High-resolution audio: everything you need to know

10 Mar 2014

2014 is shaping up to be the year that high-resolution audio (HRA) takes off, with new products and services being launched to take high-res audio in to the mainstream.

The industry has been transformed by digital downloads from sites such as iTunes, marking a shift away from physical media like vinyl, tapes and CDs. Formats including MP3 and AAC make it easy to buy, listen and store our tunes.

With regards to sound quality, however, these formats just don't cut the mustard. The use of lossy compression means that data is lost in the encoding process, which means resolution is sacrificed for the sake of convenience and smaller file sizes.

This might be fine on the bus when you're listening to your iPod or smartphone, but serious music fans want better. This is where high-resolution audio – or HRA, as termed by the Consumer Electronics Association – steps in.

Astell & Kern, Sony and FiiO were among those to showcase high-resolution audio products at CES 2014, while several download sites now offer better-than-CD quality music files. HRA also has the support of major labels and musicians.

What does high-resolution audio actually mean? Where can you get it? What do you need to play it on? Don't worry – all your questions and more are answered on this page

What is high-resolution audio?

Before we address this, it’s worth pointing out that the definition of high-resolution audio isn’t set in stone. Unlike high-definition video, which has to meet certain criteria to earn the name, there’s no universal standard for high-res audio. 

But it tends to refer to audio that has a higher sampling frequency and bit depth than CD, which is 16-bit/44.1kHz. High-resolution audio files usually use a sampling frequency or 96kHz or 192kHz at 24-bit, but you can also have 88.2kHz and 176.4kHz files too.

Sampling frequency means the number of times samples are taken per second when the analogue sound waves are converted into digital. The more bits there are meanwhile, the more accurately the signal can be measured in the first place, so 16-bit to 24-bit can see a noticeable leap in quality.

There are several high-resolution audio file formats to choose from, all of which support the above sampling rates and bit-depths. They include FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) and ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec), both of which are compressed but in a way that (in theory) no information is lost.

Other formats include WAV, AIFF and DSD, the format used for Super Audio CDs. The relative merits of the formats can be argued but most crucial will be compatibility with your particular products and system.

FLAC tends to be the most popular, scoring points over WAV for better meta-data support, ensuring your tracks have artist and title information. There's a healthy debate on the whathifi.com forums on the subject of FLAC vs. WAV.

Of course, as well as downloading your music in these superior formats, you can - and should - also rip your existing music library in these higher-quality file formats.

What’s so good about high-res audio?

Sony TA-A1ESObviously the main benefit of high-resolution audio files is their superior sound quality over compressed audio formats and CDs.

To illustrate how much better they are than MP3, for example, let’s compare the relative bitrates. The highest quality MP3 has a bitrate of 320kbps, whereas a 24-bit/192kHz file is transferred at a rate of 9216kbps and music CDs are transferred at 1411kbps.

24-bit/96k or 24-bit/192kHz files more closely replicate the sound quality that the musicians and engineers were working with in the studio.

With more information to play with, high-resolution audio tends to boast greater detail and texture, bringing listeners closer to the original performance than ever before.

Though, as always, there are some people that can't hear a difference. As with all the products we review, if you can't see or hear a difference, then save your money! 

Where to buy and download high-res audio?

There are currently only a handful of UK download stores, but the number is likely to increase with several new services rumoured to be launching in 2014.

There are several US and European sites but not all of them let you purchase from the UK. Here are a few of the best:

HDTracks

Pioneering US high-resolution music store HDTracks is coming to the UK in 2014, with the high-res downloads store launching this side of the Atlantic in Q1, promising to go live in the UK "by the end of March or the first week of April".

The company says it has partnered with every major record label – including Sony Music Entertainment, Warner and Universal – to create the world's largest catalogue of high-res audio files.

HDTracks has also announced a deal with Liztic, a music management application that aims to deliver a seamles digital music experience across PC, Mac, Android and iOS.

Naim Label

Better known for its home entertainment systems, Naim has a nifty sideline in hi-res audio files, including music from its own Naim Label.

Its site offers music in 320kbps MP3s right up to 24-bit/192kHz WAV, FLAC and ALAC files. High-res albums cost between £9.99 and £16.99.

Linn Records

Linn’s website offers what it calls Studio Master downloads in 24-bit/192kHz FLAC and ALAC, as well as 24-bit/96kHz, 16-bit/44.1kHz and 320kbps MP3 formats. A Studio Master album costs £18, or £10 in CD quality.

