CNN reports that Apple is in talks with the recording industry to sell higher-quality music files through iTunes.
The only problem: an 60-minute album at top quality would be almost 2GB in size, meaning it would take forever to download and eat up scarce storage space on iPhones and iPods.
The report is based on comments from record producer Jimmy Iovine at the introduction of HP’s TouchPad tablet on February 9. Iovine explained that audio is recorded at 24-bit quality, but is distributed to computers at only 16-bit quality. He said that Universal, one of the big four labels, had recently upgraded its pipes to support 24-bit audio, and that Apple was receptive to the idea.
But 24-bit and 16-bit aren’t the root of the quality problem. The root of the problem is compression. To get audio files down to a reasonable size, they have to be squeezed into a format like MP3 or AAC (used by iTunes). That strips out a lot of information. Audiofiles argue about which of these “lossy” compression formats is best, but none of them sound as good as a CD or an uncompressed file.
You can have small files that are easy to download and take up little space, or you can have high-quality files. You can’t have both.
Check it out for yourself with this online file size calculator. A five-minute song at the highest possible quality level — 24-bit and 96kHz sample rate — would be 169MB. A 60-minute album would be 2,025MB — almost 2GB.
Selling 2GB albums through iTunes would eliminate the entire point of the service — it’s for impulse buys for songs you want on your iPod or iPhone right now.
Huge high-quality audio files might appeal to audiophiles who want to listen to music on their Macs, but that’s a niche audience at best. It’s not going to appeal to the tens of millions of iPod and iPhone users who want quick downloads and lots of songs on the go.