Will the era of downloads and streaming also lead to an audiophile resurgence?

Will the era of downloads and streaming also lead to an audiophile resurgence?
Yes, and here's why
57% (70 votes)
No, and here's why not
43% (53 votes)
Total votes: 123

Both the vinyl LP and digital CD formats and their players proved fertile ground for audiophile tinkering and paved the way for new companies and technological innovation. Will the era of downloads and streaming also lead to an audiophile resurgence?

Jimmy A.  Verrett's picture

Once bandwidth is no longer an issue (digital storage is already so cheap it's non-limiting), and physical media are no longer relevant, a primary opportunity for marketplace differentiation and incremental revenue for creators and distributors of recorded music is to present a tiered pricing system tied to file resolution. ITunes has already established 99¢ as the going rate for a compressed file and are already offering higher-quality iterations at a higher price. This signals the future. I predict that, in order to gain a competitive edge or higher margins, digital music retailers will begin to offer high-resolution files in addition to "CD-quality" and MP3 quality files. Consumers who have come to understand the concept of high-definition via television now have a basis on which to understand "high-definition" music. Many won't care. Some will. And it's those who do care that will fuel a resurgence of interest in audiophile-quality playback equipment. Look for stand-alone USB DACs to be the hot device of the next 5–10 years.

Tonko Papic - CHILE's picture

The only true high-fidelity format is LP. Period. All of the digital formats are only bits of part of information. The most "subtle" sounds are eliminated by digital formats—precisely those that are read by a good MC cartridge.

Steve Jobs's picture

Fewer audiophiles, more computer geeks, and too many artistic endeavors rendered meaningless because they will be ripped apart for a song or two.

Nathan's picture

No, the download format emphasizes the decoding technology, rather than the other elements of reproducing the sound.

OvenMaster's picture

I don't think downloads or streaming will lead to an audiophile resurgence if the files are at CD quality or lower. Too many audiophiles turn their noses up at CD's 16/44.1 rates, thinking they are inferior. You'd have to offer streams or downloads of maybe 24/96 with correspondingly massive files or broadband streams. Not good when ISPs are introducing download caps. The timing could not be worse.

Keith Mitchell's picture

For the foreseeable future, downloads and streaming will be exclusively for the iPod and YouTube crowd. Audiophile listening is being replaced by audio-visual content where Blu-ray reins supreme. Good quality concerts on Blu-ray with a large 1080p screen and high quality 2.1 audio system are an unbeatable user experience. This is where the future lies. In five years, this may be delivered via the Internet, but it's a long way off.

chris's picture

Computer-based music systems will be commodity-priced, just as all computer hardware has become. This may allow the return of a measure of sanity in a business all too often dominated by voodoo and snake oil. True audiophile products will have to differentiate themselves through performance, not über-stylish looks, extravagant claims, or stratospheric pricing. if the industry does not walk this path, it will soon become irrelevant.

Jim Tavegia's picture

No, because the masses do not care about quality. They don't even put full format files in their IPods or IPhones. If the labels were smart (?), they would do what HDTracks is doing and at least support another segment of the market they ignore. HDTracks' catalog is too limited right now to be a major player, but the future could hold something. I wonder how many customers who are buying the Beatles' remasters have real high-end audio systems? We'll never know.

D.A.B., Pacific Palisades, CA's picture

The fundamental difference between "audiophilia" and "tinkering" must be defined and differentiated. I see far more tinkering today than true purist music listening (ie, turntable, tubes), and I think that's a sad state of affairs.

Jim Pratt's picture

We are continuing on the slippery slope to the lowest common denominator. It seems most MP3 listeners consider the iPod to be audio nirvana, and show no interest in higher-performance digital audio encoding formats. It's all about how many songs they can cram in to their player. I do not believe we'll see many high-fidelity converts from these ranks.

ACF's picture

The perennial question. Alas, we are a small hobby. Music is always resurgent. The means to reproduce it well is the addiction of the few. Ain't gonna happen.

