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An overview of High-resolution Audio

prophet

It looks like this year has finally been the year where High-res audio (HRA) has become mainstream and that is down to companies like Sony, LG and Samsung who have all released HRA compatible products.

For someone who just listens to music whilst taking a bus ride or working out, high-res audio is probably not very important but by the same token it may be. It all comes down to individual preference and how much of an audiophile you are. Disregarding personal preference though, every other factor of technology is being enhanced so it’s only right that audio is improved too.

The need for high-res audio derived from the increase of streaming services such as iTunes and Spotify, where digital downloads removed the need for CDs, not to say that CDs are extinct now because they’re not, not yet. The problem with these streaming services is that compressed file formats with low bitrates are used and within the encoding process some data is lost due to the compression. This basically means an end result of low-resolution audio, in order to provide smaller file sizes. Of course this is convenient but is it worth losing out on good quality? Music to my ears surely does beat having an extra few megabytes on my phone and iPod. Wouldn’t you agree? Well, that is why HRA was created.

What is HRA exactly? You can read the formal definition of it here, agreed by the Consumer Electronics Association and Digital Entertainment Group

What’s good about High-Resolution Audio?

Well, the audio is of high quality of course but no information is lost as it does with non-HRA. That is, without a doubt, the main benefit because it allows you to listen to the audio as close to the original as possible. If you’re not an audiophile then you’re probably not really bothered. I guess its like using a non-retina display and using a retina display. It’s not a big deal for some but determines if they’ll buy the product for others.
High-Resolution Audio formats

Some of the HRA formats include ALAC (Apple lossless audio codec), FLAC (Free lossless audio codec), WAV, AIFF and DSD. It would be good to note that you can rip your existing music into either of these high-quality formats if you wish to do so, so it’s worth remembering these formats.

High-Resolution Audio on Smartphones

There is some good news and bad news. I’ll go with the bad news first; the iPhone 6 does not support high-res audio but there are ways in which you can achieve this but they all usually involve attaching a second device to the lightning connector of the phone. You could however change your music files to use any of the formats listed above, which will help make the sound identical to the original source! You can read more on how to improve the quality of your audio on your iOS device here.

dre_beats.pngMoving on from Apple, the good news is that high-res audio is supported on a number of current smartphones available such as the Sony Xperia Z3 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. Although this isn’t the case for all phones, there are ways around this. For instance, you can download music using the HRA formats (bit rate greater than 128) or you could invest in some better quality headphones because, let’s face it, the out of the box headphones with any phone are ok but not that great really. Buying a decent set of headphones will improve the sound going through to your ears significantly. You don’t have to go around spending hundreds and hundreds of pounds; you can still find a decent pair at a decent price. I would recommend over-ear headphones personally but go for whatever you fancy to keep your inner-audiophile satisfied.

Conclusion

Is high-res audio worth the extra money? I’ll let you guys answer that one. Let me know your thoughts below. I personally wouldn’t spend extra money for it. I currently own a pair of Beats over-the-ear headphones and, seriously, I do not regret it. They are awesome; the bass (I can’t listen to music with no bass!), the overall quality and the comfort of them make me really happy with my purchase. I only got them for £79 too thanks to the Black Friday sale last year. Are any of you audio geeks?


Thanks for reading Smiley Happy
- Sadia

21 Comments
guide

Think my hearing is too far gone for HRA to be any good for me! Oh well.....

phenomenon

Thanks for the blog, Sadia. Smiley Happy I've looked at Beats many a time but never been able to justify them yet. Smiley Tongue Maybe it's time to go for it if you swear by them! 

sensei

Long time FLAC user here. Where I can, I always rip to FLAC as nothing is lost in that process (other than encoding time). If I need to make MP3, I use variable-bitrate in LAME, as that allows the encoder to use 320kbps if needs be, and less if using more won't gain any improvement. My encodes tend to average at about 176kbps, and sound way better than 192kbps constant bitrate. Soundcloud also accepts FLAC uploads, so the streamed 128kbps (CBR) will sound better than any MP3 upload.

 

Even my aging (and dust-covered) HTC Wildfire can handle FLAC audio and high-bitrate MP3.

soothsayer

I have a massive CD collection and recently ripped them all to FLAC (took an age).  I have kept the CDs though as the thought of binning them cannot even be imagined for me.

 

Memory storage is dirt cheap these days and it was a no-brainer for me to do.

 

Can I tell the difference between FLAC and 320kbps mp3 files?  Nope, I cannot.  So 24 bit High Resolution audio would be totally wasted on me and I have a decent set-up too.

 

Nice article Smiley Happy

augur

Good article thanks @shadylady

 

I have always listened to music using whatever medium I could afford at the time, but I don't suppose I've ever been able to pick out the 3rd cymbal on the second row when the orchestra play the 1812. So I suspect that the higher rates are pretty much wasted on my ears.

 

I just like to enjoy what I hear Smiley Happy

I like M4A (mpeg 4 audio) it sounds noticeably better to me than MP3 but that's hardly surprising MP3 is old now even though it's still mainstream - why? As for bitrate I go for 192kbps.

Personally I wouldn't rip to FLAC without reason over M4A the files are too big.

If you listen to music without headphones much then a high quality phone speaker is a must, unless you buy a Bluetooth speaker
supporter

There's a new smartphone made by Marshall which is focused on high quality audio. I have yet to see an actual working version but it could be an option for die hard Android music fans.

Interesting blog  post, thank you