Apple to offer 24-bit audio in the iTunes Store?

According to a report released today, Apple is considering a jump from their current 16-bit audio iTunes Store offerings to a superior 24-bit format. CNN claims that Apple is in talk with music executives to bring super-high quality music to their online service, with a possible two-tier pricing format for those seeking the benefits.

UMG's Jimmy Iovine is fully backing the idea. At a recent HP event, Iovine expressed his dissatisfaction with current digital trends, promoting his joint initative with Dr Dre to improve sound quality. Beats Audio has seen its results implemented in a number of HP's products, and Iovine wants to reverse the effects the digital age has had on our audio expectations. "It's one thing to have music stolen through the ease of digital processing. But it's another thing to destroy the quality of it," he said.

24-bit audio would bring iTunes-bought music to recording studio standards, but the quality improvement may not be heard by all. While iTunes and most Macs can play 24-bit sound, a wide range of hardware and software currently on the market lacks the capability. A common criticism of the iTunes store is its distribution of relatively poor-quality files compared to the original masters, and audiophiles in the past have called for a lossless option to be available.

Smaller outlets such as Bandcamp offer music in lossless formats, and Apple has been known to adapt its music offerings depending on the wider marketplace. Previously, Apple ditched DRM and boosted quality from 128kbps to 256kbps, dubbing the new format "iTunes Plus". An answer to the call for lossless may not be entirely out of the question, but Apple might decide to hold back from launching a service that benefits a very small crowd.

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Mmmm, wonder if this is really Apple's Autumn surprise... iPod Touch Pro, 24-Bit DAC, several hundred GB storage (Lossless files)

Quick compare as regards storage - "The Last Airbender" score;
FLAC - 338MB (Level 8; Highest compression)
M4A - 108MB (AAC VBR Q0.60, ~225kbps)

Um, so does this mean Apple is going to update AppleTV v1, v2 and the core audio conversion in OS X?

AppleTV v1 and v2 does not support 24bit audio.

OS X's internal core audio conversion does not resample smoothly, which creates a lot of distortion when the audio sample rate does not match the output sample rate.

So if you have 16bit digital output or analog speakers that use 16bit on your Mac, playing a 24bit audio file will have distortion making the 24bit audio file sound worse than a 16bit audio file. If you have 24bit digital going out of your Mac, then OS X will not convert/resample so only then will it sound better than a 16bit audio file.

This means 99% of Mac OS X users will find the 24bit file to have more distortion and less quality than 16bit audio files. And I don't imagine Apple will tell people to use Windows 7 to fully enjoy the new 24bit format.

There is also the details of the difference between 16bit and 24bit, which is not a 'big' difference, and depending on the music label, sound quality could be worse because of their own upsampling and other mechanisms where the audio has been filtered for only 16bit without artifacts.

Bottom line...
It is good Apple will be offering this, and the world will get use to dealing with audio in 24bit.

The bad is that knowing Apple, it will be a major marketing point that leaves out details for the average consumer. (My mind goes back to their 'first 64bit desktop computer' commercials, which were inaccurate and also failed to tell the users that the hardware was only running at 32bit because OS X's was a 32bit operating system - Sadly still is for most users, as OS X still ships using the 32bit kernel by default on all Macs.)

PS The last time I checked, core audio in iOS (iPad) does not support 24bit, which required a 3rd party connection kit and software to compensate when working with 24bit audio. I hadn't looked into this in several months, and I didn't see any notes from Apple if they added 24bit support. I do know it was 'planned', which I why I didn't include it on the list of products from Apple that will have issues.

It's iTune Plus all over again.... Remember when they used to charge more for a 256kbit file? And then, everything was moved to iTune Plus, it's the norm.

I guess it's going to be the same with 24bit audio. It's going to be "special" for a while until it become a standard.

jasonon said,
how does 24 bit compare to 320 kbps, or is it completely different?

Bit-depth versus Bit-rate... i.e. what you really to know is how does 16-bit compare to 24-bit.

24 bit audio is absolutely pointless for playback. It's I M P O S S I B L E to hear the difference, even with studio setup. It's good for recording though, lots of room to correct errors. Of course bitrate and sampling rate are a different story, they should boost those instead.

Paul said,

It's not pointless at all. Decent set of headphones and you'll be fine.

