WASHINGTON - When he sees people listening to music on portable digital devices, David Chesky cringes.
"You can have an US$8 million (S$10 million) Stradivarius, and it sounds like you bought it at a local hardware store," says Chesky.
A composer who also has his own record label, Chesky began a music download site in 2007 called HD Tracks, offering "high resolution" music which retains much of the fidelity lost in most digital music.
"We are making a quality product for someone who is passionate about music," Chesky told AFP.
"No artist goes into a studio and slaves for six months over each detail, to have their music listened to on a laptop and US$5 headsets."
Chesky's was among the first offering high-res digital music which captures more quality than typical MP3 audio files, but the segment is growing, with music labels, electronics firms, musicians and others joining the push for better-quality formats.
Increased broadband speeds are another factor, allowing high-quality music downloads without the compression that many say is detrimental to sound quality.
High-res market grows
Jared Sacks, an American living in the Netherlands who is preparing an expanded launch of a site called nativedsd.com, said he believes the market is evolving.
Sacks said many consumers under the age of 35 have never heard high-quality audio, and "now some people are waking up and saying 'we want this quality.'"
The outlook is brighter, Sacks said, because of the availability of hardware, download sites like his and lower-cost digital storage and Internet access.
"A year and a half ago you had only two (high-resolution audio) players and now there are over 60," he said.
"People who want good quality are willing to pay for it, but a lot of people have never heard better quality."
Sacks's site and HD Tracks are among six partnering with Sony, selling high-resolution audio files which can be played on the Japanese firm's recently launched HD audio equipment.
HD audio will cost more than what most consumers are paying, but many audiophiles appear willing to pay roughly US$20 to US$30 for an music album, and individual tracks close to US$3.
"I think the digital stars are aligning," says Jeffrey Joseph, senior vice president at the Consumer Electronics Association, a trade group for the tech industry.
"Our research indicates the market for high quality music products is extending beyond the enthusiasts."
Joseph said debate over music quality has been around for decades, with the advent of the CD, which "lacked the warmth" of vinyl recordings. Digital technology allowed music to reach more people, but often sacrificed quality.
"What is particularly exciting about high resolution is that it has the high quality sound that you want but all the benefits of digital - the portability, the customisation," he said.