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How big is the sound of music?

Lucas Mearian | March 22, 2013
Music fans and major recording artists are adopting lossless audio file formats to keep copies of their music thats as close to a master recording as possible, leading to multi-terabyte-sized home music storage systems.

"On my [smartphone], I use a lower bit rate due to bandwidth considerations. You can go through 2GB a month pretty quickly streaming music," Gogesch said. "MP3 is a great way to lose quality audibly, and if you stream it to a [smartphone] you take another quality hit. Since everything I have is in FLAC, when it goes to my phone, and lower quality MP3, I'm just taking the one quality hit."

Streaming gains ground

However, mainstream music listeners are also quickly moving away from storing their own albums, and instead are signing up for online streaming music services such as Spotify and Mog and even online radio services such as Pandora, which offer higher-than-MP3 quality, from 64,000 to 192,000 sample rate formats.

But as Gartner analyst McGuire points out, just because music starts out in a high-definition format, if the wireless connection loses bandwidth, the song probably won't finish its journey the same way.

McGuire said "some assumption is being made by many West Coast journalists that Internet connectivity is always available." But he points out that just during his walk to work he can't continuously maintain the 3G Internet connection needed to listen to a music service.

Just as streaming music services are catching on, a relatively new high-definition file format is catching the attention of audiophiles. The format, called Direct-Stream Digital (DSD), was created by Sony and Philips for use with Super Audio CDs (SACD). DSD uses a sample rate of 2.8224MHz or 64 times that of a CD's 41.1KHz.

"The trend is toward lossless," Gravell said. "The history of the music industry is almost like a history of the different formats that you're able to buy the music under. At each turn, the music industry seems to try to want to resell us the same music, but under a different format."

Envisioning the evolution of the music retail business, he said, "I can't help but think the future marketing upsell from the likes of iTunes is going to be: 'Download this album in super high quality, such and such format.'"


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