The audio Hi-Res high-resolution or even music, high resolution., as you want to call it, is a format that goes far beyond your collection of MP3 files and that, increasingly, is becoming a space in different players. What exactly is the audio Hi-Res? What equipment do you need? Does it really sound better? Here you will have all the information you need to catch up with the audio high-resolution in simple and clear language.
What is the meaning of audio Hi-Res?
Before, a little bit of history. Since its introduction, the audio quality of CD has been the point of reference. From this point of view -and in simple terms, audio Hi-Res would be any file or format with a higher quality than the CD. The first formats were Super Audio CD (SACD) and DVD-Audio. Both were launched in 2000, but could only play in a limited (and expensive) devices. None got many followers beyond the circles of audiophiles hard. The industry, in addition, used interchangeably with terms such as HD audio and audio Hi-Res, confusing to consumers.
Unfortunately for these formats, in 2001 Apple gave a blow to the music world with his first iPod. Any impulse to the music high resolution was decimated with the promise of Apple to have “a thousand songs in your pocket”. However, with a limited amount of storage space, there was no possibility to include high resolution files on these portable players.
To fit that amount of music, the iPod and other devices depended on the MP3, a format that offers files of a small size, but that eliminates much of the information of the audio with CD quality. The audio Hi-Res could not compete. It took almost 15 years for the portable storage is cheaper and big enough to hold files (relatively) large.
Despite the convenience and popularity of iPods and MP3 players, not all were happy with these digital formats. The canadian Neil Young, the legend of folk-rock, was an outspoken critic of the MP3 and its greatest provider, the Apple iTunes.
Their claims eventually led him to the action. In 2012 showed an initial prototype PonoPlayer, a portable device capable of playing high resolution audio. In 2014, we launched on Kickstarter and had a successful, receiving millions in funding. The project generated an online store where you could purchase and download music, high resolution. But the player and the store only got a small audience, so that closed in 2017.
Young was not the only one who noticed that the iPod and MP3 did not satisfy the demand of digital music of high quality. Sony also made their bets. With the enormous influence of marketing, the japanese giant launched its support to the technology of high resolution audio, it created logo-black-and-gold to identify the products compatible with the format and began to include it in everything, from portable players to audio receivers and video. Sony gave the control of the logo to the Japanese Society of Audio, which is managed from 2014. Today there are a variety of devices with capability of high resolution of different brands, covering all ranges and products, from cell phones to wireless headphones.
What is the difference between the audio Hi-Res and the CD?
We said that the audio Hi-Res has a better quality than a CD. But how do you do it? Before you answer that, here is a quick guide on how to quantify the quality of digital music. The sound quality of digital music is commonly expressed with two values: bit depth and sampling frequency. The higher each of these values, the better will be the quality of the file.
Sampling rate: Expressed in hertz or hertz (Hz), is the number of times a sample (a sound image) of an audio signal per second. The greater the number of samples, you’ll get more details. Take samples of an audio signal is like recording a video of a fast moving object: the higher the frame rate (sampling frequency), you’ll capture more depth and detail, the final product will be smoother. For example, you’re filming a video of a cheetah running through the savannah. At 24 frames per second, you’ll be able to say that it is a cheetah, although you will see blur. At 1000 frames per second, it is possible to see all the whiskers of the cheetah, count its spots and notice its tail is slightly kinked toward the end. Again, all of this is a greater detail. The audio sample so you can think in similar terms.
Bit depth: refers to the number of bits of information taken in each sample. If we continue with the analogy of the video, the bit depth is equivalent to the number of pixels in each frame of video. Its greatest effect is in the dynamic range potential, the difference between how soft it may sound potentially loud music. In practical terms, a greater depth means that there will be a highest rate of bits (or more bits per second) involved in the file. This means bigger files and the need for more storage space.
This is the important part: the bit depth and the sampling frequency of the audio with CD quality is 16-bit and 44.1 kHz, respectively. The audio Hi-Res, in both, have values of 24 bits and 48 kHz, values higher than the CD, although other files offer even greater. A higher sampling frequency and greater bit depth should give more details, subtleties and nuances in the music and in the frequency range expanded (deeper bass, treble higher). In theory, all of this translates into music more realistic, deep and rich.
There is a special relationship between the two values that allow to achieve a high audio resolution, even with a bit depth of only 1. The key is to increase the sampling rate dramatically. DSD, the file format used by Super Audio CD, only captures 1 bit of information, but it does so at a speed of 2.8224 MHz and 22.5792 MHz (512 times that of CD audio), depending on the version of DSD.
What are the types of files?
To store audio Hi-Res, you need a file type that can support these bit depths and sampling frequencies. The MP3 not able to do so, so you’ll see music and high-resolution formats such as AIFF, ALAC, FLAC, WAV or DSD. The FLAC tends to be the most used and the level of quality most common is 24-bit / 96 kHz, although some FLAC files are also available in 24-bit / 192 kHz.
The major drawback of the music files in high resolution is that they tend to be huge compared to MP3. A song encoded with FLAC 24-bit / 192 kHz can be 20 times larger than the same track at the highest level of quality MP3 (320 kbps / 44.1 kHz). To illustrate: Babylon Sisters, the first song from the album Gaucho from Steely Dan in MP3 format 320 kbps takes up roughly 5.3 MB of space. The version FLAC 24-bit / 96 kHz occupies 124 MB. If you do not have space, here we will explain to you how you can transform your FLAC files to MP3.
All these file formats are open, so that can be implemented by manufacturers of devices without paying for licenses. Good news those who are worried about a format war or compatibility issues.
Do you need a special equipment?
Yes. In the first place, the device must have a digital to analog converter (DAC) capable of processing audio files Hi-Res. Today, most computers and Blu-ray players come with a DAC. Not so for cell phones. Most of the Android devices modern support high resolution audio, both in software as in hardware, unlike the iPhone.
But the device can play audio files of high resolution, does not mean that it will sound better that a high-quality MP3. The quality of a DAC, amplifier, and headphones or speakers plays an important role. For example, although most computers have a DAC to process audio files Hi-Res, not all of them do a good job; even when they do, the headphone output may be poor. Music players, high-resolution dedicated as those manufactured by Sony, Fiio, Pioneer or the line ThinQ from LG, are your best options: are designed specifically to provide a great experience high resolution audio.
The same thing happens with headphones or speakers. The ones that come with an iPhone are not good enough for the audio of low resolution, and less in Hi-Res. You need a pair of headphones to appreciate the nuances that music has to offer, high resolution.
This does not mean that you have to spend a fortune to get high resolution audio. For example, a DAC USB $100 dollars will transform the sound quality you get out of your computer, even with a hearing aid, of modest price, like the Sennheiser 558.
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