Bowers & Wilkins Society of Sound

Another hi-fi brand that turned its hand to hi-res downloads, B&W’s site boasts a range of studio-quality albums. You can also subscribe and access albums not available in the store. Files are available in 24-bit and cost £15.

PonoMusic

Neil Young's long-awaited Pono high-res service looks finally set to launch, with news that a Kickstarter campaign will make the PonoPlayer available to buy. The PonoMusic service promises DRM-free high-res downloads from major and independent labels and there's a dedicated music management software application, too.

 

Other sites: 

2L – Norwegian site offering up to 24-bit/96kHz and multichannel DSD

7Digital – Offers 24-bit FLAC downloads

Gimell – Studio Master 5.1 downloads in 24-bit/96kHz

HD Klassik – Classical music high-res downloads

Additionally, high-res audio champion Neil Young is set to launch his Pono download store and portable music player in 2014. 

Qobuz, a French site offering streams and downloads in various formats (and now available on Sonos), including high-res, and HighResAudio have also been recommended by whathifi.com readers. 

And earlier this year Sony, Warner and Universal announced that they will make their extensive music catalogues available to hi-res download services – all of which will be a real shot in the arm for fans of high-resolution audio in this country.

With all sites, make sure it's clear what file format and bitrate you are buying and let us know your experiences with using these and any other HRA websites in the comments below.

What do I need to play it?

From AV receivers and stereo amps to all-in-one music systems and streamers, a growing number of products on the market are handling high-resolution audio. 

As yet, there remains a certain amount of variation when it comes to file handling and maximum bitrate support on different devices, so check the specifications match your requirements before you buy a new product.

Some systems allow you to play high-res files directly from USB storage devices or from a networked PC via Ethernet. 

You can also play high-resolution audio stored on a PC by connecting it to a USB DAC like the Arcam irDAC (pictured, above), the Naim DAC-V1 or the T+A DAC 8, then feeding it to a power amp, powered speakers or headphones. You can even buy dedicated headphone amps with built-in DACs that handle high-res audio.

The ever-popular Sonos system supports WAV and AIFF files but only up to uncompressed CD quality, and has confirmed that high-res audio on Sonos is unlikely any time soon.

However, you will need a high resolution audio player, as not all music software is compatible. iTunes will play high-res files but not  FLAC files, for example.

If you're on a Mac, you can try Amarra or Channel D's Pure Music. We also hear differences in sound quality, so it's worth experimenting. On a PC? Try JRiver Media Center.     

High-res audio isn’t just confined to the hi-fi market. Several of the latest smartphones play music in sparking 24-bit/192kHz quality, including the LG G2 and Samsung Galaxy Note 3while the Onkyo HF Player app allows you to play high-res music on any compatible mobile phone.

Best high-res audio streamers

Pioneer N-50

Best music streamer under £600

Pioneer N-50 

Five stars

Tested at £500 – compare prices

"A price cut makes this Pioneer even more of a superstar"

 

Best music streamer under £1000

Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6

Five stars

Tested at £699

"Looks good, easy to use, sounds great and has a list of uses longer than your arm"

 

Best music streamer under £2000

Naim NAC-N 172 XS

Five stars

Tested at  £1650

"An engaging and high-res happy performer – and a real star turn at the price"

 

Best music streamer £2000+

Cyrus Stream XP2-QX

Five stars

Tested at £2300 – compare prices

"This superb streamer sounds absolutely fantastic"

 

MORE: Awards 2013: Best music streamers

High-resolution music player reviews

Sony NWZ-ZX1

We've given the new flagship Walkman, the Sony NWZ-ZX1, the exclusive review treatment, and it's set to be joined by the Sony Walkman F886 (pictured, above).

MORE: Sony NWZ-ZX1 review

 

Astell & Kern AK100 Mk II

Astell & Kern AK100

A seriously talented performer from the portable audio experts (and the high-end brand of established manufacturer iRiver). 

It's not without flaws – the storage capacity and sluggish interface – but the quality of the sound is good enough to make us forgive many of the AK100's flaws.

MORE: Astell & Kern AK100 Mk II review

 

High-resolution audio products coming soon

Sony streamer remote

Sony

Leading the renewed push for high-resolution audio is Sony, which recently announced a complete new range of HRA products.

It includes the £2000 HAP-Z1ES HDD audio player (above), which boasts a 1TB internal hard-drive and supports ALAC, AIFF, DSD, FLAC and WAV, all of which can be transferred onto the hard-drive. 

