In the last few months I’ve become a fan of Rick Beato’s YouTube channel. I appreciate his “What Makes This Song Great” videos and his lessons about music theory. When his “Audiophile or Audio-Fooled? How Good Are Your Ears?” video was suggested to me by the algo, I watched it and was disappointed by one of its premises: that hi-res or lossless audio files don’t need to be sold because 320kbps (kilobits per second) MP3 files sound great and double-blind listening tests have proved it.

I’ve been listening to digital music for a few decades now, and I know that the MP3 and AAC encoders of the last decade are excellent. I listen to lossy-encoded files regularly and don’t worry that I’m missing any details. However, as more of my music purchasing becomes digital (I own lots of shiny discs), I don’t want my choices to be limited to formats that aren’t flexible. Purchasing lossy-encoded music is a push into a corner.

MP3 and AAC are well-supported formats; let’s assume they are universal and will be supported forever. I will concede that for the sake of this argument. However, what I won’t concede is that if I want to squeeze a lot of lossy-encoded music onto a limited amount of storage, I’ve got a problem. Let’s say I’ve purchased a lot of iTunes Plus (256kbps AAC) or high-bitrate MP3s. I know that the quality of 128kbps AACs and MP3s is fine for my listening. I also know that if I transcode my lossy-encoded files to a lower bitrate, there is a much greater chance of losing details and quality than if I transcoded from a lossless file.

I choose 16-bit, 44.1 kHz (CD-quality) or higher FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) as my preferred music archival and listening format. I transcode to AAC or MP3 as required to move music to portable devices. Well-mastered CD-quality audio sounds great; I don’t hear a different with higher-resolution formats of the same mastering. However, some record labels release hi-res recordings (or vinyl) with greater dynamic range than they release on CD, so I will seek those out for music I really care about. As a consumer of music, I should be given the freedom to make an informed choice as to whether I want to buy lossy, lossless, or hi-res formats.

If a baker refused to sell you an unsliced loaf of bread, wouldn’t that seem hostile? I appreciate sites like Bandcamp that allow the artist to offer and the customer to choose lossy or lossless formats without penalty. It would be great if all digital music vendors and artists felt this way.