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The high resolution of digital music

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The last year has marked an unstoppable rise of vinyl records, which for the first time in the United States surpassed CD sales, with an increase of 29% and a market that in the United States is worth over 600 million dollars. A long way from streaming revenues (we are talking about 10 billion a year), but it is definitely a trend to keep an eye on. The spirit of a collector does a lot, the desire to possess the physical support of one’s favorite album, the immersive listening experience that does not allow you to “skip”, but above all the higher audio quality. Analog sound conquers enthusiasts, willing to invest in hi-fi stereos and praise their quality as opposed to digital audio files, those that can be downloaded from stores like iTunes or listened to in streaming on platforms like Spotify. The difference between vinyl and file is that in digital songs a choice of information compression has been made, in which audio quality is sacrificed in favor of “weight” in megabytes. Music is never – literally – changing thanks to the new lossless coding protocols, with uncompressed audio, which are starting to populate streaming services. The first, and most niche, was Tidal, which unpacked its offer in Premium, with standard quality, and HiFi, which offers the songs in high resolution. The price of the high fidelity service is exactly double the basic one, 20 euros per month. But it has always been a niche service, used by big fans willing to pay extra for hi-fi streaming. Even Amazon, on the other hand, already from 2019 gave the possibility of an upgrade (at a surcharge of 5 euros per month compared to the basic 9.99) to the HD library of its Music Unlimited. 70 million songs with lossless encoding and support for spatial and 3D audio – the latter features only possible using Amazon devices for playback.It was Apple’s move that stirred the waters, with the announcement of the arrival of the lossless format and 3D on Apple Music, for the same price as the basic subscription. Amazon has adapted by including high resolution free for all subscribers, and even Spotify, albeit strong of its dominant position, had to run for cover, promising the arrival of its HiFi function by the end of the year – without specifying whether with a fee. additional or not. News welcomed with great favor by audiophiles and professionals, who complained that listening in streaming lost so much in quality and depth, but the new democratization of high-resolution audio is not without obstacles. First of all, data consumption: streaming a lossless file is necessarily “heavier”, just as the space occupied on the device is considerably higher if we decide to download the song. This means that listening in streaming may no longer be that smooth, jolt-free experience we’re used to with current services, especially in areas where the connection isn’t optimal. In addition, listening to music via bluetooth devices, the difference in quality is lost in the transmission. Is it really a problem? Maybe not, if it is true that modern audio compression systems are now able to give us a very faithful sound, in which the information lost is what the human ear cannot identify. What remains is a run-up to subscribers with a marketing move that will likely spell the end of services like Tidal, putting the market back in the hands of the usual players.

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