It’s joined by the £800 HAP-S1, an all-in-one audio player with a 500GB hard-drive and built-in Wi-Fi for transferring music from a PC. If a high-res compatible USB DAC’s more your thing, then Sony’s got your back with the £500 UDA-1.

Astell & Kern

Astell & Kern are another company entering the high-res audio market in 2014, both in the home with its first ever complete hi-fi system and out and about with a new portable player.

The company was tight-lipped about its hi-fi system with no further details about a release date or price available at CES 2014, but we do know more about its AK240 portable audio player - expected out in early Q1 2014.

We're told that A&K's AK240 will go on sale for around $2400 in the US, so we're expecting a UK price to be somewhere in that ball-park – roughly £1460.

MORE: Astell & Kern unveils new AK240 high-res audio player

Joining the Astell & Kern AK240 and the Sony NWZ-ZX1 on the show floor at CES 2014 was another portable high-resolution music player - the FiiO X5. 

The FiiO X5 doubles up as a USB DAC when connected to a computer, but we're still waiting for confirmation of how much it will cost when it hits UK shelves.

MORE: FiiO X5 hi-res portable music player also acts as a USB DAC

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Compatible products are coming thick and fast – keep your eyes on our news and reviews pages for all the latest gear.

 

Which companies are backing high-res audio?

 


Companies like Bowers and Wilkins, Naim, Linn and other high-end hi-fi brands have been banging the drum for high-resolution audio for some time, but with mass-market heavyweights  such as Sony, LG and Samsung (Galaxy Note 3, pictured above) now behind it, we expect it to pick up some serious momentum as we move into 2014.

Indeed the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) recently expanded its support for HRA, pledging to promote it at the forthcoming CES in Las Vegas and corral support among consumers and retailers.

“The time is right for our organization to explore new avenues to help promote this exciting audio technology. Recent market trends and research indicates that consumers are poised to embrace high-resolution audio, creating tremendous new market opportunities,” said CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro.

CES has put its money where its mouth is with the announcement of the "Hi-Res Audio Experience" for CES 2014. And high-res audio is just one of the key trends we expect to see at CES 2014.

We'll keep this page updated with all the latest high-res developments, news and products, let us know your questions and opinions on HRA in the comments section below.

OPINION: The science behind the high-res audio numbers

 

by Danny Phillips

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Comments

@ Danny Phillips, I wonder if Sony knows you ripped their "Hirgh-Resolution Audio" graphic to top your article?

Perhaps you should credit Sony more for pioneering the audio technology, if not giving them credit for pioneering your content!

I hope MP3 keep innovating and make the quality better. so MP3 will not die soon. 

Including the player to support above 320 kbps

 

Whether high-res audio finally takes off or not will depend on the record companies and I doubt very much that 2014 will be its year, and not just because hi-res has been around for 15 years already and is still a niche market (SACD and DVD-A).

Since about 1995 record companies have been applying silly amounts of dynamic range compression to almost all pop and rock CDs.  They have even been going through their CD back catalogue and remastering (butchering) old releases this way.  I'd say that 99% of recently mastered pop/rock CDs have had this treatment and I suspect that many actually have worse dynamic range than their vinyl versions.  Load a lossless rip from a modern pop CD into a waveform editor and it's not unusual to find that every track has been hard clipped (waveforms with flat tops) at somewhere between -0.2dB and 0.0dB.  They sound absolutely terrible and the engineers who do this ought to be shot.  Few CDs these days carry anything even close to CD-quality sound, classical CD excepted.

I have been buying hi-res music from HDTracks since early 2010.  They didn't block UK internet addresses back then (and there are ways around it now that they do, but I hear that soon it won't be necessary).  At first I was quite happy.  Then I bought a 24-bit/96kHz album which sounded atrocious.  Yep: it had been given exactly the same dynamic range compression and distortion as any modern pop/rock CD.  There is no way that I am going to pay a premium price for that, and there's no way it's going to sound any better in hi-res (in fact, with the extra bandwidth it's more likely that the added distortion is going to fry my tweeters).  I'd be surprised if many audiophiles will be prepared to fork out extra cash for music hyped as "hi-res" when it sounds this bad.  And if they don't lead the way then it's going to be hard to persuade the masses that it's worth paying more for hi-res than CD or even MP3.

Nowadays I always do some research on the internet before I buy any CD or hi-res download to check that the dynamic range has not been too severely crushed.  Some of the downloads from hi-res audio vendors are of good quality, but I wouldn't be surprised if they make up the minority of albums on sale.  It's a very sad state of affairs, but sometimes a pre-1995 second hand CD is sonically a better option than a 21st century 24-bit download.

