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TECH TRENDS FOR 2015: PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR EAR IS

22nd January 2015

We are music lovers here at Alfred; it should come as no surprise that some of us even got our start in the world of PR and marketing at labels and events companies in this industry. So when portable, high-resolution music players got picked as one of the leading tech trends for 2015 by the likes of CNET and Pocket-Lint, we couldn’t help but get rather excited about it… but then also step back and think about the practicalities of the technology and who would be interested in such products.

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Just what the hell is high-resolution audio though? Well, it’s the new standard for digital music files that aims to give you the closest possible experience to the richness of analogue. In essence, what your average MP3 can’t do.

Now, high-resolution audio is hardly anything new, but until very recently it was very much part of a niche, albeit highly profitable market catering for enthusiastic audiophiles with plenty of spare cash to go. In 2015, however, all signs are pointing to a warm welcome for high-res audio into the mainstream arena, with new audiophile-proof technology becoming a more affordable reality, and a growing appreciation of the listening experience that goes beyond the traditional MP3.

But let’s look at some figures to see where this is all coming from.

First up, there’s the much-talked resurgence experienced by analogue music. In 2014, vinyl sales reached 1.3 million in the UK for the first time in 19 years, a huge increase of 65% on the year before. And although those figures are mainly driven by heritage acts including Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd (with the latter releasing the biggest and fastest-selling vinyl LP of the century), you’d be wrong to assume that this is purely a nostalgic affair: the other two entries in the top 3 for last year were Artic Monkeys’ AM and newcomers Royal Blood with their self-titled debut, one of the UK’s biggest success stories for some time.

Digital (downloads and streaming), on the other hand, now accounts for 51% of UK music consumption. Streaming alone has doubled in the last year, with instant availability, convenience and affordability being some of its obvious strong points. And while the quality on offer is good enough for the average or casual consumer, music lovers with a more refined ear are quick to point out that these formats often suffer from a loss of warmth and quality as a result of heavy MP3 compression.

Now, while there’s a plethora of lossless digital formats available, the (until now) limited availability of a quality, affordable portable player rendered such formats useless for the audiophile on the go. And with younger generations of fans demanding a higher quality experience, there’s a growing need to not only bridge the gap between the high-end, borderline prohibitive audiophile market and the more demanding end of your mass consumer, but also that section of the mass consumer market that’s willing to spend hundreds of pounds on a smartphone and a pair of sub-par designer headphones to listen to 128kbps MP3s, unaware that there’s a much higher quality experience available for pretty much the same price tag.

Now that the technology is in place to counter every breakthrough that’s been made in favour of convenience, but at the expense of quality, this is a very exciting time to join in the high-res audio revolution. And with early players now entering the arena, here at Alfred we’ll be watching its progress very closely.