hi-res au­dio play­ers

Is high-res­o­lu­tion au­dio the fu­ture of mu­sic, or just an un­nec­es­sary ex­tra ex­pense for au­dio­philes?

Mac Format - - APPLE CHOICE - Re­viewed by Gary Mar­shall

Tech­nol­ogy and mu­sic make odd bed­fel­lows. While dig­i­tal mu­sic and Macs make mu­sic cre­ation eas­ier than ever, the qual­ity of our mu­sic is go­ing back­wards: many peo­ple think vinyl to CD was a back­wards step, and there’s no doubt that a com­pressed MP3 or AAC is far in­fe­rior to a CD, never mind a higher qual­ity mas­ter record­ing. And let’s not talk about YouTube clips on lap­top speak­ers. For many peo­ple that’s fine – Ap­ple’s iPhone and ear­bud com­bi­na­tion isn’t great, but it isn’t truly ter­ri­ble ei­ther – but not every­body puts porta­bil­ity first. For them, sound qual­ity is what re­ally mat­ters, and they’re will­ing to pay se­ri­ous money to get it. High-Res­o­lu­tion Au­dio (HRA) is for those peo­ple.

What is HRA?

High-Res­o­lu­tion Au­dio uses sam­pling rates much higher than CD qual­ity. Where CDs are sam­pled in 16 bits at 44.1KHz – that’s 44,100 sam­ples per sec­ond – HRA files are sam­pled at much higher rates. The most com­mon sam­pling rate for HRA is 24-bit sam­ples at 96KHz, which means 96,000 sam­ples per sec­ond. Where 16-bit sam­pling has just over 65,000 pos­si­ble val­ues for each sam­ple, 24-bit sam­pling is far more de­tailed and has nearly 17 mil­lion.

HRA isn’t a file for­mat; it’s a cat­e­gory. Old-school Wav and AIFF files can be HRA if the sam­pling rates are high enough, as can FLAC and Ap­ple’s ALAC. Then we have DSD and MQA. DSD was orig­i­nally de­signed for Su­per Au­dio CD and usu­ally sam­ples at up to 5.6MHz – 128 times more than CD – and MQA (Mas­ter Qual­ity Au­then­ti­cated) uses an al­go­rithm that en­ables it to de­liver 24-bit sound qual­ity with­out ac­tu­ally us­ing 24-bit sam­pling, so it can re­duce the of­ten hefty stor­age re­quire­ments of high-res­o­lu­tion au­dio files. MQA is ex­pected to be­come the key for­mat in HRA ser­vices.

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