A word of warning for people who like physical product and still buy SACD: the discs are encrypted and can't be read by normal CD/DVD drives.  Once manufacturers stop producing players your disc collection may eventually become just a collection of expensive, shiny coasters (OK, I exaggerate a bit - you will still be able to play the CD layer).  Not many of the current crop of DVD players support DVD-A and SACD is likely to go the same way eventually.  The encryption on DVD-A has been cracked, so at least it is possible to rip the hi-res audio from those discs.  It's less certain if, in the future, it will be possible to extract the bitstream from SACDs without special equipment.  DRM-free, lossless files are the future.  They could be distributed on optical discs but I think they're probably only going to be sold as downloads (except for special editions, such as the Beatles albums which were sold as hi-res FLACs on an Apple-shaped USB flash drive a few years ago).

Some comments here have suggested that hi-res downloads are a con, that they are just up-sampled versions of 44.1kHz masters.  I have analysed a few 96kHz downloads and can say that there is content above 20kHz.  So at least some of them are the genuine article.

Whether or not anyone can really tell the difference between 16-bit/44.1kHz and 24-bit/176.4kHz in double-blind tests is debatable.  I won't buy MP3s, but it's actually pretty hard for most people to tell the difference between a well-encoded 320kbps MP3 or AAC file and the CD it came from (once the levels have been reduced to ensure that they're equal and the MP3/AAC doesn't clip on playback).  But at least once 24-bit/192kHz lossless audio is the norm the argument about whether or not we need something better will have ended.  Bandwidth and storage are now so cheap that there's no reason not to have hi-res...  as long as the record companies deign to give us high quality, well recorded, competently mastered material to go with it.

I would say ... figures are not a right way to face this topic! 

I read several comment where somene stated that a 50 MB camera is better then a 10 MB one or that 192 Khz exceed what we can listen!

I would say this is not  the point to solve the issue!

First of all we are listing "technology" and in general the more technology is mature less cost it!

So more you invest into an older technology the more you have has result in audio quality! This is almost true but not ever !

Do you think really that 100 eur turnatable would sound better of 1.000 CD ? False ! Do you think that a 400 EUR DAC with HIRES files sounds better then an 1000 CD I have no clue ?

What I can say that I listen  the same file from a Wadia/Arcam  DAC and a CD equialent in  term of cost and CD beats DAC without any doubt  ! (in most of the cases)

I did the same with LP played with turntable, turnetable beats CD in most of the cases it depends ...

It depends since some song sound better or identhical when played via a different player

I had like to invite you to do this test 

Buy "kind of blue" in vynil edition and CD, extratct CD data and record it again on an empty CD then play it possibly listening with headphone which are in general more effective then the loudspeaker !

Vinyl can kill you becouse of the streng and the powerful sound, CD is good netrual less charming ! 

There is no game

First lesson it depends from master  record!

Then going ahead with CD and DAC comparing I had similar sound quality comparing my 2000 eur CD with 10.000 EUR DAC.

Second lesson are your listening the DAC inside CD or stand alone appliance or the rest of the components ?

My answer is your are listening evrything except the dac chip itself !

At the end I'm really confident DAC is the future I have no idea how much close this future will be but  ...

I decided to do not compare components whic are too far each other under the technical point of view !

and ...

I decided that I cannot compare the equipment according figures, since what we are listening is the master record, the amplifier the loudspeaker and any damn sorcery which is between you and the music the figures are the last fact

As photographer I would say you can buy 100MB camera but if you take the picture with a lens big as fly you cannot pretend to have high quality photo, you will have a big amount of noise! the same with dac you can have an high quality chip and you can vanify his presence if the rest of the chain is weak!

Enjoy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were quite a few rooms using digital files at the Bristol Show.

"Obviously the main benefit of high-resolution audio files is their superior sound quality over compressed audio formats and CDs."

 

At least you make the distinction between compressed audio formats and CDs, as of course CDs aren't compressed and are capable of a dynamic range and resolution which would leave no listener wanting for anything more.

Have a walk around any Hi-Fi Show for instance and you'll be hard pressed to find any exhibitor using anything other than CD players to show ff their equipment, which would not be the case if they could connect a high rez player and play recordings which would make their equipment sound superior.

