I’m curious to get a sense of where our readers stand on the subject of high res audio. Every year at CES, there is a definite push being made by manufacturers to have high res audio be the next big thing for our ears. There are a number of ways to get better than CD spec audio these days. Where at one-time storage was the issue and lossy, compressed audio became the way for portable and digital streaming use, now memory is cheap and plentiful and we can have, supposedly, master quality audio both at home and on the go. Different delivery systems, file formats, and resolutions can make the choices a bit confusing. This is before we even get into the subject of the music itself and how it was recorded and mastered and let alone whether we can hear a difference between 16/44 and higher resolutions of the same audio tracks. Of course you also have your analog vinyl die-hards who still poo-poo digital music playback in general into this mix. I personally don’t regard vinyl as high res at all, but some folks however make an argument that it is and it’s better. The introduction of MQA into market as almost a THX style quality and provenance certification for audio has also raised some additional questions on the subject. What in high res audio is real and what is hype? Opinions, of course, are varied and passionate so let’s keep it civil please. I’ve always been of the mind that whatever way you find that gets you a consistent emotional connection to your music of choice is good. Whether it be CD, vinyl, DSD, PCM, 8-Track, Victrola or two tin cans with a piece of twine. If it works for you, good. If there is a market for it, even better. But in our constant search to find better quality sources when it comes to our hobby, where do you stand?

  • John Johnson

    At a meeting I held at my home, I put on a SACD and a vinyl reissue of the recording that was native analog, and everyone preferred the vinyl version. I was surprised at this, but I preferred the vinyl version myself. In spite of the high resolution digital recording, everyone still preferred the analog recording. So, it appears that high resolution digital may approach the analog version, but still, the analog version is audibly different, and superior, to the digital version of the same recording, as long as the anlog vinyl was analog to begin with.

  • Carlo Lo Raso

    I’ve experienced that both ways. When the vinyl sounds better than the digital release and visa versa. And times when the CD release of something sounds preferable than the SACD remaster. There have to be loads of variables when getting a recording to a given final format. We hope that whatever the final format is, that the mastering and production folks do the best job possible. Sometimes though, I wonder….

  • Paul W

    I’m all for hi-res audio, but think mastering and dynamic compression have more influence on perceived recording quality than CD vs hi-res formats. I also believe vinyl can sound better than digital played through most mass-market DACs.

  • Carlo Lo Raso

    Frankly, I think a reason Hi-Rez audio hasn’t gained enough traction with many people, outside of folks like us, is because in many cases it’s not such a night and day difference in audio quality from a CD to an SACD or a Hi-Rez download. It can be, but it often isn’t. One area where Hi-Rez could and should take more advantage of is with surround sound recordings. The new surround mix on David Gilmour’s latest album sounds fantastic. The Blu-Ray surround mix of the Allman Bros. Live at the Fillmore East is also excellent. Mark Waldrep’s AIX Records also has many great sounding surround recordings. That is a more tangible hook to get more interest I would think. Yes, you’re talking more expense but there is a more obvious difference over, what are often, mere degrees of improvement in a high Rez stereo recording.

  • vneal

    I think the main reason Hi Res has not taken off is there are few all in one boxes. Every company and audiophile are going different ways. One manufacturer has a system that need a hard drive memory another has that memory but you need an external DAC still another needs a separate power supply, DAC, Electrical cord and memory. Really? Why not just offer a faceplate!

    I used to use a laptop with JRiver downloaded and then saved it to an external hard drive, buy the connector to my trusty Oppo 105 and use their DAC then go through a monitor. Really and you wonder why the common man does not accept Hi Rez files.Besides my set up would have hand shake issues and freeze up time to time. Oppo says its the hard drive , the hard drive works fine on another system. Any JRiver issues you can expect zero help through JRiver but you are welcome to use their public forum for help from members. Really???

    I bought the Sony HAP Z1 ES media player. It has no hand shake issues an internal DAC, internal 1 TB drive, you can add an external drive for back up or unlimited space. Built in WiFi , no wires, updates from my computer with the push of one button. All at a cost $1999. I have found nothing even close to what it offers.

  • Steve Heronemus

    A friend and skeptic gave me a blind listening test of like tracks, CD and SACD. After I got the first 3 pairs identified correctly, he gave in and admitted there was an audible difference.
    That said, the difference is more apparent to me on acoustic performances and I find no difference if playback is through lower-end mass-market equipment. This leaves the largest markets wondering what the fuss is about. For me, the question is, “Can hi-rez survive as a niche offering?”

  • John Johnson

    High Resolution audio has always been a niche technology. The mass consumer does not care about it. Fortunately, high resolution music is now available as downloads, so it does not cost the music production company anything to supply high resolution versions of their new albums to websites that sell high resolution music. The high resolution album does not require a separate disc anymore. So, downloadable music has saved high resolution music from mass extinction.

