It's another New Year, and 2015 looks like it might be full of big changes for the audio industry. We are starting to see something of a fight-back by CD player makers (especially those in the high-end), as a small, but growing, group of audiophiles move away from downloading, ripping, and streaming in favour of good ol' physical formats. Whether this has the same level of success as the vinyl revival remains to be seen.
Our take on this is a pragmatic one – it's all good! Because, at the same time as people are returning to CD in small numbers, some of the most reluctant digital music lovers have begun to adopt next-generation audio. The UK audio buyer is notoriously sceptical of formats beyond 16-bit, 44.1kHz (perhaps we swallowed the 'Perfect Sound Forever' marketing line a little too readily), but even this has begun to change. High performance audio services such as HDTracks download site and Tidal's high-grade streaming service finally arrived in the UK at the end of last year.
For my part, I can't help feeling Tidal is the more exciting of the two today. The UK listener was swift to adopt Spotify, to the point where even hard-core audio enthusiasts were giving up buying new music in favour of Spotify's subscription service. Good though Spotify's service can be, even in its dressiest get-up, I feel it should be considered more a music discovery service than a high-grade audiophile music streaming option. Now with Tidal joining the fray, those Spotify migrants can continue their subscription only model of listening to music, but this time can listen to that music in CD-grade sound quality and beyond. This could drive wider interest in good audio, too.
We're really excited by seeing these services come to town. The lack of truly trans-national support for higher-grade audio formats has meant we've always fought shy of including streamed and downloaded formats in our music reviews, and in any technology features. However, seeing the increase in momentum that comes from bringing these formats to new listeners around the world, that restriction is lifting fast!
I am also hopeful that more ways of getting better quality recordings help continue to straighten out the music business in this respect. I'm wary of using the term 'high-resolution' here, because there have been cases of so-called 'high resolution' audio files actually being upsampled versions of the 16-bit, 44.1kHz master, sold for a premium. With more services available, you get the ability to vote with your mouse; rejecting the unscrupulous bad apples and going with the good guys.
It looks like 2015 is going to shape up well for the audio enthusiast!