 

The unfortunate truth is that the vast majority of recordings nowadays are compressed and don't use up even a fraction of CD's dynamic range, so the claims of a wider dynamic range for Hi-Rez music is immaterial.

From a music mastering website, "In December, 2001, several prominent individuals in the recording industry served on a panel to judge the best engineered CD for the Grammy's.  After listening to over 200 CDs, they couldn't find a single CD worthy of a Grammy based on the criteria they were given.  Everything they listened to was squashed to death with heavy amounts compression."

 

 

Hi-rez downloads don't offer anything new that is not already offered by SACD. SACD has been quite successful as a niche in the audiophile market -- especially classical -- but it is not known at all in the mainstream market which just continues to go downhill in quality (mp3, low res strreaming etc) to ever disparaging new low depths in quality. Soooo ----- as to your suggestion that hi-res is going to 'take-off' in 2014 ... well, I don't see anything changing at all.

Those who like physical product will continue to buy hi-rez SACDs. By contrast, downloads are successful at the 99cprice point, but have not even captured 40% of the album market where the old CD remains dominant after 15 years with 60% of the market. And if people are unwilling to buy albums at $10, then it seems unlikely that they are going to buy hi-rez versions for more. So I think this hi-rez download market is a dead duck. The virtual world will continue in its slide towards low prices, free streaming, and poor quality --- and hi-rez is going to remain a niche among a niche  with most music sales dominated by physical product == whether hi-res SACD or LP ---and a small niche within a niche for hi-rez downloads. 

Maybe I can help to remove some misunderstandings on HD audio.

Please be serious about this stuff and ask an independent audio engineer what is right and wrong about HD audio. Especially when using that head line.

The sound dosen't get more accurate when going from 16 bit to 24 bit.

to say the opposite is sciencetifically incorrect. Sound dosen't 'act' like pictures and TV's

The sound wave after the DA conversion is excatly the same form a 16 bit or 24 bit signal.

The noice-level can be different, but this is far outside the range of what humans can hear.

Write back, if you want documentation. Please.

And thanks for a lot of interesting stuff on this website and in your magazines.

(Sorry for  my written English).

The article has been updated to state Sonos only accepts maximum CD-quality files.

Odd how we appear to have all moved on in the case of movie soundtrackes from dolby surround to DD to DDex to 7.1 dts hd master and yet nobody has ever stated we were all conned ?

Good article, but I agree that SONOS really should be removed.  

I almost bought one soley for high res audio, until I discovered that even SONOS themselves say that they cannot handle high resolution audio due to the limitations of the connection between SONOS devices. 

In other words; the hardware could never handle 24 bit audio even with a firmware upgrade.

Please remove it from the list as people can spend money on a device that does not fullfil their requitements.

Thanks

Here is my two-cents' worth:

When the CD was first launched in the early '80s, it promised a crisp, clean sound totally devoid of the 'snap, crackle and pop' noises we were used to putting up with when playing Vinyl records, or the tape hiss neither Dolby nor dbx were ever able to get rid of entirely. A frequency response beyond that of the human ear plus a huge dynamic range to boot. In an affordable format which could be enjoyed by anyone, from the teenager with a DiscMan to the Audiophile with a High-End, dual-chassis player hooked up to hundred-thousand-dollar tube amplifier/electrostatic speaker setup. Anyone could appreciate that.

However, it didn't take too long for everyone to find out a huge dynamic range made recordings unlistenable in noisy environments such as a motor vehicle. Keep the volume down and you will never hear the soft passages. Crank it up and loud passages will make your ears bleed. The obvious answer was compression, so there went the CD's dynamic range...

Then came mp3 and sound quality really went down the drain, sacrificed on the altar of portability and practicality. But it was great to be able to carry several thousand tunes in your iPod or smartphone, which you listened to on the street by means of tiny earbuds.

The goal of audiophilia is supposed to be to reproduce music as faithfully as possible. Is it not? Acoustic music, that is. In my humble opinion, music originally produced by electronic means or otherwise amplified during its live performance cannot be honestly said to possess a 'true', 'natural' or 'intrinsic' sound, since said sound is always dependent upon the equipment being used to produce or amplify it (Except for maybe the characteristic sound of the Leslie rotating speaker which constitutes a form of artistic expression in itself, but even that is consquence of its physical -i.e., not electronic- characteristics). In such cases, it could be argued that the professional equipment used by musicians to make music should constitute the 'most truthful' means of reproducing said music. Plus, its 'real' frequency bandwidth and dynamic range, again, cannot be larger than those of the electronic equipment used in live performance. Otherwise it will sound different. Perhaps better. But definitely different.

