all over it with the Resonessence Labs Herus. Music availability will always be the dog that wags the tail of technological take up ’round here.

    Thankfully, HDTracks is becoming increasingly hip to contemporary tastes so let’s hope Apple follows by offering 24bit albums that go way beyond the more traditional audiophile titles.

    Further information: MacRumors

    John H. Darko

    Written by John H. Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. Audiostream reports from its’ anonymous Apple sources that the downloads will be 24/48.

      I’m not greedy, that sounds great to me.

        • 24/48 would be great, but 16-bit lossless would be a game changer for me. If iTunes offered that, at prices that were competitive with Amazon, I would likely never buy a CD from Amazon again. I buy a lot of CD’s from Amazon.

          • I kinda feel sorry for 16-bit lossless. It’d be easy to leave it out of the iTunes store conversation and it’d also be a huge mistake to do so: nearly all of the world’s recorded music catalogue is available at 16bit/44kHz and only a small percentage of that (1%? 2%?) at higher sample rates and bit depths.

            If iTunes moved to offer the majority of its catalogue as lossless it would be a game changer *for more people* (hello man in street) than putting up a much narrower selection at 24/96 or 24/192.

            • Spot on, Darko. I’m a big fan of 16/44.1; I just don’t think my old ears would (or could) appreciate anything better.

    2. I would love if Apple went down this road. Providing at a minimum 16/44 quality would be great. Apple’s current hardware and software ecosystem (AppleTV, AirPlay, iDevices etc) don’t support anything higher than 16/48 natively. Some of the hardware can support it technically but anything higher gets down sampled. It would be a surprise if Apple provided any thing better than 16/48. To do this I believe hardware and software upgrades would be needed across their product line. There have been lots of rumours of a new AppleTV coming soon. So hi-res downloads might be another carrot for purchasing a new AppleTV. Apple, in my opinion, is not going to just open up hi-res downloads (anything above CD quality) to the masses without having some new hardware to sell to take advantage of it. If it doesn’t work flawlessly within there ecosystem I don’t think they would do this. Streaming hi-res can choke on a lot of wireless networks. Not a good user experience which is priority #1 for Apple. Playing hi-res files on a iDevice (I’m guessing) eats up battery quicker. These are some factors I believe are more important to Apple then providing hi-res to a small community of music lovers. If there isn’t a noticeable difference to users of Apple’s devices I’m not sure they would do this. HD video versus SD video on a retina display is like night and day. Hi bit rate AAC versus ALAC on iPhone using earbuds. Not sure if the difference is quite so dramatic.

      I would love Apple to do this for my own selfish reasons but I’m not sure it is clear to me why they would.

    3. interesting times we are in! – One problem I see with going with DSD is that you cant do any DSP with it, at least not in native. And the whole point behind DSD is to keep it DSD right? At least thats what makes sense to me. I’m listening to PCM that get converted to DSD in software then played native with my iDSD. That sounds good to me, plus I can use DSP when its PCM before it gets converted. Again – interesting choices we have, we do!

    4. 16-bit lossless is all you need if the “hi-res” files weren’t recorded in hi-res to begin with. Most of the files on HDTracks are just reissues of Redbook quality tunes in a larger container.

      • see, that would bother me! If the rip and remaster is not from a high res source or analog tape etc. i’m not buying it!

    5. First and foremost, Apple are a hardware company. Sure, they makes lots and lots of profit from content, but it’s the sexy hardware that people queue up outside shops for. Adding fuel to the fire could it be that Apple are looking to introduce better audio play back on some of their devices??? I used an iPod 160gb playing Apple Lossless files into a DAC, then a separate headphone amplifier. Easy enough to carry in a laptop bag, but certainly not pocketable.
      A big grumble I have about the current crop of Lossless portable devices is the user interfaces are crap (I gave up on a HiFiMan portable device, it was awful). A slick Apple interface married to a decent portable player would be a big step forward. (Ditching iTunes would make it a killer device, but that’s probably a step too far for this rumour monger).
      We shouldn’t hold our breath. High Fidelity is one of those things we aspire for, and wait patiently for the moment to arrive; it is certainly never rushed.

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