CNN reports that Apple is in discussions with the labels to offer super-high quality music to their online service, with a possible two-tier pricing format for those seeking the benefits. Music is currently distributed in 16-bit files through CDs and are further compressed when made into MP3s (unless lossless compressors are used).
As a result, online music stores could eventually offer songs that sound truer to their original recordings, perhaps at a premium price.
Professional music producers generally capture studio recordings in a 24-bit, high-fidelity audio format. Before the originals, or "masters" in industry parlance, are pressed onto CDs or distributed to digital sellers like Apple's iTunes, they're downgraded to 16-bit files.
From there, the audio can be compressed further in order to minimize the time the music will take to download or to allow it to be streamed on-the-fly over the internet.
"We've gone back now at Universal, and we're changing our pipes to 24 bit. And Apple has been great," Iovine said. "We're working with them and other digital services -- download services -- to change to 24 bit. And some of their electronic devices are going to be changed as well. So we have a long road ahead of us."
To make the jump to higher-quality music attractive for Apple, the Cupertino, California, company would have to retool future versions of iPods and iPhones so they can play higher-quality files.
ITunes controls about 66% of the paid digital-download market. Amazon MP3 trails with 13%, according to research from the NPD Group.
Apple and Amazon declined to comment for this story. Representatives for the big four record companies didn't respond to requests for comment.