On the other hand, acoustic music can never be reproduced exactly by electronic means, as acoustic instruments produce all kinds of harmonics and employ separate, independent physical 'transducers' to produce each note, while every instrument produces a different sound. The only way to accurately reproduce a live acoustic performance would be to use robotic performers to mimic live musicians' actions on actual acoustic instruments. Or maybe use a separate track, amplifier and speaker to produce each different note from each different instrument.

Moreover, the laws of physics still apply, regardless of what Dr. Bose tried to make us believe. Low frequencies cannot be accurately reproduced by small drivers. No matter how intricate the 'acoustic labyrinth' behind them. And large drivers must be installed in appropriately large boxes in order to be properly loaded. And they need lots of power to move the large amounts of air needed to generate 50-foot-long soundwaves. And there are acoustic instruments which produce those: Pipe organs exist which generate even longer ones as they go subsonic, producing sound you cannot hear (unless you're an elephant or a whale) but can definitely feel. For better or worse, that will never change, no matter what.

Now, 30 years after the advent of the CD forced us to get rid of our turntables and cassette decks, comes the downloadable High-Definition digital file, courtesy of significant increases in internet connection bandwidth and ever cheaper storage. And the 'Pure Audio' Blu-Ray. Never mind some experts say 24 bit/192 kHz files are useless because they can reproduce sounds too far above and beyond the capabilities of human hearing. Yes, it may be true the CD format offers more than enough frequency response and dynamic range to completely surpass the limits of human hearing, which should render Hi-Rez superfluous.

The important point is that recording engineers are now expected (and, more importantly, record labels are apparently willing) to make full use of the new medium's potential (at least within the limits of human hearing) by avoiding filtering and compression. (Granted, it's something they could very well do at CD's 16 bit/44.1 kHz. But they don't. Apparently because of the aforementioned practical concerns.)

So, I totally agree with SlurmSlurper when he writes: "I am under no illusion that the audible improvement comes only from better masters and better mastering, not from higher resolution of the discs".

But really... Who cares? When nowadays you can buy a humongous hard drive for a hundred bucks. When it only takes a few seconds to download a 150 MB HD audio file over a typical home internet connection. At a time when huge, studio monitor-grade headphones have become a commonplace fashion statement. (You don't need a High-End sound system to appreciate High Fidelity when you have good headphones.) When various mobile devices can download, store and play HD audio files. It may be overkill, but if you can have it, why not? What should really matter is the music, and if yet another format change is needed in order to resurrect Hi-Fi or to finally achieve the Holy Grail of recorded sound (Making Studio Masters available to the public), a format change that doesn't require new equipment, by the way, other than maybe a premium-grade DAC, since HD files can be played by our existing computers, Blu-Ray players and even smartphones, while compressed and filtered CDs (or even mp3s) are left for casual listening in noisy environments, I say 'so be it'.

Quboz? Would that be Qobuz, by any chance? You know, the one that does high-roselution music?

I agree with  richarb01 and disagree with jowie, because I can hear the difference. It is very sad that jowie can't, but his attitude here gives me the impression that he may not even have tried to hear the difference, because he's blinded by some preconcieved opinon that the difference is impossible to detect by ear.

Get some decent gear to listen on, get some decent material to listen to, then make your ABX test. If you open you mind and ears and pay attentinon then you can't fail to hear a difference. However ABX tests have also been thoroughly debunked. So I respectfully suggest that any individual just try listening for themself and ignore opinionated naysayers.

I own several DVD-Audio and SACD discs, but I am under no illusion that the audible improvement comes only from better masters and better mastering, not from higher resolution of the discs.

I've done a double blind ABX test of a 24/96 file down sampled to 44.1/16, the result right: 50.8% of the time, I.e. no better than a flip of a coin.

Hi-fi is full of pseudo science and snake oil, high definition audio being no exception. Do yourself a favour and read the following article and watch the video, they are enlightening:

24/192 Music Downloads are Very Silly Indeed http://people.xiph.org/~xiphmont/demo/neil-young.html

Digital Show & Tell http://xiph.org/video/vid2.shtml

all that said, during recording and mastering stages, higher bit depths are useful as they breathing room when working with levels, effects and dealing with the noise floor, it's just that it makes no sense in a delivery format.

