You’ve been reading about Hi-Res Audio for a while now, probably most recently in this article. By now you’ll know everything about sample-rates, and bit-depth, and formats, and you will have been explaining it all to your friends in the pub using analogies involving cakes, fish-slices and car engines. Maybe even performance art.
You know where to get it. How to play it. How to store it and stream it. You’re ready. And then they ask about headphones.
An exceptional pair of ears can hear everything from 20Hz (imagine a string vibrating 20 times per second) to 20kHz (20,000 vibrations per second). The average CD-quality recording reflects that frequency range. Hi-Res Audio, however, captures frequencies far outside that range – and HRA-certified products can reproduce them, as well as all the extra detail encoded in the sampling process. It’s a much wider frequency range than you get from traditional recording and encoding techniques.
The inner working's of Onkyo's H900M closed-back headphones
Many un-certified headphones, for instance, experience a frequency roll-off when they get to the outer expanses of that 20Hz-20kHz range. They either don’t reproduce those extremes particularly well, or their moving parts can’t handle them at all – so they don’t move. Hi-Res Audio headphones are still going strong – which means none of that extra detail goes to waste.
And it’s more than just marketing guff. To achieve HRA accreditation, as defined by The Digital Entertainment Group, Japan Audio Standard, Consumer Electronics Association and The Recording Academy (plus some massive record companies), recordings and playback equipment must meet specific standards. In plain English, and in the group’s own words, HRA is “lossless audio that is capable of reproducing the full range of sound from recordings that have been mastered from better-than-CD-quality music sources”.
The key there is “better-than-CD-quality”.
For headphones, it's crucial that the components used are of a certain quality standard, and that they're capable of reproducing sound at frequencies of at least 40kHz. Many of the headphones in Onkyo’s HRA range stretch from an elephant-taunting 4Hz to that bat-bothering 40kHz frequency. So, if you’re listening to an HRA track, on HRA-certified playback kit, on some Onkyo HRA headphones, you’ll get the full range of frequencies and detail available.
More after the break
Onkyo's High-Res Audio kit
From left to right: Onkyo's A800, E900M and H900M hi-res headphones
And you aren’t limited to massive cans that demand you shackle yourself to your home system. The forthcoming H900M over-ear headphones fit the bill for travellers thanks to their closed-back design and inline mic and remote control, while the tiny, £300 E900M in-ears (available now) pack in a dual balanced armature and conventional dynamic driver. If you want to listen at home, the open-backed A800s, with their 50mm drivers, are the pair to demo. They'll be in the shops soon.
Onkyo claims that it's not just HRA music that sounds good on its headphones. They have been tuned to flatter music of varying quality, so there's no need to despair if you plan to stream compressed files or more exotic albums from your collection haven't had the hi-res treatment yet.
If you’d rather listen to HRA tracks on a speaker, the Onkyo X9 is worth a look. It has a USB port capable of handling full-fat PCM formats up to 24-bit/96kHz, and will play (but downsample) 24-bit/192kHz files. There’s Bluetooth on board for regular streaming too, and – for those of you with a pair of HRA headphones – a dedicated output that meets HRA standards.
Hi-Res Audio has finally come out of the lofty, audiophile-only stratosphere and into the realms of us normal folk. And could herald a revolution.
Sign up for an exclusive Onkyo Hi-Res Audio demo at the Bristol Sound & Vision show
Are you going to the Bristol show? Want to get ears-on with Onkyo's new hi-res range? We're offering a series of exclusive product demos on Friday 26 February, the first day of the show. Spaces are limited – sign up here to avoid disappointment.