I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

Apple again rumored to be working on high-resolution audio

Every so often, this comes up, and is met with two responses:

  1. There’s no point! People can’t hear anything above 16/44!
  2. Finally! I can hear the difference, and I won’t buy anything below 24/192 or DSD or lossless or whatever!

Technically, both are correct.

Benefits of higher-than-16/44 audio sampling are indeed both inaudible in theory and undetectable in controlled testing. Lossless encoding being indistinguishable from well-encoded lossy compression isn’t quite as clear-cut, but it’s close — it’s at least safe to say that most people can’t tell the difference.

But audiophiles buy and swear by tons of products that only offer placebo benefits. Selling snake oil to audiophiles is not only a very profitable business, but one could argue that it isn’t even usually a scam — in most cases, both the sellers and the buyers believe in the benefits being sold. Placebo benefits are real to their observers, and placebo-based demand is still demand.

While audiophiles who demand high-resolution formats are a tiny fraction of all Apple customers, they’re probably a much bigger portion of those who buy a lot of music.

Apple may offer higher-than-16/44 and/or lossless music downloads at some point, but it would be neither a scam nor an indicator that they believe in audiophile pseudoscience — it would simply be a response to strong demand from a very profitable market. And as long as Apple’s not serving their demands, they risk losing them to competing ecosystems.