CES 2017: High-Res Audio Streaming Gets Underway

Will reverse “30 consecutive years of downgrading the quality of a consumer format” January 6, 2017

This story first appeared on Radio Magazine's sister publication TWICE.

LAS VEGAS--High-resolution audio is making the move from downloading to streaming, with Tidal launching high-res streaming of thousands of albums and Napster announcing plans at CES to begin high-res streaming of thousands of albums in the spring.

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James "Jimmy Jam" Harris, chairman emeritus of the Recording Academy and Grammy-winning music producer and songwriter, hailed high-res music files as delivering "studio-quality sound without sacrificing convenience."

In a separate initiative to expand high-res adoption, the Digital Entertainment Group unveiled a new consumer awareness campaign, called Stream the Studio, to align marketing messages to promote high-res devices, technologies and music. The campaign will include event marketing and social media “to educate and engage millennial music fans on the benefits of studio quality high-res audio,” the group said.

Before the year is out, four to five services could be streaming high-res, said MQA chairman Bob Stuart. Stuart’s company developed Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) technology to reduce bandwidth requirements to make it practical to stream master-quality audio. Other companies are also developing technologies to make high-res streaming practical, Napster/Rhapsody CEO Mike Davis told the Official CES Daily.

High-resolution audio streams could spread high-res adoption by tapping into growing consumer demand for streaming music rather than downloading it. A Music Watch survey commissioned by DEG found that a premium music service offering high-res and other value adds could attract more than 12 million subscribers in the U.S., the DEG announced at CES.

Tidal’s high-res albums can be streamed to its computer application and to embedded implementations such as wireless-multiroom speakers, soundbars, and audio components, said MQA’s Stuart. The music can also be streamed to Wi-Fi equipped digital audio players (DAPs) if equipped with a Tidal high-res app. Smartphone apps supporting Tidal, however, aren’t available yet, he noted.

To stream Tidal’s high-res files, consumers must subscribe to the $19.99/month Tidal HiFi service, which already streams in CD quality.

Tidal is using MQA technology to stream albums from Warner Music and independent labels. For his part, Napster’s Davis said he expects his launch to include all the major labels, but he didn’t say whether MQA or other technologies would be used.

The three major record companies — Sony, Warner and Universal — as well as many independents already offer more than 15,000 high-res albums for downloads, DEG said.

Other music services also spoke highly of high-res streaming during a Thursday press conference, including David Chesky, CEO of high-res download service HDTracks, but he didn’t say when his company would launch high-res streaming.

And in a written statement distributed by DEG at the show, Pandora CTO Chris Martin said, “Pandora has the platform to make this [high-res streaming] big!” He also noted, however, that “while not for everyone, high-res music streaming has the potential to engage millions of digital music fans who are seeking a more immersive, studio-quality listening experience.”

For his part, Atlantic Records co-chair/CEO Craig Kallman hailed high-res downloads and streaming as reversing “30 consecutive years of downgrading the quality of a consumer format,” beginning with the shift to CD from vinyl and then to MP3 files and streaming. High-res technology, however, has shown that “quality and convenience can be in complete harmony.”

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