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