I listen to 16-bit ALAC on my iPhone, personally I hear a difference with the earphones I use and would love 24-bit support so I don't have to downsample my 24-bit music just for that.

placebo effect. you should read this http://www.head-fi.org/forum/t...-vs-16bit-the-myth-exploded

2III7 said,
24 bit audio is absolutely pointless for playback. It's I M P O S S I B L E to hear the difference, even with studio setup. It's good for recording though, lots of room to correct errors. Of course bitrate and sampling rate are a different story, they should boost those instead.
placebo effect. you should read this http://www.head-fi.org/forum/t...-vs-16bit-the-myth-exploded

Thanks, that's one interesting read (the whole thread actually).

What's the point of 24-bit when most music today is dynamically compressed to hell and back (-8 dB RMS). The increased dynamic range of 24-bit is lost on modern popular music.

Apple is just trying to create a two-tier music industry! We need Congress to act now on "bitrate neutrality" and protect the 16-bit masses from the 24-bit elite!!!

Neb Okla said,
Apple is just trying to create a two-tier music industry! We need Congress to act now on "bitrate neutrality" and protect the 16-bit masses from the 24-bit elite!!!

FYI, it's called Bit-depth. Bitrate is something different.

floopy said,

FYI, it's called Bit-depth. Bitrate is something different.

Since when did a frenetic call for legislation require technical accuracy?

Epic0range said,
Why offer 24-bit when the quality of the DAC in the iPod/Phone suck? It is almost pointless.

i doubt it's aimed at the iPod/iPhone people as lossless on those devices is pointless. It's probably for home use.

protocol7 said,

i doubt it's aimed at the iPod/iPhone people as lossless on those devices is pointless. It's probably for home use.

It's not pointless at all. Decent set of headphones and you'll be fine.

I listen to 16-bit ALAC on my iPhone, personally I hear a difference with the earphones I use and would love 24-bit support so I don't have to downsample my 24-bit music just for that.

Epic0range said,
Why offer 24-bit when the quality of the DAC in the iPod/Phone suck? It is almost pointless.

Although the iPhone audio out quality may "suck" to you, it is considered above average for smartphones (arguably the best). For me and my CX300 headphones (low end but still decent), I can't really tell a difference. I have a "high quality audio output" Cowon D2, and it sounds about the exact same. Its either my hearing or my headphones. But I'm not going to pay 100's of bucks for some head-cans as I'm not displeased with the quality.

Epic0range said,
Why offer 24-bit when the quality of the DAC in the iPod/Phone suck? It is almost pointless.
Besides sucking, I mean they might not even deliver full 16-bit SNR and dynamic range - I also don't think they support 24-bit anyway. The files would be dithered or converted to 16-bit in software if the iPod would even read them (most portables I've ever seen can't even read these files). Any portable device, and computer device (most computers already have this) need 24-bit DACs and support to pass on the extra information and signal provided in the files.

This wouldn't interest me much, simply because my hearing is just getting worse, lol.
I've listened to two versions of the same song at 128kbps and 256kps and didn't hear a difference myself, so generally only keep 128kbps music on my Macbook to save space as I don't the advantages of the bigger files.

Though maybe I am just listening to the wrong music, lol.

Corris said,
This wouldn't interest me much, simply because my hearing is just getting worse, lol.
I've listened to two versions of the same song at 128kbps and 256kps and didn't hear a difference myself, so generally only keep 128kbps music on my Macbook to save space as I don't the advantages of the bigger files.

Though maybe I am just listening to the wrong music, lol.

Ahh, I used to be like that, years ago, but I converted my music collection down to 96kbps. o_O Thankfully, I grew out of that, and nowadays, I get the highest quality MP3 files that I can, but I prefer my MP3s at a Variable Bit Rate, instead of a Constant Bit Rate; you keep the quality, but you cut down on the file size.

MightyJordan said,

Ahh, I used to be like that, years ago, but I converted my music collection down to 96kbps. o_O Thankfully, I grew out of that, and nowadays, I get the highest quality MP3 files that I can, but I prefer my MP3s at a Variable Bit Rate, instead of a Constant Bit Rate; you keep the quality, but you cut down on the file size.

Back when I had a tiny MB sized MP3 player that was only 256MB, I would convert all my songs down to 96kbps to fit as many on as I could, I'm pretty sure I went smaller at one point and ended up with more songs than MB at which point it stopped reading any more for some reason, lol.

I'm currently completely re-organising my digital music library (lots of wrong or missing tags, low or no album art) which involved removing all of it from my iTunes library and moving albums in one by one checking all the details, makes me wonder if I should just start again and rip/download everything at a higher bit-rate.

