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High-Resolution Audio Initiatives Accelerate

NEW YORK – High-resolution audio continues to make progress, music-industry executives contended, and the industry is pushing several initiatives to accelerate the uptake.

During a recent CE Week seminar, music-industry executives pointed to positive developments already taking place in the market, including a growing roster of high-res albums that music companies are making available because the number of high-res download sites has grown to about a dozen in North America. They also cited the growing affordability of high-res playback gear.

The key to high-res growth, however, is the rise of technology that means consumers no longer have to sacrifice quality for the convenience of storing and accessing large music libraries in the flash memory or hard drives of portable and home stereo products, said Jim Belcher, VP of technology and production at Universal Music Group.

The market potential is far larger than the audiophile market. The addressable market, he said, is “music lovers.”

Maureen Droney, managing director of the Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing, pointed out that until a few years ago, music companies were “loath” to create high-res music downloads because there was no place to sell them.

Panelist Howie Singer, Warner Music Group’s VP and chief technology strategist, pointed out that highres downloads represent one of the growth segments in the download market, and he expects high-res music to come this year to music-streaming streaming services.

Consumers will pay for high-res streaming, he said, because they are already paying for a CD-quality Tidal service with better sound quality than Tidal’s standard service. Tidal, he noted, is testing Meridian’s MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) technology to deliver high-res quality at CD bit rates.

Universal’s Belcher pointed out that falling hardware prices also play a major role in market growth. “Before it had taken thousands of dollars to get a system capable of high-resolution audio,” he said, but now it’s available for “much less” money.

Identifying high-res: Although consumers will hear the difference when they listen to high-res music, consumers still need to be confident that a file that they’re buying from an online store meets highres quality standards. To that end, the RIAA unveiled a logo that digital music retailers and streaming services can use to designate recordings that meet the high-resolution music definition developed last year by multiple industry groups.

The new logo, which will be available to music retailers and music labels in the summer, will identify high-resolution recordings available from digital music retailers and streaming services in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. It will be accompanied by the name and resolution of a song’s digital file format, RIAA said.

Last year, industry groups defined high-resolution music as “lossless audio capable of reproducing the full spectrum of sound from recordings, which have been mastered from better than CD quality (48kHz/20- bit or higher) music sources which represent what the artists, producers and engineers originally intended.”

The groups consisted of the Consumer Electronics Association, DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, the Recording Academy’s Producers & Engineers Wing, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group.

The logo “enables consumers to easily identify music that reproduces the full range of sound from recordings, exactly as the artist intended,” said Mark Piibe, EVP of global business development and digital strategy at Sony Music Entertainment.

The logo complements the Hi-Res Audio logo licensed by the Japan Audio Society for use on compatible consumer electronics devices.

Accelerating high-res: Although industry executives said about 4,500 high-res albums are available globally from the big three music companies, the industry will bring titles out faster with the development of high-resolution audio production guidelines that “demystify and simplify the overall process of creating high-res music,” said Droney. “Our members want to ensure that there is enough music product in the pipeline to satisfy this demand.”

The group will create high-resolution audio-production guidelines to clear up what it calls “some misperceptions” about the correct ways to record, mix and master high-resolution music.

The guidelines, expected to be completed for the AES convention at the end of October, will include such topics as:

• The importance of providing masters that have either been digitally recorded or re-mastered from analog sources at the highest resolution possible.
• The need to establish workflow protocols and procedures for recording new projects at 96kHz/24-bit and higher resolutions.
• The need for best practices when transferring analog masters to high-res digital formats.
• The importance of packaging high-res files with digital liner notes, credits, and other descriptive metadata to complement the recordings.
• Making a best effort to document the original format of recordings to provide transparency to consumers.
• Recommendations that support the minimum production requirements needed to deliver high-res content.