Universal Classics has launched a new music disc but does not expect it to become a mass seller.
The market-leading company has released nine titles on Blu-ray, normally a format for video. Its 50-gigabyte capacity can comfortably accommodate an album of music at much-higher-than-CD 24-bit audio quality.
Universal’s recent release of classical albums on vinyl has established there are consumers willing to pay premium prices for high-end audio.
‘There has been a wish among classical consumers and collectors for a 24-bit format that works for them,’ said Barry Holden, vice-president, classical catalogue, at Universal Music Group.
Various carriers are being used to offer 24-bit audio, including SACD physical carriers and Studio Quality digital downloads, available in the UK, US, Korea, Japan, France, Germany and Poland.
The attraction of Blu-ray is the large number of players already installed in homes, Mr Holden said. It is estimated up to 60% of video disc sales are on the format.
‘Some players are attached to quite high-end hi-fi systems, but even if they are not you can buy a player for about £60 and attach it easily,’ Mr Holden said.
He admitted that Blu-ray audio was unlikely to become a mass-market platform with discs selling at about £17. ‘We are unlikely to sell more than 5,000 copies of a release worldwide, at least for the first two years.’
Initial releases include the Beethoven violin concerto and violin romances with Anne-Sophie Mutter and the New York Philharmonic under Kurt Masur, Mahler’s Symphony No 5 with the Berliner Philharmoniker under Karajan, Beethoven Symphonies Nos 5 and 7 from the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Carlos Kleiber and Wagner from Jonas Kaufmann.
Mr Holden said he expected Universal to release about 35 titles a year on Blu-ray ‒ with a gap between dates of the original recordings: selections from the archives would come either from analogue recordings, which can exploit the aural gain, or those made in 24-bit sound over the last 10 years. There will be no recordings from the 1980s or ‘90s, when digital recording was not made in 24-bit,’ Mr Holden said.
Although Universal is marketing the Blu-ray disc, it will continue to support Studio Master downloads and explore other 24-bit carriers, he added. In Korea, Universal is to release a Pavarotti’s Greatest Hits album in 24-bit on an SD card ‒ the sort of memory chi used in mobile phones ‒ which is used in an Astell & Kern player popular in that country.
But Mr Holden has hopes for Blu-ray: ‘Recent advances in music technology have not always been focused on quality, rather they have been focused on convenience. Classical consumers have always sought quality above all, and this is the format to deliver that.’