Corris said,

Back when I had a tiny MB sized MP3 player that was only 256MB, I would convert all my songs down to 96kbps to fit as many on as I could, I'm pretty sure I went smaller at one point and ended up with more songs than MB at which point it stopped reading any more for some reason, lol.

I'm currently completely re-organising my digital music library (lots of wrong or missing tags, low or no album art) which involved removing all of it from my iTunes library and moving albums in one by one checking all the details, makes me wonder if I should just start again and rip/download everything at a higher bit-rate.

Going back to a higher bit-rate would be a better option. If you get it all back, but run out of free space, then convert the highest quality MP3s (320kbps) to VBR. I set the range between 192 and 320 and set the quality to 0 (best quality), but that's mostly reserved for any CDs I rip onto my computer.

If you need a program to do it, I recommend GoldWave - http://www.goldwave.com . It's an audio editor, but it's also a brilliant converter, and there's even a batch processing option in it, so you can drag all the MP3s into the window, click the start button, then it'll convert them all into whatever you choose.

A little tip, though; do the conversion before you tag the files, as the only slight downside to GoldWave at the moment is that when it's saved, the album art doesn't show up in iTunes anymore, even if it shows up in Windows Explorer. So convert the files in GoldWave, and then tag the files, and for that, I recommend MP3tag - http://www.mp3tag.de . This is an amazing program for tagging MP3s. You can tag pretty much every aspect of the MP3, you can add album art with it, you can simply push CTRL + K, and then it'll number all the tracks it's currently editing in order (just remember to only do one album at a time when doing that ), there's a brilliant button in there that will rename all the files according to certain parts of the tags in the MP3, and you can customise it to exactly what you want, so it's a godsend for badly tagged files.

So, sorry for the extremely long post. Best of luck!

I don't think I'd pay more for better quality unless the cost difference was completely marginal. My ears aren't sensitive enough, tbh.

giantpotato said,
Kinda pointless to list the bitrate of a lossless file.

not really as most music these days is recorded in 1500+ bitrate which can be used on blurays in it's native bitrate. DVD's use 448kbps btw.

torrentthief said,

not really as most music these days is recorded in 1500+ bitrate which can be used on blurays in it's native bitrate. DVD's use 448kbps btw.

DVDs are lossy.

torrentthief said,
It depends what bitrate the audio is recorded at.

Lossy and Lossless has nothing to do with the bit-rate recorded. DVD's use DD and DTS, both are lossy formats. I may be wrong, but if you where to have a lossless soundtrack on a DVD it would have to be a 2.0 PCM track, although I'm not sure I've seen one myself. Unless it's DVD audio with no video taking up the space ^_^

Paul said,

Lossy and Lossless has nothing to do with the bit-rate recorded. DVD's use DD and DTS, both are lossy formats. I may be wrong, but if you where to have a lossless soundtrack on a DVD it would have to be a 2.0 PCM track, although I'm not sure I've seen one myself. Unless it's DVD audio with no video taking up the space ^_^

You're right, and there are quite a few who do. IIRC U2's Vertigo tour DVD and the one from Elevation have PCM soundtracks.

On topic, I wonder how many people can really tell the difference between 256k VBR AAC and Lossless. AAC even if lossy is a really good codec and that bitrate is rather high. Also I wonder how many can tell the difference during actual listening, not testing. You know, when you're actually enjoying the music you like instead of worrying about technicalities

Ishanx said,
how about having better output like that in foobar2k. There is a noticeable difference.

No, there is not.

So this is 24-BIT lossless audio correct? There not going to do something stupid an offer 24-BIT lossy compression encoded audio trying to fool the masses are they?

swanlee said,
So this is 24-BIT lossless audio correct? There not going to do something stupid an offer 24-BIT lossy compression encoded audio trying to fool the masses are they?

Why use lossy on a 24bit? It really has no point.

KavazovAngel said,

Why use lossy on a 24bit? It really has no point.

that's exactly what i am thinking since it seems it would get rid of any benefit it gives you when you compress it. so it would have to be higher than CD level to get any benefits from it would assume.

eviltwigflipper said,
I didn't get why they would charge more for 24bit audio, at this point it should the standard.

its not a question of why, but why not.. if apple has the chance to charge for something they are going to do it.. You don't become the number one technology company in the world by giving things away for free.. That is why investors love apple because they can charge their fans anything and it is seen as reasonable..

eviltwigflipper said,
I didn't get why they would charge more for 24bit audio, at this point it should the standard.

