Why Hi-Res Audio Will Succeed

Some things are just unstoppable. As we were working on our December print issue, our editorial staff was also putting the finishing touches on a dedicated “Guide to High-Resolution Audio”. Produced in partnership with the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the group that represents audio equipment manufacturers and retailers (and also puts on the annual CES trade show), the Guide explains the technical aspects of Hi-Res Audio (HRA) in layman’s terms, describes how to best enjoy it, and reports on what the electronics and music industries are doing to guarantee that those who adopt hi-res have a positive experience they can be excited about sharing with friends and family. You can check out the guide here.

Despite the perhaps questionable affiliation (through CTA) with manufacturers whose products we are charged with reviewing, I was quick to sign us up as the expert editorial voice for this project for the good I thought we could do educating the public. I’ve made no secret of my bullishness for HRA. In the first place, I readily hear the difference hi-res can make, especially in comparison to the stripped-down MP3 and AAC libraries or anemic streaming services the majority of consumers use today as their primary music source.

Hi-res lets you keep the convenience of digital music without the inherent sacrifice in sound quality we’ve endured to date. With HRA, we stand to bring a truly engaging and powerful music listening experience to many more people than with any development that’s preceded it, and to finally deliver to end users the full impact of what musicians and recording engineers are creating in their studios.

Hi-Res Audio is simply the music industry and its affiliated suppliers catching up with the quality standards of our time.

More critically, putting aside any current market barriers to the adoption of HRA, I believe that High-Resolution Audio is inevitable. Just as video technology marches on with or without our help, with equipment makers and content providers adding more and more pixels with each new generation, HRA is simply the music industry and its affiliated suppliers catching up with the quality standards of our time. For video, we went for most of the last century with standard-definition CRT displays. Starting in the late 1990s, that went to high-definition, and now ultra-high definition flat panels that will offer even more detail, a wider color gamut, and high dynamic range content.

Similarly, for audio, we started with a generation of analog music delivered eventually on vinyl, and later, as a convenience play, lower-fidelity magnetic tape cassettes. In the mid 1980s we took the leap to digital with the advent of the Compact Disc—a format that many audiophiles felt was insufficient data-wise to begin with—then took another step back in sound quality for the convenience of the iPod and heavily compressed downloads.

Now, HRA is taking advantage of a faster and wider Internet pipeline, along with cheaper processing and memory chips in our devices, to deliver better-than-CD-quality digital audio to audiophiles and mass market music lovers alike. For its part, the music industry is just awaking to the possibilities and starting to pay more attention to both its recording processes and its marketing practices.

So whether you adopt HRA today or wait for it to become the de facto standard for downloads and streaming (undoubtedly at lower prices than you see today), you’re going to be listening to High-Resolution Audio. It’s coming no matter what, and we should thank our stars for that. It’s been a long, long wait.

prerich45's picture

I hope you're right!!!!!

Rich67's picture

HRA will continue to be a niche market. The world has gone portable with iTunes, etc. There will be no great push unless storage becomes so cheap and plentiful that there will be no need for compression. There simply is no market push for HRA. 98% of the people buying music just don't care or, can't hear enough (or any) difference to make them care.

Fetuso's picture

This push for HRA is total garbage and bears no similarity what so ever to the evolution to HD TV. First of all the difference between HDTV and regular old TV was absolutely massive and undeniable. HDTV was clearly superior and everyone jumped on it. The same can't be said for HRA. Second, there was no middle ground between HD and regular TV the way there is with MP3 and HRA. The middle ground is good old reliable 16/44. Record companies, producers, engineers, and artists need to stop dynamically compressing the hell out of music to ear bleeding levels. There are many more reasons HRA will not go main stream, those are just the two I feel most passionate about.

mikem's picture

I've been an audiophile for well over 50 years and have 'heard' the good and the bad re: digital-analog and analog-digital and frankly I'm sick and tired of hearing it. There are more audio formats now and I recently bought an Oppo 103D player and some SACD discs just to see if I could hear a discernible difference between different formats. The result for me was, who the hell cares. I did not hear any difference - that mattered to me. Enough already with this hi-res chatter.

