Apple is reportedly working on ramping up to Hi-Res audio streaming for music at some point in 2016. If true, that means the fourth generation Apple TVs we just bought are about to be out of date and our broadband data usage is going to take a serious hit for very little gain.
According to sources speaking with Macotakara, Apple is working on 96kHz 24-bit streaming audio. That shift, they say, is coming in the next few months.
Assuming Apple really is planning to increase the audio quality for the music it streams, get ready to plug your headphones into a Lightning port because the standard headphone jack used today won't support Hi-Res audio. Sending audio data through the Lightning port instead of headphone jack would let headphone makers use digital analog converters to handle the higher bit rate audio.
Apple TV users, however, will be out of luck because the set top streaming media device doesn't support higher audio bit rates.
This isn't the first time rumors of Apple working on higher bit rate audio encoding have surfaced, and just like those previous reports, this one may not pan out, either. The short explanation is that Apple could increase its audio files above the current 44.1kHz, 16-bit encoding used today, but you probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference.
The slightly longer explanation is that in most cases our ears won't be able to pick out the changes in the audio, and most people don't use speakers or headphones capable of reproducing the sound. In essence, we'd take a bigger bite out of our monthly broadband data caps in exchange for songs that don't sound noticeably better than they did before.
There's more to it than that, and TMO's Dave Hamilton has already done an excellent job of explaining why increasing the bit rate and sample rate for songs doesn't sound like a great idea. Instead, remastering original recordings will get us more bang for our buck—or bang for our bandwidth.