Just to show what REAL, balanced, unbiased reporting on this subject should look like, with all the necessary links to explanations that go miles beyond what the everage joe ever dreamt of knowing on this subject:

http://gizmodo.com/what-is-high-resolution-audio-1252637824

Although the above is not a hi-fi magazine, and surely not the reputable What Hi-Fi mag, there's no BSing or the strong, familiar smell of "someone is trying to sell me something" in that article...

Word

No human ears can hear the difference between a good recording standard CD on a decent player vs those high res audios I believe. Only measuring instruments will do.

Same for those reviewers couldn'd hear the crackling noise on their award winner amplifier the marantz pm6004!

@richarb01

 

Yes, 24/192 is closer to the analogue, but when dealing in fallible human ears, the information is more than we can perceive. So when it comes to CD, I can quite happily say "there's no point, what we've got is good enough". Because it is. That's what the red book standard was designed to be. 24/192 definitely has its place in the studio, since editing needs headroom. But I don't see the point in listening to a final output at more than 16/44.1 (or 48 if you prefer). To me, any more is just wasted data storage. Spend the money on better DACs, amps and speakers.

Final quick word on the megapixel argument, because I do agree with you on principle... More megapixels in a camera on a phone designed for sharing to Facebook is yet again more wasted space.

@jowie - also musician, and amateur photographer. Smile

jowie wrote:
That's right, I can't see(?) or hear a difference, so I will save my money. As for some people not hearing a difference, well, science dictates that unless you're superhuman or a dog, neither can you. Prove to me that you can in a double blind test! 

aka Burn the Witch!!!

duplicate, deleted

@jowie

But before the specific compression (whether lossy or lossless) associated with the various file types, sampling an analogue wave at 24/192 is fundamentally more accurate than at 16/44.1 for example, and is a closer digital representation of the analogue. Yes different files types use compression which affects the transfer rate actually used.

I agree with your statement about the quality of the music production. Being a musician (and an amateur photographer Wink), I've learnt that the biggest factors that determine ultimate sound quality are ones in the recording studio. (Mic position, age of cymbals and guitar strings, the recording space, type of microphone etc etc, the list is endless). But for recording engineers that care about all this stuff, (Morten Lindberg of 2L being a prime example), there are gains to be had by embracing state-of-the-art, high resolution digital recording. I just wish there were more of them working with a more diverse range of genres. Most pop music is just engineered to sound good on a radio or iPod. I can well believe that there are people just upsampling files and selling them on as high-res but I hope that the likes of 2L, Naim, Claudio, Linn etc stick with it.

As for the megapixels argument, I don't agree with you. I'm not arguing that more MPs equal a 'better' photograph. For most real world applications it doesn't matter. But in purely digital accuracy terms, more MPs equal more accuracy. Your light gathering analogy isn't quite right. To creat a digital representation of a two-dimentional scene, a sensor needs to measure the intensity of light (bit depth of the sensor, and is analagous to the bit depth of the audio sample) and the two-dimensional spacial frequency, (determined by the number of pixels in each dimension for a given sensor size, and is analagous to the sampling frequency in audio). The higher each of those values, the more accurate the digital approximation of the analogue. To capture more light, you just open the shutter for longer, (turn up the volume)! For a fixed sensor size, the total number of photons of light reaching the sensor is the same regardless of the number of pixels. Take your argument to the extreme - a sensor with 1 pixel is going to give an image which is (considerably!) less accurate than xx MPs.

I'm ignoring technical limitations here such as noise (which is very valid) and just talking about the fundamental background theory. Reducing noise etc is where the engineers and technical improvements are required.

And a great deal of professional photographers such as fashion photographers use Hasselblads with 40+ MPs. Posting a pic on facebook is equivalent to an mp3, whereas displaying a photo as a mural on the side of a building is the equivalent to high-res audio. (Although here the viewing distance is different and that's where the analogy breaks down - high-res and low-res music can be experience with identical conditions such as volume and listening distance).

Whether the masses can tell the difference, who knows. I agree with you that tests should be conducted in a scientifically rigorous manner such as double blind listening tests.

But I'd still rather people try and push the limits of what's technically possible rather than just saying, "there's no point, what we've got is good enough".

@Joe Cox

That's right, I can't see(?) or hear a difference, so I will save my money. As for some people not hearing a difference, well, science dictates that unless you're superhuman or a dog, neither can you. Prove to me that you can in a double blind test! Smile

@richarb01

"Whether you can hear the difference or not, a higher bit rate and sampling frequency automatically represents a more accurate representation of the original anologue sound wave."