Martin's picture

Downloading will raise the number of people focusing on sound quality, of which a small proportion will be converted to audiophiles.

mauidj's picture

The crazy pricing of high-rez downloads is going to kill this segment before it gains any traction. I can buy two discounted SACDs for less than one download. How do you spell rip off?

Stephen Scharf's picture

The technological innovation referred above is still way, way too expensive to be a value proposition for 99.9% of music listeners. They simply don't care about quality. They want convenience and low cost, not quality. You should read the "Good Enuf Revolution" by Robert Capps in the August issue of Wired. This is also why VOIP is making headway over landline telephony. It's not *very good,* but it's good enough.

Gerry G.'s picture

High-resolution downloads can make better use of a great system than CD (and arguably vinyl, but that's not a rat hole I want to go down). Plenty of room for great DACs, preamps, power amps, speakers, interconnects, room correction, and room treatment to show off their potential.

J.  Moore's picture

I don't think it will, because there are just too many people in the world that want the quick n' easy approach. FLAC or WAV files aren't either one, sadly. Hopefully I'm wrong. It'd be fantastic to see iTunes, Amazon, etc offer FLAC/WAV file downloads at some point.

Tim Bishop's picture

HDTracks and players designed to get the most out of streaming and the likes will certainly entertain resurgence.

Eric Shook - BFE's picture

More and more, what used to be just technology is becoming "entertain me technology." Even Apple dropped the "Computer" from its name.

djl's picture

Only if the quality goes up and up. It has come up some, but in my opinion not enough. Still the best sound I hear is coming from the actual CDs rather than downloads or even MP3s of my own making from the original CDs. The real CD just sounds better! So if the downloads and streaming audio doesn't get better, then, in my opinon, we're doomed.

Randall's picture

The entire appeal of downloading is the compressed, minimized, and garbage-quality sounding file size. Without huge advancements in bandwidth availibility, this will always be a 'convenience-over-quality' realm.

Munf's picture

I like the idea of being able to experience my entire music collection at my fingertips by using a music server and maintaining the high-fidelity sound that I had with my single-disc CD player! Now, I am listening to music that I forgot I owned!

Glenn Bennett's picture

Probably not. Currently, we live in a big-screen TV era and that's where the money is being spent. Good sound is a distant second to the picture.

Dan's picture

Legal downloads are my main source of new music. I love not having to give my money to RIAA. Alas, iTunes and its brethren will get the lion's share of the money spent on downloads.

Al Earz's picture

For one thing, it gives us the rare opportunity to repurchase the same old titles we have been buying every format and pressing of since they came out.

EL from San Francisco's picture

MP3s are, by far, the most popular music format currently being used in the world. They are convenient, affordable, easy to use, and easy to share. Now we have 96/24 downloads that sound better than analog recordings and have all the perks of MP3s. Once you hear these recordings (through a decent DAC, of course), why would you want anything else?

Fearless Leader's picture

Not a chance. Everyone knows that "real" audiophiles are Luddites that still insist that analog sounds "better". /sarcasm

John S.  in Washington, DC's picture

Though it's a bit optimistic, I imagine that better technology will bring digital players (even portable players) that play hi-rez files. MP3 is really just a short-term solution. With all the hype over the remastering of The Beatles catalog, I have to think that a high-def iPod and widely available high-def downloads are on their way.

Jeff's picture

I qualify my vote by saying that a resurgence will occur only once storage has reached the point that uncompressed files can be easily downloaded and played on portable devices. If files are compressed, the quality is poor, no matter how great the audio equipment.

Mike Agee's picture

Not in terms of attracting new converts, I think. Growth in consumer IT moves toward lower prices, interactivity, and superficiality; and away from truly nuanced, cerebral activity. Audio could be provide interactivity, but that kind of busywork is closer to tweaking and hardware obsessing than it is to the higher calling of immersive listening, while bottom-line nickel and diming always favors mediocrity.

Dave in Dallas's picture

It's a portable, multimedia future. The days of sitting in a "sweet spot" listening to music are coming to an end.