How Sony, Universal and Warner plan to make hi-res music mainstream

A panel discussion at IFA saw representatives from Universal Music, Sony Music and Warner Music debate how best to convince more people of the benefits of high-resolution audio.

With convenience no longer an issue, as hi-res audio lands on download stores and streaming sites, the labels are keen to raise awareness and win-over new fans - with each imprint offering making thousands of hi-res tracks available to consumers.

As reported by Musically, the panel attempted to narrow down the major areas that the music industry needs to focus on in order for hi-res music to become more popular.

The first is getting more young people, who have grown up almost exclusively with MP3s and low-quality streaming, interested in hi-res audio. The increase in compatible devices and the growing availability of hi-res content were seen as positive factors as to why this could now be achieved.

"Formats like MQA make it more portable, so it’s easier to have it yourself, in your car and outside the home. So I think that’s a great opportunity,” said Morvan Boury, VP of global digital development for Sony Music.

Bill Gagnon, Universal Music’s SVP of global digital business development, was convinced the audio quality of hi-res music "sells itself" - just as soon as people experience it.

Sony's LF-S50G

Sony's LF-S50G

Borrowing from the vinyl revival, it was also suggested hi-res services could offer more than just great audio. More information about the music you're listening to, the person that produced it, the songwriter, digital booklets and so on. Some music streaming services already provide that - Qobuz, for example, has it as one of its main selling points - but many do not.

The panel also saw smart speakers as an opportunity for hi-res, with users able to request a better-quality audio file. “It’s very important that if you ask your Sony speaker or your Google Home speaker or your Alexa speaker, ‘I want the hi-res version of Beethoven’s Symphony’, that you actually get it,” said Boury, "I’m sure there is a lot more room for ideas to build around that.”

But will hi-res audio remain a niche market? Michael Drexler, VP, digital strategy and corporate development for Warner Music, thinks not. “Just in the US market alone I think there are tens of millions of potential customers that are interested in high-resolution streaming. So it’s not a niche market, we view it as a mass market." Only time will tell...

You can read the full discussion on Musically.

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Adam was a staff writer for What Hi-Fi?, reviewing consumer gadgets for online and print publication, as well as researching and producing features and advice pieces on new technology in the hi-fi industry. He has since worked for PC Mag as a contributing editor and is now a science and technology reporter for The Independent.