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03/07/2022
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ORASTREAM IS WORKING ON MAKING HI-RES AUDIO THE NEW STANDARD

OraStream, the Singaporean company most widely known for powering projects by icon and audio aficionado Neil Young, is providing the technology for legendary artists, music startups, online stores, video livestreamers, and performing arts organizations to bring lossless audio, or “hi-res” versions of their sound and vision to the world.

Lossless audio quality was limited to the lucky few with the right hardware and specialty subscriptions until services like Qobuz and Tidal, and most recently, Amazon and Apple Music created higher-quality streaming audio tiers. Most streaming media, however, still runs on 1990s-era MP3 quality.

OraStream foresees hi-res audio becoming the new standard, the level of quality demanded by consumers, as they discover how much better audio can get.

On OraStream’s own platform, listeners experience flawless streaming audio at the highest bitrate their system and connection can deliver. Behind the scenes, OraStream uses SLS (Scalable Lossless Coding) to ensure this experience unfolds without a glitch. To do this, OraStream’s technology adapts to listeners’ technical setup and listening habits. Depending on the device, internet connection, listening volume, session length, and other key factors, OraStream can adjust precisely how much data it sends, optimizing the experience for its context.

We spoke with OraStream Co-founder and CEO Frankie Tan and learned more about his background.

Why did you want to start this company?

The company was started to introduce an adaptive audio streaming technology to restore high audio quality to digital music.

So the basic idea is to use a hi-resolution audio file of the original performance to distribute music. Adaptive audio streaming then delivers the highest quality audio that the end-user’s network (bandwidth) can support or the end-user decides the sound quality s/he wishes to consume music (based upon factors such as, individual preferences, listening setups, and usage conditions).

What inspires you every day to keep at it?

The work is not done. We work every day to adapt the technology in a way that would not disrupt current lossy-audio services delivered to and consumed by mainstream music consumers.

We are inspired by the possibilities to restore hi-resolution audio quality in other digital content media, for example, recorded music videos, live concert streams, podcasts, digital gaming or digital music in the metaverse.

What is the mission in one sentence?

The mission is to restore high-quality audio in digital media entertainment.

What is your personal background and story?

I am a music lover – my exposure to music started at a young age watching my elder brothers’ band practices and growing up with KC Kasem’s America Top 40.

About 15 years ago, I was introduced to scientific research on adaptive hi-resolution audio and its potential applications in improving Quality-of-Service in audio streaming. When the research work was made available for commercial development, I was attracted to the idea of restoring high quality audio in digital music. I thought this is important and would be an ideal my co-founder and I could work on. There wasn’t a lot of thought or due diligence (evaluation of the industry conditions, competition, etc.,) before starting the company. Had I performed detailed due diligence at that stage (which one often should so), it is possible I might have not taken the decision to start the company.

What problem are you trying to solve in the market?

After two decades of lossy music (MP3) compression, it’s become a recurrent refrain that hi-resolution audio is a solution in search of a problem. Beside articles (such as this), it has been suggested that since Bluetooth earphones can’t fully transmit high audio bitrates or that “scientifically-based” experiments have proven that almost nobody can hear the (superior quality) difference, no one actually needs hi-res audio. These points which dismiss hi-res audio in terms of consumption appears (to me) to be a case of “the tail wagging the dog”; Bluetooth earphones being the tail and high-res audio the dog.

It’s a little different looking at hi-resolution audio on the distribution side. Here’s how:

With advances in broadband networking, computing and storage technologies, more and more digital audio applications can and do use hi-res audio.
Hi-resolution audio as the origin source medium is a boon in distribution because it’s the closest (most faithful) digital reproduction of the sound quality in the original performance.
It then gives end-users the choice on how they (want to) consume digital music; based on each individual’s preference, technical setup and usage conditions (whatever that may be).
That is what the Neil Young Archives does (as is in OraStream’s BRIO for personal cloud music libraries). All of the origin source media are hi-resolution audio or minimally CD-lossless (when the hi-res master is not available). Adaptive streaming then delivers the highest audio quality that the end-user’s network can support or it lets the end-user decide if s/he wants the hi-resolution audio source media to stream at MP3 bitrate quality.

Hi-resolution audio as the distribution media is needed as it gives consumers real choices in how (including the choice of technical setup is needed) to experience music as an art form.

What are your values and beliefs?

Better audio quality music has regained some of the value shed in the age of the MP3 and cheap earbuds. Music is inspirational and memorable. To sustain its value, we think it is important to preserve and experience music in the highest quality possible.

Gen-X and Gen-Y of music consumers have never heard anything but MP3 lossy audio quality. That’s all they’ve listened to all of their lives. We believe they can hear the superior quality in hi-resolution audio (as they form a significant segment of consumers purchasing vinyl records). We believe hi-resolution audio will “open” the ears of younger generations of music consumers who would then restore the value of music in the future.

What are the future goals of this company?

Adaptive audio streaming is the most-cost effective solution that can simplify the digital media entertainment industry’s transition from lossy to lossless audio quality (in music, podcasts, videos, live streaming and other media forms). Our future goal is to continue to demonstrate this and hopefully achieve the widespread industry adoption in restoring high-quality audio.