The shift away from physical media like vinyl, tapes and CDs and has made music readily available and portable speakers and playing devices are plentiful. Add to that the numerous streaming options and it has never been easier to have access to the music we love.
With that access has come a widely accepted loss of quality. MP3 and other compression schemes used to make the files small and portable use a lossy compression, meaning that data is lost in the encoding process, which means resolution is sacrificed. Making a big splash in 2014, high resolution audio is about returning to source quality.
What defines high-resolution audio is not set. Unlike high-definition video, there is no set criteria for defining high resolution audio. The Digital Entertainment Group, the Consumer Electronics Association, and The Recording Academy define high definition audio as "lossless audio that is capable of reproducing the full range of sound from recordings that have been mastered from better than CD quality music sources." Those groups went further to define four different Master Quality Recording categories to insure the production of audio exactly as the artists and producers intend it to sound.
When discussing the topic, generally high resolution audio refers to audio that has a higher sampling frequency and bit rate depth than a CD (16-bit/44.1kHz). High-resolution audio may have a frequency of 96kHz or 192kHz at 24-bit rate depth, but you can also have 88.2kHz and 176.4kHz files too. A higher sampling frequency works to insure the accurate translation from analogue to digital and the higher bit rate determines how accurately a signal can be measured in the first place. The jump from 16 – 24 bit is very noticeable.
There are several high-resolution audio file formats to choose from: FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) and ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec), WAV, AIFF and DSD, the format used for Super Audio CDs. Which is right for you is a bigger discussion. But regardless, if you are committed, it may mean re-purchasing files in a new format and most certainly a much bigger digital footprint for your music library.
So what's the big deal?
With more information to play with, high-resolution audio tends to boast greater detail and texture, bringing listeners closer to the original performance than ever before. And with the Master Quality standards in place, you can be sure to get the highest quality source audio.
Before you dive in, make sure your ears can hear the difference. You will certainly hear it between mp3 and high resolution audio. But if you want to see if high resolution audio will enhance your audio experience, compare a CD to the same high resolution audio and listen for the difference. Honestly, some people may not hear the difference. Let your ears be your guide.
Regardless of your personal preference, high resolution audio is making its way to the mainstream. You'll be sure to hear a lot about it through this year and into the next.