The cost (and price) of hi-res files

I was looking over new releases on an online music store recently, and as I was comparing prices for downloads, a thought occurred to me (sorry, I can’t help it). Is there a cost-based reason for higher resolution files to be priced higher than lower resolution files?

I think most of us have accepted higher prices for better quality files pretty much unquestioningly, no doubt as a result of a lifetime of being consumers of manufactured goods, where increases in quality are typically the result of things that drive costs up - better materials, greater care in manufacturing, or some other tangible thing - and therefore consumer prices increase accordingly.

But is that the case in audio files? I’m guessing there most likely are increased costs in setting up a higher quality recording and production chain - better recording equipment, from the mics to the mixers, better converters, better whatever device actually puts the 0s and 1s on a server someplace for distribution to the consumer. And I’m willing to believe those higher costs could be substantial.

But I’m not a recording engineer or the owner of a recording studio or record company, so I don’t know these assumptions are accurate. Are the higher prices for higher resolution files driven by actual increased costs, or by the fact that those files are simply “better” and as such, a higher price is accepted by the consumer?

Another wrinkle - based on the higher-quality chain described above, one might assume that those costs are all accounted for in a business model that dictates a higher price for better results. But that same studio routinely makes lower resolution files available to consumers at lower prices. I’m sure they don’t record the same event in multiple resolutions for sale at corresponding price points. Which suggests they record once, in as high a resolution as they can, and then expend additional effort (and maybe employ additional equipment) to “dumb-down” lower res files for sale at lower prices. Which means they go to more trouble to make a product they sell for less. Admittedly, it might be very little additional trouble, but it’s still probably an extra step. Which suggests the pricing of files isn’t based strictly on the cost of production, at least not always.

For all I know, these thoughts of mine might be based on a complete misunderstanding of hi-res recording and production procedures and equipment. But it would be interesting to hear what people on the inside think about the matter.


right on question

I thought that the industry’s main justification as to why high-resolution audio files cost more is that the much larger file sizes require the vendor to acquire more data storage, as well as greater Internet bandwidth to transmit the files to the end purchasers. (I am not saying I buy that justification.)


Meh… storage is cheap. The amount of space it takes up is one sale. Not $10 each. Its because they can. They know people who have the ability to play than and care, have the money to buy…so its more. if we stop buying they will come down.


Im no expert, but I believe the answer is Greed


Pretty much pricing things based on what cutomers are capable of and willing to pay. The only way out of it is competition and from a commercial point of view (or greed?! As we could say), it does not make sense to compete because of unpredictability and hires market size. I could be wrong though. Streaming tech has come of age and is a good alternative.

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Not more data storage, I’d say.
In case they just provided the original format, there’s only one file to be stored. Downloading could be downsampled on the fly, arguably at the (extra) cost of the client. Alternatively, the files can be downsampled by the clients, where the cost of the bandwidth was already included (same price as the HiRes file).
Therefore, the price for the standard res file is the reasonable market price for the product/service/music.

Then why is HiRes more expensive? Probably, exploiting old school logic ‘better is more expensive’, combined with good entrepreneurial gut (greed). Both have been mentioned already. I believe this is all the rationale needed for the pricing strategy. An acceptable approach as long as customers somehow comply.

Is it reasonable to disrupt this current practice?
IMO, perhaps for mainstream music and big labels, perhaps less so for smaller labels that don’t sell that much for high quality productions (artistically and sonically).

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What everyone else has already said. In addition, what pretty much proves the greed point for me is that, on hi-res files that are actually captured at their highest resolution, that highest resolution is still more expensive than the oftentimes available lower resolutions of the same release. If the cost is based to any degree on time/labor, shouldn’t the lower res files - which require follow on processing to produce - be more expensive?

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The other issue is just because it is a hi-res file does not necessarily mean the mastering is actually superior to other previous low-res releases.


True! This is assuming an existing issue in standard res, where a new money source is found by remastering the original master files in a new HiRes production.

I work in graphic design and often use stock photography. There is a premium price for higher resolution images. Higher resolution images can be enlarged without creating digital artifacts that are more noticeable to the human eye, when printed or posted digitally. As a higher quality, higher resolution image can viewed with less distortion, so too can a higher resolution audio file be played louder and heard with much more clarity. The more there is to be had, there more you’ll pay for it.


Not sure why this should be a sudden revelation. After a lifetime as a consumer, I’m well aware price and cost to produce anything, be it goods or services, is loosely correlated at best. Audiophiles pay $10k for a phono cartridge that can’t possibly cost anything like that much to manufacture, materials and labor combined. There are so many examples of retail price being scaled according to perception of quality, luxury, etc. I could write a novel. Of course outlets will ask more for hi-rez files versus redbook because consumers are willing to pay more for hi-rez files. Same is true for practically any commodity offered by any industry you care to name.


but some of us are so very poor


I believe in the example you present, HiRes photos aren’t supposed to be an end-users product, these are rather to be processed, reused, etcetera. So, there’s ‘real’ economic value in headroom to be manipulated.
Technically, it’s the same thing: high quality photo taken, distributed in varied formats.

Every company that sells hi-resol. music knows audiophiles are suckers for this kind of things :laughing:

I brought this subject up in a post months ago, people (a company maybe in Ontario Canada) up-sampling then selling DSD256 trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. I recall a frequent poster here saying ‘it just sounded better’ with no explanation which is totally a subjective opinion.


I try to stick with sites that spell out precisely how a recording was natively captured or transferred (if from analog). I tend to stick with that iteration.

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When I see hires files available I try one or two from a source to see if I believe in their product. If I do I buy a few more.

With the Audiophile Society recordings for $19 (free shipping) you get 128 DSD, 24.192 PCM, and 24.96 Binaural recordings with one purchase. After trying two I bought the entire catalog of 8. I hope they do more.

With HDTT I was liking what I was hearing and thought the price was reasonable. Then they released that one recording with the left and right channels reversed. It hurt to listen to. The next day they released the fixed version and what I heard was a three channel recording missing one channel. I moved on to other sources.

Many years ago if you analyzed an HD recording, looking at the 16 bit vs. higher bit rate version on the same disc, test results seemed to show the higher bit rate was just an upsampled version of the 16 bit recording.

You pays your money and takes your chances.

This discussion would be way more useful if it was more about “what high bit rate recordings have you purchased that you are extremely pleased with?”. That is useful and worthwhile information.

Talking about the price is similar to gossiping.


OK, that’s a possibility too. I didn’t consider this in my previous responses.
Personally, I’m not interested in upsampled music. Preferably, purchased recordings should be in the natively recorded resolution/format. E.g. when upsampling through a dac, I can never tell what I’m actually listening to (to me it just sounds different, not better per se) and I rather prefer the ‘original’ resolution.

As Al suggests, when the signal isn’t really deviating from standard resolution, one better leave it aside. People selling this kind of stuff see a business opportunity, feeding suspicion over snake oil.
Let’s do our own thinking and use our ears to substantiate its common sense assessments.


Same tendency that applies to hires music / photography seems to very often apply elsewhere:
Apparently the Merc C180 and C200 uses the very same engine, with the 200 simply “tuned” for better performance [I stand corrected].

And paint: I cannot see how “the best” PVA paint can really cost 2-3 times more to manufacture than PVA roof paint