Yes, we must amend the UN Charter on Human Rights to include 24bit audio and impose sanctions against rogue nations who harbor 16bit adherents. They're so backward and need to be brought to the light by force if they won't come along peacably.

eviltwigflipper said,
I didn't get why they would charge more for 24bit audio, at this point it should the standard.
You shouldn't have to pay more for higher quality audio, you should be able to purchase the track and download in any format you like.

Lachlan said,

its not a question of why, but why not.. if apple has the chance to charge for something they are going to do it.. You don't become the number one technology company in the world by giving things away for free.. That is why investors love apple because they can charge their fans anything and it is seen as reasonable..

Apple is NOT the "number one technology company in the world"

eviltwigflipper said,
I didn't get why they would charge more for 24bit audio, at this point it should the standard.

Won't 24bit music files be much larger? Higher bandwidth costs maybe?

eviltwigflipper said,
I didn't get why they would charge more for 24bit audio, at this point it should the standard.
Sadly we aren't there yet, but we will be there by the next decade I hope.

None one will pay for quality, simply for access. Same with Internet Access. Everything will be truly Unlimited, all but the speed of access, of course.

eviltwigflipper said,
I didn't get why they would charge more for 24bit audio, at this point it should the standard.

They charged more for removing DRM and increasing Bit-rate a bit, so, uhhh, why wouldn't they not charge for this? It's Apple we're talking about here!

I would like to see Apple do what they did when they became DRM-free, allow us the option to "upgrade" to the new format for a small fee.

StevenNT said,
I would like to see Apple do what they did when they became DRM-free, allow us the option to "upgrade" to the new format for a small fee.

+1

StevenNT said,
I would like to see Apple do what they did when they became DRM-free, allow us the option to "upgrade" to the new format for a small fee.
And 5.1 and 7.1 mixes of the song too.

I would love this, this might be the chance I say goodbye to CDs forever. I don't think they'll use flac and maybe neither Apple Lossless but HD-AAC.

SuperZod said,
I would love this, this might be the chance I say goodbye to CDs forever. I don't think they'll use flac and maybe neither Apple Lossless but HD-AAC.

I think CDs died quite some time back, people buy CDs/DVDs only when they feel like owning a physical copy of the artists they like.

SuperZod said,
I would love this, this might be the chance I say goodbye to CDs forever. I don't think they'll use flac and maybe neither Apple Lossless but HD-AAC.

To b fair, you could get SACD or DVD Audio which would satisfy your high-quality tendancies.

SuperZod said,
I would love this, this might be the chance I say goodbye to CDs forever. I don't think they'll use flac and maybe neither Apple Lossless but HD-AAC.

Yeah if they used flac they'd get sued for offering crap audio for $10 a pop. which is where allofmp3.com was king. could get every format one wanted. preferred VBR in the later days.

Ishanx said,
I think CDs died quite some time back, people buy CDs/DVDs only when they feel like owning a physical copy of the artists they like.

I won't even buy a CD. I'll buy vinyl if I really want a physical copy. Luckily, most of them come with a coupon for a free digital download.

Ishanx said,

I think CDs died quite some time back, people buy CDs/DVDs only when they feel like owning a physical copy of the artists they like.

Not I, those who buy CD also buy for quality. It's superior to everything usually offered in online stores. More detailed sound, more frequencies (especially high, less cut off), more dynamic range. If they bring 24-bit, the only way it will be useful is if they ditch the lossy compression, otherwise there will be nil benefit.

Also, SACD and DVD Audio are practically useless. Both are locked down with DRM and proprietary audio encoding schemes, and SACD can't even be read by computers at all. Because of this, it's difficult to play and can't be transferred to a computer or other devices - and usually you're limited to listening inside preapproved software players without choice or control. With these formats they really want you to just sit and listen one disc at a time and not be able to manage or transfer what you listen to or do what you want with the music on the disc.

Edited by nullie, Feb 23 2011, 1:41am :

testman said,

To b fair, you could get SACD or DVD Audio which would satisfy your high-quality tendancies.
SACD encoding technique is not any good. In the end, it contains less digital information than a CD. It is like comparing MPEG 2 with h.264. The upside with SACD however is that they are very well mastered, usually much better than a DVD Audio disc.

I would rather have 16bit 44khz and a well treated room, actually.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHkAFSZmMk4
http://www.ethanwiner.com/density.html