In preparation of my consumer guide to “High-Resolution Audio” handout, I’m going to include a frequently asked questions section. Here’s the first part of two:
1. What is High-Resolution Audio?
High-Resolution Audio describes recordings that have been recorded and released using technologies that meet or exceed the capabilities of human hearing with regards to frequency response, dynamic range, temporal accuracy, and spatial distribution.
2. What isn’t High-Resolution Audio?
High-Resolution Audio is not old, standard-resolution analog or digital recordings – including analog tape, vinyl LPs or CDs – that have been upconverted or transferred to high specification digital formats (minimum of 88.2|96 kHz/24-bit PCM or 5.6 MHz DSD). The fidelity of old master remains at the fidelity of the originals…standard-resolution.
3. What are the differences between existing music formats and High-Resolution Audio?
Lossy compressed file formats like MP3, AAC, and OGG discard some elements of the music, which results in smaller files with lower fidelity. CDs don’t lose any information and can sound terrific but are unable to meet the capabilities of human hearing. High-Resolution Audio raises the bar to a level that offers artists, engineers, producers, and labels the potential to provide “real world” fidelity to consumers for the first time. There is increased dynamic range, extended frequency range, more accurate timing, and and better spatial distribution when compared to lossy MP3s and even compact discs..
4. How do the major labels and industry organizations define High-Resolution Audio?
Their definition states, High-Resolution Audio is defined 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.”
They also discuss “master quality descriptors” that describe the types of formats that can be used as sources for high-res audio. One of them is MQ-A. It allows any analog source from any era to be used as a source for High-Resolution Audio. Another is MQ-C. Despite the prohibition stated above, compact discs can also be used as a source for HRA. How can something that is supposed to be “better than CD quality” be supplied by a CD? This definition is inaccurate, confusing, self-contradictory, and has been widely criticized.
The labels and organizations would prefer to have hardware companies, digital music stores, and streaming services adopt a definition for High-Resolution Audio that includes virtually ALL recordings ever made regardless of the fidelity of the files as long as they are transferred to large digital files. Consumers and media outlets have failed to understand the critically important sequential link between source fidelity and the specification of the delivery file. Higher specifications don’t elevate the fidelity of the original.
5. Will I be able to hear any differences between what I’ve been listening to and the new High-Resolution Audio format?
The sonic differences between what you’re used to listening to and bona fide High-Resolution Audio files is subtle and difficult to hear unless you have a high-end playback system and have been trained to hear the additional fidelity.
However, many of the “so-called” High-Resolution Audio files offered for sale are derived from standard-resolution analog audio sources and don’t benefit from the higher specifications. They represent the highest fidelity currently available – Master Source Quality – but fail to meet the higher requirements of real High-Resolution Audio.
The high-resolution digital download sites are supplied new transfers from analog tape to high spec digital files. Sometimes they are remastered and other times they are simply transferred.