Hi-Res Conundrum: Should I Go for 24/192 or Is 24/96 All I Need?

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Q I have a vintage stereo and recently bought an Audioengine D1 external DAC so I can connect my laptop to it for music streaming. The Audioengine is probably a starter unit, but I’m just starting. The DAC supports decoding of 24-bit/96kHz signals via its USB input and 24-bit/192kHz via its optical digital input. Here’s my question: Much of what I read online seems to indicate that 24/96 is all I need, while other opinions state that I’m a moron if I don’t go for 24/192. What I’m trying not to do is buy a car that goes 170 mph when the speed limit is well below that. —Phil Smith, via email

A Your hardware setup should be perfectly adequate if your plan is to use Tidal Hi-Fi for streaming. Having said that, there are a few details about Tidal’s handling of hi-res audio that I should mention.

The Tidal Windows/MacOS desktop app supports hi-res playback via MQA, an audio codec that packs high-resolution audio into a standard resolution file size using an “origami” technique that “folds” high-frequency information into lower frequencies. During playback of MQA-encoded files, which are labeled “Masters” in the Tidal library, the app does the first origami unfold for resolutions up to 24/88.2 or 24/96. To unfold higher-resolution content — 24/192, for instance — an MQA-capable external DAC is required.

Since your Audioengine D1 DAC isn’t MQA-capable, the bottom line is that 24/96 playback is the best you can expect from Tidal Masters files. For many listeners, that should be sufficient to satisfy their hi-res audio craving. But if you do feel a need for even higher-resolution capability, Qobuz offers streaming of up to 24-bit/192kHz files in FLAC format that don’t require a special DAC for decoding.

Of course, your DAC supports only 24/96 playback via USB, so there’s the issue of how to make an optical digital connection to the Audioengine D1 from a computer. Certain MacBook Pro, iMac, and Mac mini computers introduced between 2013 and 2015 feature a 24/192-capable optical digital output, so using one of those models would be an easy solution. Otherwise, a search for a “USB-to-optical digital converter/adapter” on Amazon.com will turn up multiple hits, though there isn’t a specific model I can recommend.

COMMENTS
SuicideSquid's picture

The author here failed to answer the most important part of the question, "does it matter". Most people have a hard time differentiating between 16/44 and 24/96 - it's extremely doubtful any human ears can discern the difference between 24/96 and 24/192. If you're a man over 40, it's a guarantee that age-related decline has eliminated your ability to distinguish between even 16/44 and 24/96, so don't waste your time fussing 96 or 192.

johnnydeagle's picture

Squid is naive, and wrong! An 88 year old concert violinist could easily tell the difference.

Olaf the Snowman's picture

I agree ...... They should start playing 24/96 and 24/192 music in the nursing homes ....... How about 32/384 and DSD 1024 music? :-) ..........

johnnydeagle's picture

All those retired orchestral musicians, band members, studio musicians, recording engineers, acousticians, sound engineers, and audiophiles, to name a few, will appreciate the sound that more closely resembles the performance. They don't have to hear every frequency range to hear the difference between a more compressed presentation, and one that sounds more natural.

DennyH's picture

How many of those do you know?

Billy's picture

I agree with Squid. At least some of us can not tell the difference. Some of us decades ago had trauma to our ears. I would think an 88 year old would have to have very good luck to retain perfect hearing, and you kids? You are just telling yourselves you could hear a difference. Just my opinion of course.

johnnydeagle's picture

You don't need perfect hearing to hear the differences between compressed and uncompressed recordings.

Olaf the Snowman's picture

PCM 16/44.1 and DSD 64 are compressed music? :-) .........

SuicideSquid's picture

The fact that you don't seem to know what compression is somewhat undermines your arguments.

You should try a blind test of the same master at 16/44, 24/96, and 24/192. I'd be surprised if you could hear the difference between 16/44 and 24/96. If you can hear the difference between 24/96 and 24/192, you should apply to win James Randi's million dollars, because you have supernatural hearing.

SuicideSquid's picture

With regard to hearing loss, it's not merely a matter of protecting your hearing. Even if you do a very good job, you will lose some of your high-end perception over time, in the same way that you will lose some of your visual acuity, muscle strength, your skin will wrinkle and your hair will grey. We all age.

Most men by the age of 40 will not be able to perceive frequencies above around 18kHz - for women it's typically a little higher. Men who have been exposed to a lot of loud sounds due to their work environment or recreational activities might see that fall as low as 13kHz by 40.

I encourage any older men who are reading this and thinking "not me my hearing's great!" to go see an audiologist and have your hearing tested. You might be surprised at what you cannot hear.

16/44 recordings will capture audio frequencies up to 22kHz. Most speakers will not produce frequencies above 20kHz, and no meaningful information occurs above those frequencies. While the highest octave (11-22kHz) will experience some aliasing at 16/44, which does not occur at 24/96 recordings (as 44kHz will only sample a 20kHz frequency twice per second, while 24/96 is taking over four samples per second), very little actual meaningful information occurs in these frequencies, and most people won't notice if they're removed completely, let alone that there's some sampling artifacts.

johnnydeagle's picture

Neil Young, the old musician can obviously tell the difference between hi-res, and lesser quality material. That's why he was a big part of the development and presentation of one of the first portable Hi-Res audio players, the Pono Player. Many thing factor into the ability to notice the differences in sound quality, starting with the quality and accuracy of the audio equipment used to present it. If you listen to a live performance, and you're interested in reproducing the best possible reproduction of that performance, starting with the highest quality reproduction of that performance is the LOGICAL first step.

Soundnerd's picture

Recommended reading for all of you who believe that "the higher resolution" the better. Somewhat technical but easy to follow.

https://people.xiph.org/~xiphmont/demo/neil-young.html

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