Digital Music is one of the only areas where technology has actually gone backwards since the 80s. MP3s were, of course, the result of people wanting to download music from service like Napster, it was a format and quality that the record industry adopted, but lossy music is totally unnecessary in a world of broadband.
Now though we're being expected to pay more than CD prices for lossless or high resolution music. This makes no sense, and I don't think the public will ever buy into these formats in a big way until they are simply the de-facto standard for downloads. Until then we're all going to stick with the ancient MP3 format, and hearing music that's inferior to the CDs we loved through the 80s, 90s and early 00s.
If you look at other TV shows and movies it's often the case that downloads are full HD, and things have certainly got a lot better since the 80s. Although it would be hard for it not to, as video has improved in quality at a far slower rate than audio did. These days, if you want 4K the only way to get it is via internet delivery. Now, that's not to say online 4K is as good as disc-based 4K will be, but for now that's not something we're able to buy, so the argument is somewhat moot until UHD-capable Blu-ray launches this summer.
What we need to see is music publishers giving people a minimum of a lossless CD for their downloads. That means a FLAC file, with at least CD quality bit depths and sampling rates. A conversation recently hosted by Sony Mobile about the future of high resolution audio yielded an interesting point from an industry insider - lossless and high resolution doesn't cost studios any more than lossy formats to produce and sell.
So, as you might expect, the record industry is still dragging its heels over the move to music downloads, after all these years and having undergone a fairly substantial shake-up over people downloading from Napster, Torrent Sites and other sources. The album, it's said, is officially dead now, as people simply don't want to pay for a load of tracks they don't like.
So, with all that said is lossless and high resolution audio worthwhile? I say a big yes. Lossless for sure, and I have no real objection to high resolution on the grounds that any extra quality can't hurt. We have good compression now, along with cheap storage, that means the capacity problems don't present a huge issue these days. And likewise, downloading a single song on Napster over dial-up was an arduous task. These days, on fast broadband, you could have every song in the top 40 downloaded in less than an hour with ease.
If you've ever listened to music on a half-decent pair of headphones or speakers, you'll know that quality is a huge issue. So, let's start asking for what we pay for. Let's get our songs in at least CD quality from now on. High resolution might be an issue for another day, but really the music industry needs to get us excited about buying music, and lossless is a good way to do that.