But the article is comparing the bit rate of a codec compared with a bit rate of a linear bitstream. If I use FLAC or ALAC, I may get a bit rate of about 700-900 kbps. If you believe the author, that means the quality is less than CD (at 1411 kbps). But that is not correct.

"Also, the quality of a photograph is down to the artist behind the camera, but a 50MP camera fundamentally captures a more accurate digital representation of an analogue scene than a 10MP camera does."

Agreed about the photographer. The same can be said for music audio quality. Hi-res audio's no good if the music wasn't produced to take advantage of it. And I've heard a lot of reports that companies are merely upscaling lower rate files and selling them as hi-res.

As for your megapixel argument, it doesn't work if the pixels are smaller and capture less light. Just because there are more of them, doesn't mean they'll be capturing more data. The CCD has to be larger in order to compensate, and that usually isn't the case. Ask pretty much any professional digital photographer about megapixels and see what they say.

Good to see more talk about high resolution audio going mainstream!

But to imply that Sonos is a high-res streamer is very misleading. I suggest that it is removed from the article to avoid confusion, as streaming is limited to 44.1kHz, 16 bit.

https://ask.sonos.com/sonos/topics/support_high_resolution_flac_files_purchased_from_hdtracks_com

Great article anyway, and getting lots of interest Smile Hopefully this will really catch on, and won't just be the "3D TV" of 2014.

 

@ jowie

I think your comment is actually poor in scientific terms.

Whether you can hear the difference or not, a higher bit rate and sampling frequency automatically represents a more accurate representation of the original anologue sound wave. And for any audiophile, that should be seen as progress.

Also, the quality of a photograph is down to the artist behind the camera, but a 50MP camera fundamentally captures a more accurate digital representation of an analogue scene than a 10MP camera does.

I'm perosnally glad that there's a renewed interest in music companies, artists and music consumers pushing the technical boundaries and moving forward music reproduction for the general public. The most advanced digital music standard for the masses is still CD, and that is a 33 year old technology. mp3's are great for portable music, but in purely technical terms they are a huge step backwards.

Of course, the resulting quality of sound is down to many factors, most of which occur in the recording studio, but at least high-res is a more accurate digital representation of the actual sound and gets closer to the (inherently and most fundamentally accurate) analogue sound waves. If only I could play my vinyl on the bus!

I also hope this brings about a renewed interest in multichannel music which often goes hand in hand with high-res. I have a so many different formats of high-res and/or multichannel music: DVDA, SACD, flacs, Dual Disc and the new Pure Audio blu-ray and I'd love to see more music recorded, remixed and remastered for high-res and multichannel.

My hat especially goes off to 2L, I know nothing about classical music but their multichannel hi-res recordings sound sublime.

I call BS on all the "high-res audio" fad. Yes it's superiour compared to 64kbps MP3s, but so is a properly coded 192kbps __(fill in your favorite audio file format in the blank).

Show me ONE study, one single properly conducted study that shows that the difference in audio quality between CDs and "high-res" audio on comparable equipment can be perceived by humans, or the What-Hi-Fi mag super-humans, then I'll go out on a shopping spree for an over-priced piece of equipment you so unabashedly advertise, oops, I meant "review". 

The trouble is - it doesn't exist. Because the evidence points in the other direction. 

In this "article" you say the following: "Though, as always, there are some people that can't hear a difference."

Well, put your money where your mouth is - in a double blind test, neither can you.

The line should read: "most, if not all (rather than some) people can't hear a difference..."

Surely the link you've now added re Sonos only goes to show that it can't, in fact, handle anything beyond CD quality 16-bit/44.1kHz.

Very good article, for the layman like myself to understand.

Browsing through some of the recommended Hi-res audio web-sites, it is evident that the market is mainly for classical and jazz genres with a spattering of famed rockartists such as Pink Floyd, The Beatles - In other words aimed at the 50+ well heeled audience.

I like R&B/Soul/Funk featuring diverse artists such as Parliament, Brass Construction,  Erykah Badu, Alice Russell, Sharon Jones & Dap King, The Roots and many others.

For any audio/video format to succeed it is imperative that the new format to cover a broad sprecturm of artists and music genres.

Additionallyit has to attract the younger audience say 16yrs to 35yrs who are [already] accustomed to either streaming their music, getting it illegally and/or paying for each track at nominal value. If a HI-Res album is to cost say £10+ or a single £2+, the format will become another niche format like SACD.

 

 

 

 

My Freddie Mercury tribute concert is hi res audio and sounds fab!