Monday, 30 September 2013

Will 2014 Be The Year of High-Res Audio?

It could finally be happening.

Perhaps the flood gates will be opened.

There's a potential explosion in the offing.

etc.

For a while the audiophile community has been listening to "better than CD quality" high resolution music.  In simple numbers terms, a CD is always recorded at 44.1kHz (every second of music is sampled 44,100 times per second) and stored as a "word" comprising 16bits of digital information.  Most studio recordings are made at 96kHZ (96,000 samples in a second) and 24bits of digital information.  So the studio recordings sample twice as many words and the words can store thousands of times the information in comparison to CD.  Studio recordings are compressed down into the CD format.  So CDs are effectively a compressed format, never mind MP3!

There are many factors that affect audio quality, particularly the diligence of the production and engineering teams.  However, if we are to assume that a good team is in place and is capable of producing an album that sounds great on CD, then theoretically the 24bit, higher sampled version should sound better.

A number of audiophile companies (e.g. Linn, Naim, Devialet and others) have produced players capable of reproducing these higher quality audio files for up to 6 years.  However, that hasn't lead to a vast array and choice of widely available sources of music in the higher resolution formats.  Linn Records, Naim Label, Bowers & Wilks, HD Tracks and Quzbo have soldiered on, adding a couple of albums to their repertoirs per month.  Even some of this is of dubious origin with some files being alleged to be merely upsampled CD quality recordings - I'm not saying all of these providers indulge in this, but it pays to take care.  In the last 2 years, mid-range manufacturers such as Marantz, Pioneer, Cambridge Audio and others have added this high-res capability to streamers, CD players and AV receivers.  So you'd think that we'd be seeing lots and lots of choice of music in the market, but it just hasn't happened yet.

However, according to news in What HiFi magazine, we could see this change significantly in 2014 and the following years.  Sony has just announced a full range of hi-res capable products, including a Walkman and, most significantly, a high-res download site - at the moment this looks like it will be a gateway to existing sites.  With the vast range of source materials available to Sony, this could be the tipping point -hopefully they will start to release their catalogue in hi-res.  I'll watch this with great interest!

http://www.whathifi.com/news/sonys-flagship-high-res-walkman-revealed

http://www.whathifi.com/news/sony-launches-high-resolution-audio-product-range-and-hi-res-downloads-site

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