What is Hi-Res audio? Dan George - PR Manager at Melco Audio
Hi-Res audio is no longer the preserve of audiophiles. Consumers are increasingly becoming aware of Hi-Res streaming services such as Tidal and Qobuz, and with giants like Amazon now offering CD-quality+ streams, it has never been easier for mum and dad to access a world of Hi-Res music. This can only be good news for music lovers after a lost decade (or more) of MP3 acceptability.
Hi-Res audio, is in fact, becoming something of a buzzword and it’s not difficult for newcomers to find handy online guides, explaining what it is, what all those file formats mean and how to get it. It’s when Hi-Res audio is discussed in audiophile circles, however, that the buzz becomes blurred.
So, let’s start with a definition: put simply, high-resolution audio (or Hi-Res audio) is an umbrella term for better-than-CD quality. So is CD still good enough? The question has ignited plenty of online debate in recent times, fuelled by internationally respected digital audio designers chipping in to suggest that done well, CD is all any music lover could ever need. The suggestion comes just at the time when most of us (97% of UK households) have the access to high-speed broadband that makes Hi-Res streaming finally possible.
From a technical perspective, it’s hard to argue with the science. A high-res file at 24-bit/192kHz resolution is going to offer more information than CD’s standard 16-bit/44.1kHz resolution. With replay equipment capable of delivering the bandwidth, it should be possible to distinguish between the two under blind conditions. However, many published studies have shown that for the general public, it’s not as obvious as you might think. Thankfully, audiophiles have finely honed listening skills and can identify better quality sound in the way that the general public can more easily spot, say, a HD TV image over an SD one – think newsreader wrinkles.
But, ‘better’ is in the eye of the beholder and here we circle back to the earlier observation that for audiophiles, Hi-Res can be a little blurred. Subjectivity has enabled the choice of hi-fi brands we take for granted today. We know how much technology (think valves), brands and system set up can divide opinion and Hi-Res audio, including DSD, is no different. Hi-Res is just as much about personal preference than pure numbers. Most Melco fans brave enough to have read this far will likely have a mix of both CD and Hi-Res music files and, perhaps, the good fortune to own multiple versions of the same track or album, in anything from a digitised vinyl rip upwards, enabling critical comparison in the comfort of their own homes with known systems and rooms. So long as we have the vital replay hardware to be able to highlight the differences, we’ll be in the privileged position to judge Hi-Res for ourselves and make our own choices. Of one thing I’m certain: having the most advanced digital music library in the world from Melco, backed by a modern USB DAC, means there is no better way on earth to enjoy music, compare recordings and join the debate.