The introduction of the MP3 player and the eventual rollout of smartphones, streaming media, and downloadable music files has fed a crucial consumer desire: convenience. It’s all about convenience, and speaking from my own experience, the storage and transportation of music media has always been an issue. My vinyl collection was stored and carried in old plastic milk crates and a large black footlocker. Procuring those milk crates was never an easy proposition and the footlocker weighed a ton. My cassette tapes were housed in rectangular plastic organizers and a wooden wall rack, and my CD collection eventually outgrew shelf space necessitating a migration to large leather-bound storage books. Anyone that has tried to keep a CD storage book alphabetized knows the pains of buying and integrating new albums.
The idea of carrying thousands of songs on a single iPod or iPhone (with instant sorting and access) seemed like a dream come true. In many ways, it’s the ultimate mixed tape (minus the hand drawn artwork and song notes). And while many (including myself) first balked at buy-in costs…well…we know how that story ends. Just take a look around and you’ll see 99-percent of the world carrying their entire lives around on a handheld device.
Aside from eliminating the joys of having a physical interaction with music media, the biggest victim in race toward convenience has been sound quality. There’s really no denying the diminished sound quality presented by the typical iTunes download. For the most part, it’s seemed as if Joe Public has been perfectly happy kicking sound quality to the curb. And while hardcore enthusiasts have remained faithful to putting quality first, the existence of 800 million iTunes accounts and nearly $10 billion in annual iTunes revenue speaks volumes about the sacrifices music fans have been willing to make in the name of convenience.
A shift, however, might be taking place. We know that audio equipment manufacturers have been pushing for a market shift. This is evidenced by the industry’s recent love affair with all things Hi-Res Audio. There’s also the emergence of streaming services such as TIDAL that deliver higher quality sound.
But what ultimately matters most is what the average consumer wants, because consumer money and actual sales drive the show. That’s where the story becomes interesting and different from years past. Based on a recent report by Qualcomm (called “State of Play”) it appears that the public is back to agreeing that sound quality truly does matter.
Qualcomm’s report surveyed 3,600 users from five countries that (1) own a smartphone and (2) consider themselves to be “music lovers.” Cutting right to the chase, 84-percent of those interviewed said they are concerned about compromised audio quality. That’s a number that’s hard to ignore.
Perhaps I’m assuming too much, but my general assumption has been that the average user simply doesn’t care to recognize variances in music quality across sources. It’s not that they aren’t capable, but that they simply don’t prioritize perceived performance enough to have much of an opinion to guide overall decision making. If you agree, then it looks like both you and I are wrong. Flat wrong. In fact, Qualcomm found that over half (54%) say they can recognize that sound quality varies across their devices, and 66-percent say they can tell the difference between technologies based on sound quality. What’s more interesting is that 85-percent of those surveyed say that “Excellent Sound Quality” is a major driver behind the decision to purchase an audio device, and 56-percent say they’d be willing to pay more for higher quality streaming or audio equipment that enhances sound.
Digging a bit deeper into the data shows how closely convenience is tied to listening. Only 9-percent of those surveyed listen to music on CDs “often,” while that number drops down to 1-percent when it comes to vinyl records. The vast majority listen to downloads (40%) and streaming services (33%). This notion of convenience is further supported by a huge desire for networked systems in the home and an expectation that devices will offer hassle-free compatibility.
Despite the desire for convenience, consumers are saying they want their convenient tunes to sound good. Qualcomm says that 89-percent of those survey say sound quality is important when streaming music, and 78-percent say they are interested in wireless audio devices that support HD. Also, 58-percent say they want to use Bluetooth audio, but that Bluetooth’s audio quality is too poor.
All-in-all the results of this research shows promise for the future of audio, which is great news for enthusiasts that want convenient options with top-shelf sound to be the status quo. We very well might look back at the last decade of mass audio and cringe, but there just might be some light at the end of the tunnel.
How do some of the numbers line-up with your own audio preferences? Let us know below!
Image Credit: Qualcomm