High Resolution Audio For Dummies: What is it?

Posted on 7th May, 2014

High Resolution Audio For Dummies: What is it?

If you haven't heard about high-resolution audio, reading this article is a great place to start learning about this emerging trend in both hardware and software. While high-resolution audio has been a subject of discussion among audiophiles and music enthusiasts, it's reached the mainstream press and even NPR thanks to the star power of Neil Young and initiatives by CE manufacturers like Sony and Samsung.

But unfortunately, much of the information available online is confusing, inaccurate, misleading or just plain wrong. As a result, I started a daily blog over a year ago to set the record straight and to provide free samples of high-resolution music. These days I'm a reluctant writer but I spend the rest of my time in the studio producing and engineering new high-resolution music tracks.

What is High-Resolution Audio?

The term “high-resolution” applies only to digital audio. It has no meaning for analog formats like analog tape or vinyl LPs. These older formats can reproduce very high quality audio but they simply can't compete with the ease and convenience of digital files. This is even truer as new high-resolution audio files are able to equal and actually eclipse the fidelity of the older analog formats. Don't let the traditionalists tell you otherwise, vinyl LPs DO NOT produce the highest fidelity!

High-resolution audio (or HRA) is associated with any digital delivery format that is “better” than a compact disc.  For example, if you purchase one of the new Blu-ray “Pure Audio” discs that support specifications higher than those of a standard CD (i.e. 96 kHz/24-bit vs. 44.1 kHz/16-bits), you're getting a delivery format that has the potential to sound “better”.

But that's only half the story. What most writers and marketing brochures fail to tell you is the fidelity of the original recording…the master source. Just yesterday I had lunch with a very well known engineer that worked on projects by Stevie Wonder. I asked him what his production process was back in the 70s when he was engineering these great records. He confirmed that they were recorded on 2-inch/24-track analog tape machines, mixed to another ¼ inch/2-track recorder and then finally mastered to a piece of virgin lacquer. As terrific as these records sound, they are sonically bound by the technology of that era AND subject to losses associated with analog tape transfers. They were standard definition recordings when they were first released.

And they remain standard definition releases even after they've been transferred to Blu-ray “Pure Audio” or 96 kHz/24-bit PCM downloads. They might be labeled high-resolution and have all sorts of impressive logos associated with them, but they are actually only “higher resolution” tracks as compared to MP3 and iTunes downloads.

Stay tuned for the next episode!

About the Author

Mark Waldrep, Ph.D. is a StereoNET Technical Contributor. Mark has over 40 years experience as a recording and mastering engineer, is the founder and director of AIX Media Group, AIX Records and iTrax.com (the first high-resolution audio download site launched in 2007). Waldrep also holds multiple advanced degrees in music, art and computer science.

Contact via email mwaldrep@soundmedia.net.au

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      Posted in: Hi-Fi Headphones Technology
      Tags: high resolution 


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