Audiophiles and Apple’s iTunes Music Store September 28, 2006Posted by Michael in Opinion.
I downloaded the new iTunes 7 last week, and then got to thinking: What a wonderful marketing model that Apple has developed to get people to alter their illegal downloading habits and actually feel cool plunking down 99 cents for a song! Then I considered a few of the pros and cons of iTunes:
Pros: enormous song selection, elegant and simple purchasing interface, quick download, legitimacy, royalties to the artist
Cons: flat pricing, regardless of whether the song is “Her Majesty” by the Beatles (17 seconds) or “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin (8 minutes), AAC files compressed up to 90% from original audio files
The last point in the “Cons” is what bothers me, and is the reason why, despite their brilliant marketing campaign, phenomenal song search engine and luscious store, I have only purchased eleven songs from the Music Store. It seems like the music industry in general, and Apple in particular, in an (admittedly admirable) effort to shift the habits of the music buying public toward legal downloads, has pulled the rug over the heads of their very biggest fans, taking their money and leaving them with song files that are in essence, at 128 kpbs, like grainy versions of the original. This bothers me because, while the average teenager or young adult will listen to that music on tinny iPod headphones, or blaring out his car stereo via a cheap cassette adapter, and not really care about the sound quality, there is a segment of the market which will be cheated out of their purchase by a compromised file which really sounds lousy to a reasonably trained ear when played back on a decent stereo system. I, for instance, do not really want to grow my music collection of hundreds of CDs by investing in compressed files which, when I play them alongside CDs on my stereo, sound like tinny AM radio broadcasts.
What I am getting at is that buying 128 kpbs AAC files on iTunes is a terrific alternative to buying music on cheap, low-quality cassettes, but is no substitute for the crystal-clear quality of a CD or DVD-Audio, and this is something that I think Apple and the other music download services need to address so their biggest customers do not feel cheated out of their money in the long run. Perhaps they could create a premium service for audiophiles so that, for a higher price, they could get a perfect copy of a song, complete with digital rights management.
Of course, one could still go to a store and purchase a CD, but then the brilliance and convenience of the legal download model is lost.
Any further thoughts on this issue? I’d love to hear others’ opinions.