HRA. Hi-resolution audio is defined by the USA’s Consumer Technology Association (CTA)® as follows:
“High-Resolution Audio is 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.”
That translates to digital audio files whose bit rates go deeper than 16 (e.g. 24) or sample rates that go higher than 44.1kHz (e.g. 96).
Those who would claim that hi-res audio starts at a minimum of 24bit/96kHz might want to consider that many modern (indie rock) releases spill from the studio at 24bit/48kHz. For the sake of argument, we’ll roll with the CTA’s definition, if only because it maximises the number of hi-res titles.
Audiophile community enthusiasm for hi-res audio is strong and the audible benefits are real for many listeners, myself included. (I’m not in the business of quibbling over other peoples’ paths to audio nirvana). Again, for the sake of argument, we’ll assume that hi-res sounds better than CD quality.
Pouring cold water on considerable industry enthusiasm for hi-res audio is its skinny supply. Albums and EPs released at sample- and bit-rates greater than Redbook’s 16bit/44.1kHz are anything but abundant. The stream is, in fact, a trickle.
According to What Hi-Fi, hi-res audio supply on Tidal Hifi reached 1,000,000 songs in 2018. Assuming a total library size of 50 million songs, only 2% of the Norwegian streaming service’s catalogue is stored as (MQA ‘Masters’) hi-res audio.
And yet Tidal Hifi gives us almost 100% of releases in CD quality – the meat and potatoes of better sound which this Bluesound commercial, jumping from mainstream hardware/software choices to ’24bit hi-res’, leapfrogs entirely:
2% hi-res vs. almost 100% in 16bit/44.1kHz. The numbers say it all. Ask yourself: would you pay $20/month for 1 million hi-res titles alone?
Perhaps now you’ll understand why, in the Chord Qutest video review, I described the audio industry’s considerable and ongoing pixel push on hi-res audio as “a lot of noise about not very much”.
The audio industry is not the music industry. On hi-res supply, the likes of HDTracks, Tidal and Qobuz are at the mercy of recording studios and record labels, just as they are on mastering quality.
Getting drunk on the promises of a better future just isn’t my style – I prefer pragmatism to idealism – and in the here and now, the paucity of hi-res content coming to market has me stone cold sober; just as it did when I started this hi-fi review gig in 2010.
The modern miracle is 50 million songs directly streamable to your home hi-fi system or your smartphone when out and about. Making this compelling for audiophiles is that almost all of those songs are available in CD quality thanks to Tidal’s, Qobuz’s and Deezer’s Hifi subscription tiers. That a small percentage of titles are also available in hi-res is a bonus in a world still dominated by CD-quality source material.
To talk up the taste of hi-res to effectively ignore CD’s greater substance is to order a McDonalds burger only for its pickle.
As away, so at home.
For the past 10 years, I’ve been building a digital audio library, storing albums on a 4TB hard-drive (regularly backed-up). Given the option, I will (almost) always take the hi-res version over the 16bit/44.1kHz download or CD rip when purchasing a new album or EP.
As of right now, my digital audio library now comprises 6253 titles. Using Roon’s Focus feature I can filter releases encoded at 48kHz or above: 380 titles. Add in the 50 or so DSD-encoded albums by Bob Dylan and Depeche Mode stored on a separate hard-drive and my hi-res audio collection numbers 530.
Junior school maths tells us that (530/6303*100) a mere 8% of my digital audio library is hi-res and, therefore, the remaining 92% is stored in CD quality.
What about you, dear reader? What’s on your music server?
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