High-resolution audio is the Holy Grail to purveyors of sound technologies and audiophiles. Thanks to tech firms in a race to corner their share of the market, high-resolution audio will be made available to everyone, and sooner than you probably think.
What is High Resolution Audio?
The Digital Entertainment Group, Consumer Electronics Association and The Recording Academy define high-resolution 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,” the online edition of What Hi-Fi Magazine reported. The entities agreed on a formal agreement on how to technically describe high-resolution audio along with recording companies Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group.
This also means that in terms of sampling frequency, high-res audio can be accessed in 96kHz or 192kHz at 24-bit, and also 88.2kHz and 176.4kHz files, according to the report.
In layman, high resolution is a kind of audio format that is more superior to the sound quality you get from your MP3s. What happens is, when your favorite music is ripped from CDs, the sound quality suffers due to data lost in the rendering process. As What Hi-Fi puts it, “resolution is sacrificed for the sake of convenience and smaller file sizes.”
Currently, Astell & Kern, LG, Samsung, Sony and FiiO are the tech bigwigs that have released digital high-resolution audio products and services. Download and music streaming sites are not to be left behind as well, which this article will discuss in detail in the next section.
Online Streaming Sites Takes it Up a Notch
The ability to offer high-res audio is definitely a development that could shake things up a bit in the world of online audio streaming, especially at a time when online audio listening is growing at a steady pace.
While most streaming sites don’t have their streaming and frequencies information available online, their download speeds are quite revealing. According to a Forbes.com report, iTunes downloads tend to be at 256kbps which makes it safe to assume that iTunes Radio streams are pegged within the same range. Spotify offers streaming at a whopping 320kbps for premium accounts, while Pandora has a highest bit rate of 192 kbps for paid accounts. They rank the same when compared in terms of sound quality when streaming using high-quality headphones.
In the online spoken word audio arena, a platform worth noting is digital audio social media site Audioboom (BOOM.L). No information is available on the platform’s bit rate as well, although one site user assumes the platform possibly records tracks on MP3 at a bit rate of 64 to 80kbps. That is a bit low, if you take the user’s word for it, but when you compare the sound quality of broadcasts from news channels like the BBC and CBS, as well as other recordings by users on the platform, you’ll be able to tell that the platform records on a far superior frequency and bit rate.
In addition, one of the company’s stakeholders is 7Digital, which was noted by What Hi-Fi as one company that offers high-res audio at 24-bit .flac downloads; that could mean Audioboom more or less uses the same technology. (More information on Audioboom’s product and contact details are found here.)
Possible Hurdles along the Way
Cynics believe that while high-res audio indeed holds promise, it could “face a number of problems” especially when it comes to file size, and the lack of a uniform industry standard, according to The Star Online. The report noted that high resolution audio’s file size could go ten to fifteen times larger than your average MP3s.
Yet some experts noted that high-res audio does not matter much in a simple and uncomplicated world and that the quality of sound MP3s provide already suffice.
“Some people can tell the difference… But if it’s a great song, you are still going to love it even if it’s not HD, and if it’s a bad song, it doesn’t matter,” Colby Leider, director of music engineering at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, was quoted as saying in the report.
Fortunately, there’s no stopping companies from plunging headlong into the future of digital audio, that is, high resolution audio. Sony, for example, plans to increase the sales of its one-year-old high res product line by 30 percent next year, The Star Online said. High-res audio accounted for more than a fifth of Sony’s audio sales in Japan, it also noted.
It seems like discerning music fans and audio enthusiasts don’t have to wait any longer then.