You can’t experience real high-resolution audio unless you can have three things: actual high-resolution audio recordings (which are extremely rare…there are less than 1000 in the world…none on PONO), a format that is capable of delivering real world fidelity, and a playback system that can match the fidelity of the recording format. Anything short of these measures means that you haven’t experienced high-resolution audio. It’s really pretty simple.
Despite the “High-Resolution Audio” hype that has been happening during the past year and the continuing push by various organizations and celebrities like Neil Young, HRA is a myth…at least as far as it’s promise to deliver the “soul of music” once again by bringing back the fidelity of the past. Frankly, I’m tired of the hyperbole, the interviews, the panels, and the ridiculous arguments about ultra fast sample rates and longer word lengths. The chances that you’ve actually experienced high-resolution audio are slim to none. Why? Because one or more of the critical three components listed above is lacking in your system.
Of course, it may not be important to your musical enjoyment. There’s hundreds of thousands of albums that deliver music to a standard that most people are happy with. When I play albums by Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, or Bruce Hornsby, I’m transported to musical nirvana. The music does what it’s supposed to do. Can I imagine a version of those same recordings that would be more engaging and sonically compelling? Absolutely, I can. If any one of these artists were to sit in my studio and experience my recordings of John Gorka or Jennifer Warnes, they would know instantly how limited the traditional record production process is. I’m convinced.
Let’s investigate the final step in the chain I introduced above: the playback system. I get emails from readers that rave about the sound of their systems. Some advocate for a particular set of headphones or believe that electrostatic speakers are the only way to achieve ultimate fidelity. Others are convinced that super tweeters are the answer to delivering sufficient linearity at high frequencies to make high-resolution audio a reality.
I was amused this morning by a video that featured the new Synergistic Research “Atomosphere” gizmo that “puts Radio Frequencies (RF)” into your listening space in order to improve the sound of your system. And sure enough the reviewer/host (a former reviewer for one of the big audio magazines), was able to “hear” the improvement between the three settings of the $2000 basic unit: Intimate, Holographic, and Grand Canyon. He heard what the designer wanted him to hear because he is being handsomely compensated for doing the feature piece and posting it on his website. There is no electrical connection between the audio playback system and the “Atomosphere” device. This one falls into the “snake oil” category of audiophile accessories. From what I could tell the entire Synergistic Research line of products are a bunch of hocus-pocus.
The headphones or speakers that you must have in order to experience real high-resolution audio have to be able to deliver the sound that was produced by the instruments and voices that were in the studio or on the stage when the musicians were performing. That means delivering frequencies beyond our traditional range of human hearing…more than 20 kHz. It’s been firmly established that instruments are capable of producing ultrasonic frequencies…meaningful amounts of ultrasonics come out of trumpets, radiate from cymbals, and strings. The JAS spec says let’s be safe and make sure that the transducers can handle up to 40 kHz…I’m good with that.
They also have to be able to handle the dynamic range of music. This has proven to be more challenging. This doesn’t mean louder. It means the range from the quietest sound to the loudest. In reality, that span is from about 30-40 dB SPL to over 120 dB! There aren’t many amplifiers or speakers or headphones that can manage that. But there are some.
Does you system or headphones rig measure up? Probably not. Is that a bad thing? No. It simply means that you’re not getting everything that can be captured and delivered with high-resolution PCM audio.
Remember, just three steps to audio nirvana. Stay tuned.
I’m still looking to raise the $3700 needed to fund a booth at the 2015 International CES. I’ve received some very generous contributions but still need to raise additional funds (I’ve received about $3500 so far). Please consider contributing any amount. I write these posts everyday in the hopes that readers will benefit from my network, knowledge and experience. I hope you consider them worth a few dollars. You can get additional information at my post of December 2, 2014. Thanks.