Quality vs. Convenience: Apple May Upgrade Sound Quality – But Will Enough Users Care?

image from For a second time, Apple may pursue upgrading the quality of the song files they sell. The goal is to offer downloads that more accurately reflect their original recordings, perhaps at a higher price.

It's a long road ahead of them, but executives like Jimmy Iovine, known for his criticism of the sound quality of song files and involvement in the Beats Audio line of headphones, is helping to push the initiative along. He believes that the war on music piracy and the degradation of sound quality hold the same level of importance. Of course, not every excutive agrees with Iovine.

On the other side of the spectrum, Sony Network COO Shawn Layden, argued that consumers can't tell the difference and don't care. To him, it's about making music more convenient. If his company can make their "Music Unlimited" service easier than torrent networks, consumers will respond to that value proposition.

According to tech writer Kevin Maney, consumers make a trade-off between fidelity and convenience every single day. "Fidelity is the experience of something – not just how good it is, but how it makes you feel or what it lends to your personal identity," he says. "Convenience is how easy it is to get something."

In other words, offering consumers song files with upgraded song quality does have the potential to catch interest. Caring about the quality of your music has little to do with how much a person will pay; it helps them express who they are.

Conversely, convenient music lends little to one's identity. It's either MOG or Rdio, and to the consumer, there will be a vague difference between the two.

Neither app is something consumers can wear like a badge.

Now, it's hard to know if the market of core music fans is big enough to justify the expense Apple will incur to please them. But in an age where digital music is as convenient as it gets, little is left to signify one music fan from the next. This is why high-grade audio equipment and song files may grow even more popular.

Due to the ubiquity of the iPod, it says less about one's identity.

The backlash: fans buy high-quality songs and Beats headphones, because it says something about who they are and how they want to be percieved. "The Dre headphones come with admiring glances at no extra charge," marketer and author Seth Godin writes on his blog. "They come with self-esteem built in."

When you wear white earbuds, you're no different from 250 million others. But when you wear Beats or Porta Pros, it makes you stand out from the crowd.

And to many people, that's worth something.

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  1. It’s why more people buy and will continue to buy MacDonald’s than a gourmet burger.
    Dr. Dre headphones make audio sound better just by hype. 128k gold.

  2. I think it will be a niche market. The reason why so many people download their music from iTunes is due to the massive amount of marketing and brand recognition the company has. Non tech people use it because it’s easy and it’s right in their face. More people share files through torrents because it’s easy and it’s free. I never seem to see any suggest that maybe the reason why torrenting is so popular is or could be due to the economy in general. For years people enjoyed reguar intervals of new music they could afford. Now that so many have lost their well paying jobs and can’t find jobs they realize they can at least still enjoy their regular intervals of new music without it hurting their wallets.
    Free album download at

  3. For me the answer is a pure and simple no. People (i’m talking general, not core music fans) are already not willing to pay 1$ per song, they won’t even consider paying more! I think the case for headphones is different, because one pays for them once, say, every 5 years, but one pays (presuming one does) for music on a regular basis, and won’t be able/willing to cash out more regularly.

  4. My CD collection is 16 bit. I have good gear. It sounds pretty good. I know 24/96 from the studio and you can hear a difference. But a lot of that is down to the precision of pro gear. If we are talking about 24/44 through consumer gear that is a much smaller step and it relies on taking a very high quality master. The number of very high quality masters ever made is not that significant.

  5. If they’ll have 24bit it will only be a marketing-trick. No way Apple will jump over a standard Apple Lossess format and go straigt to 24 bit Lossless… If would be 24 bit lossy and then I’ll properly prefer normalt 16 bit ALAC…
    And as other said before… No “normal” user would ever care. Only a few people/geeks (like myself)…

  6. to me, it looks like format replacement all over again. and it wont work. most people, including myself, have no problem with the sound quality of mp3’s. and as for the esteem of wearing Dr. dre headphones…well, theres one born every minute…

  7. Aren’t the people who care about sound quality buying physical albums? Its a nice option to have, but I can’t imagine the average iTunes customer willingly paying more for a higher quality. I just don’t think they care enough.

  8. As a jazz & classical fan who sometimes can only find things digitally, or used/out-of-print, I say hallelujah.

  9. At some level, no, some high-end listeners have moved beyond CDs. Linn Products, one of the leading high-end audio companies, shut down production of CD players a couple of years ago and moved on to really-high-end file servers as an audio source. (Linn’s classic Sondek turntable marked the beginning of a new era for super-hi-fidelity, if you aren’t familiar with their history.)

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