Music streaming is coming up on its next frontier: audio quality. On Monday, that future loomed a bit closer when Sony Music Entertainment Japan and Rhapsody International announced, in partnership, a new service called Mora Qualitas, which will be Japan’s first on-demand high-resolution music streaming service.
Sony Music Entertainment Japan — which is under the Sony Corporation umbrella but operates independently from the U.S.-based Sony Music Entertainment — will offer subscriptions to Mora Qualitas for 1,980 Yen ($17.50) a month starting in early 2019 as a streaming component to its existing high-res music download store called Mora. The new service will run off of Rhapsody’s “Powered by Napster” platform, which provides systems, tools and APIs and will deliver lossless music at 24-bit/44.1-96khz (high-resolution) and 16-bit/44.1khz (CD quality). While global industry leader Spotify launched in Japan in 2016, Sony and Rhapsody executives say they expect Mora Qualitas to appeal to a different class of consumer: diehard music fans who want a deeper, richer experience than the norm.
“The simplest way to describe it is it feels like you’re right there in the studio with the musicians playing,” Brian Ringer, Rhapsody’s general manager of the Asia Pacific region, tells Rolling Stone. “Audiophiles love vinyl because of its enhanced listening experience, and high-res audio can capture that enhanced experience and not have it squished down into a digital CD. People listen to a couple of songs with a nice pair of headphones and go ‘Oh, I get it.'”
Why Japan? Japanese music fans are not necessarily more enthusiastic than those in other countries; rather, the country has already adopted the technology necessary to support high-res audio, which hasn’t yet happened at a large enough scale in the U.S. and other markets. “In Japan, we have a close relationship with Sony’s hardware and high-resolution audio is very popular. We don’t have so much know-how and exposure in the U.S. market,” Shigeki Tanaka, Senior Vice President of Sony Music Entertainment Japan, tells Rolling Stone. Tanaka hopes that Mora Qualitas (Sony named the service “qualitas” after the Latin word meaning “quality”) will ideally be adopted first by all of Mora’s 100,000 or so current users in Japan, then attract a larger base of new users and then roll out to other countries as the global interest in a high-definition streaming service rises.
“In Japan, you walk into a store and there are already dozens of high-res headphones. People recognize the little high-res audio logo. Culturally it’s a great fit also — there’s appreciation there and people are willing to spend more money for it,” says Ringer. “But we see the awareness of high-res audio growing here in the U.S. and Europe as well. Those markets are starting to follow. We’re prepared to go worldwide.”
Mora Qualitas will be available for Windows and Mac desktops at first, with a mobile platform launching later on. While Japan is the world’s biggest music market after the U.S., its focus has largely been on physical products and not streaming: An International Federation of the Phonographic Industry report in 2017 found that 73 percent of Japan’s music revenue was physical, which is the polar opposite of the case in the U.S. — so the new digital service’s success will be as much a test of the streaming market in Japan as it is of the high-res market in the world.