  • Mike Osadciw

    We’re all too focused on numbers that won’t solve the problem: 16/24/44.1/48/96/192. Our attention shouldn’t be solely on these numbers to achieve high fidelity. The real monster is the abuse of dynamic range compression that exists in various points of the recording process. Dynamic range compression put into the mix reduces the intensity of loud sounds and raises softer sounds to be louder. While required to varying degrees, the result of abuse is the whole mix being around the same volume level. Recording practices since the early 1990’s has gotten more aggressive with compression to the point that there has rarely been a dynamic mix available with popular music since. The final master that’s given to us on CD and on downloads (and these so-called ‘studio masters’ we’re supposed to be drooling for) are highly dynamically compressed at the source and don’t sound musical at all (don’t confuse this compression with distribution compression like MP3). Music today is a mess of sound: fat, in-your-face vocals, drum kits with no dynamics at all as they are are drowned out by guitars and synths (who has experienced being beside a drummer?) and a bass guitar that’s hardly audible. All of this has destroyed the musical experience. You can play back a dynamically compressed recording at 16/44.1 or 24/96 and there won’t be one ounce of extra satisfaction with the 24/96 file because there’s hardly a quiet moment in the music to appreciate it. Loudness destroys enjoyment in home environments (but is a solution in cars and portable environments to drown out/block external noise). Does anyone keep one consistent setting on their stereo’s volume knob for all types of music from all eras? If you do, your ears are probably bleeding and permanently damaged. We need to get our priorities straight here. MQA and HD music files need to be sourced from a different mix that isn’t catered to the dynamically compressed needs of mass music consumption and from one that can be enjoyed in a home audio system (providing such a mix exists today). High fidelity needs to come from a quality source first, then we can set our sights beyond 16/44.1.

  • vneal

    Every LP is different. My go to LP that sounds better than any Hi Res Flac is MSFL Beatles Rubber Soul

  • deenie1219

    I’ve got a few of Mark’s DVD’s. He uses 96KHz/24 bits all the way through the system. Also he video records the artists while they’re making the music. It is weird but it took awhile to train my ears at first to appreciate the very clean/real sound coming out into the room. Mark says the reason hi-rez recording is slow to gain traction is that many of the record studios take old stuff and repackage it so it is in hi-rez format. It is akin to putting lipstick on a pig to make it pretty. So, the enthusiast get his new disc of a song originally recorded in 1965 and is disappointed because it sounds not much better than his old vinyl record of that album even though the expensive new disc was recorded at 192KHz/24bits off the master tapes.

  • deenie1219

    You’re right on target. Mark Waldrup of AIX Recording is dead serious about raising the bar wrt integrity in the hi-rez recording arena. MQA is not the way to go for ultimate hi-rez. Check out:

  • RA

    I just happened to run across this article. Don’t know how I missed seeing it. I think the reasons that Hi-res hasn’t caught hold that it’s clumsy at best and detecting a difference, even on superior equipment is dubious. However, I think the real reason is there is no significant market. Beginning with the Walkman music became easily portable, Currently most younger music listeners have their entire libraries on their phone. They use headphones, earbuds and Carplay (or the android equivalent) in their cars. The trend has gone away from sitting in a quiet room along with the idea of critical listening. No one, of the current generations, are sitting around listening for the difference in wires (sorry cables) or hi-res audio or $4k phono cartridges.

    The world has changed and along with it the way most people listen to music. High end audio will remain a niche market. It just isn’t going to grow and all the recording/playback advancements made will still only be coveted by a shrinking few. None of the special recording methods will persist or become standards because there is not going to be any significant market.

  • Paul

    Just saw this article.

    I have 300+ SACDs, about 75 DVD-As and a dozen Blu-ray Audio. About 90% of them have MCH mixes and that is why I bought them. The few 2CH only hi-res discs I own represented copies that were no more than 10% more than the CD OR a re-issue of a title where I could verify it had a greater dynamic range than what was available on the CD.

    The mastering process is the most important determinant of SQ, far more than the format, at the very least since the turn of the century. A “hi-res container” of a recording mastered with 6dB or fewer of dynamic range is no better than any other container from 256kbs AAC/320kbs mp3 and up–at least I’ve never been able to tell (and I’ve listened to examples on my own gear [mid-fi Yamaha/Oppo with Boston Acoustics VR-M reference series speakers] all the way to five figure pairs of speakers and separates in high-end audio shops, along with headphones ranging from Sennheiser HD650s to Focal Utopias).

    One thing I’ve noticed about the 2CH mixes on my SACDs, for example, compared to CD counterparts, is a much wider dynamic range in the recording. That tells me the mastering engineer took extra care when mastering the SACD (and, usually, though not always, the CD layer on a hybrid disc) than for the regular CD release. So, on occasion, I pick up 2CH SACDs if they are close in price, on the change that the mastering will be better than the CD. However, a well-mastered CD, with the same care as done with the SACD, has proven indistinguishable to me. That tells me the mastering is more important than the container.

    In the end, the main benefits of hi-res containers (SACD, DVD-A, Blu-ray Audio, various hi-res digital download formats) appear to be the care their producers put into the mastering, rather than the format itself AND the possibility of MCH mixes. For the latter, I’ll spend a bit more cash. For the former, only if I think I’m getting a better mastering job than a CD.