HearTheSound's picture

Even as a novice to this subject on this new audio direction (Neil Young started it most recently for me), seems that the industry is pushing misinformation about this new format in order to resell its music catalog to drive sales without any sonic benefit to the end user. (data from a crappy source into a bigger HRA bit bucket does not equal better sound).

From my reading, until engineers stop compressing and beating the hell out of the original recorded data to appeal to the lowest common denominator (louder is better), we will not see any audible benefit when moved to the new HRA format -- if we could hear it.

Todd Sauve's picture

Come off of it you guys! You sound like nothing so much as a bunch of stereo hucksters trying to con the public into buying this "new" hi res format just to keep your big name advertisers happy. Hello Sony, Pioneer, and all the other Consumer Electronics elephants that Sound and Vision relies on for advertising dollars.

What ever happened to honesty and integrity in the media? Perhaps that is a stupid question ... was it ever there?

ednaz's picture

It seems crazy to me that people get all flipped out with all caps, exclamation points, emotion, and personal slurs when they say they can't hear the difference with high res audio. Either they're awash in cortisol, and will therefore die young, or there's a little voice of doubt back in their heads that they're trying to out shout. Really, there are better things to be angry about.

I can tell you that with my first couple of DACs, I couldn't tell much difference, even with my highest quality sound system (Krell and Gradient). Really, even streaming radio seemed fine, and better than regular FM radio. I upgraded my DACs about a year ago, though, and the first person to comment on how crappy some things sounded and how great other things sounded was my "I can't hear the difference, who cares, get what you want" wife. Several people who've been over have also been amazed at how different high res audio can sound - in a couple of cases asking me to play the iTunes version of something just to see. And, that's not even with my best system - it's with nice Marantz AV separates and Golden Ear speakers. The difference is striking, or so I'm told, whether the low res file is one downloaded from Apple (and they do tweak their files to try to compensate for the compression) or created by me from high res content.

I do notice that there are audible (to me) jumps. Going from any of the compressed formats to 16/44 or better is very noticeable. 16/44 or 16/48 to 24/48 really doesn't do much. A little but not enough to get me buying much 24/28 content. I attribute part of that to the DAC, which has a reputation for making red book content sound better than many other DACs. 24/96 is a very noticeable jump, 24/192 is noticeable but not a huge jump. Past that, I don't hear differences, other than on one or two recordings.

And that last sentence is important. I like all kinds of music, and I've noticed that there are a lot of bands where the difference between iTunes files and high res are just not important. Generally its bands that compress up to the loudest volumes with no variation, like the Alabama Shakes, but there are many orchestral and jazz recordings where the differences aren't big, or where 24/96 really doesn't sound much better than 16/44. I've been paying attention to the sound chain... and in fact the stuff that doesn't improve is recorded and produced with less than stellar care. Even old recordings, remastered properly for higher resolution, can sound amazing. Muddy Waters' Folk Singer album at 16/44, which I owned for years, is lovely, but the remix and re-issue eerily puts him in the middle of the room in full 3 dimensions. A lot of well remixed albums have that feel - enough so that they'll startle my dogs who race into the room barking their "stranger in the house" bark.

Some people think an iPhone is just as good as a professional Nikon camera for taking pictures. Good for them! I can tell the difference, a lot of people can, but if someone can't, awesome, they can be very happy and save their dollars. I'm also just as happy for people who find iTunes sounds as good to them as the same content at 24/96. How great that must be. Just doesn't work for me. And you'll call me names because of that, which is really weird.

wijnaldumwilliam's picture

Blast from the past on weekly feature at lifehack in which that we have recive old but still relevant of the posts.If is't post for your reading and hack that pleasure.In this week we revisited in a much-needed explainer on digital music quqlity
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