Unlike high resolution video there’s no universal standard for high-resolution audio, but in general it’s considered to be any higher than the sampling rates that CD playback offers. High-Resolution Audio (HRA) or High-Definition Audio (HD Audio) is a term used by recording and hi-fi audio retailers for audio files having the highest quality of sound reproduction.
What exactly is High-Resolution Audio?
Audio delivered in a sound quality that’s as close to the source recording as possible is Hi-Resolution audio, also referred to as HD Audio. Audio files mastered from CD quality or higher (48 kHz/20-bit or higher) music sources and are capable of reproducing the full spectrum of sound from recordings constitutes as Hi-Resolution Audio. This represents what the artists, producers, and engineers originally intended for the listener to hear.
Most digital audio systems encode analogue, the sound we hear, into digital for storage and transmission using a system called Pulse Code Modulation (PCM). Two factors determine the quality of a digital recording: bit depth and sampling frequency. Bit depth is the detailed information stored in each sample. The sample rate is the rate of frequency being transmitted per second. If the technical lingo used above confuses you, here is a detailed explanation all about bit rate, sampling rate and bit depth.
If you are a fan of music and love spending time with it, then choose the best ways to go about it, it's as simple as that. One important way to do that is to always go with HD (High-Definition) audio.
When a file is recorded, it is done at around 16 bits and 44.1 kHz which is around 9000 kbps, organically, so to speak. If you have ever purchased a CD of your favourite band, you get audio in this format at 1400 kbps. The very popular MP3 file format you listen to every day is at a lower and compressed rate ranging between 64 to 320 kbps. When a file that big (9000 kbps) is compressed to make it smaller and thus easily portable, the original file will obviously lose a few of its characteristics in the process.
Other than MP3, there are many other file extensions too. A file extension is a format for saving data. Let us go through some file extensions and understand how they affect the music that we listen to.
For starters, there are lossless audio formats like WAV, FLAC, ALAC and AIFF. These audio formats are used for the highest quality digital recordings in studios. The file size for such a format is around 10 to 15 MB per minute of audio. So, one song in this lossless format would be around 50 to 70 MB.
With smartphones and portable MP3 players being the go-to source for most modern music listeners, lossless audio formats are not ideal to be carried around. Due to storage constraints, MP3 became a very popular format for audio, loss of quality notwithstanding. Normally, you won’t notice the difference as MP3 is coded for a continual experience and most people do not have a trained ear for such things. However, using a good headphone is a sure-shot way to find and understand the difference between the two formats.
So, how different is high-resolution audio compared to compressed MP3 files? Other than the bitrate and quality difference, it is evident that if the size is reduced by compression, some information is lost in the process. This of course results in a reduction in audio quality. But a variety of techniques are employed to trick the brain into making the MP3 seem ‘fuller’ than it actually is. This is done mainly by exploiting psychoacoustics to remove parts of the sound that have the least effect on quality. This ends up making the audio ‘lossy’.
Now that we’ve understood the difference, how do we upgrade and listen to High-Resolution music?
There are many sources for getting a high-quality audio experience. If you like carrying music around in your pocket, portable music players are your option. Companies like Astell&Kern, Shanling, Sony and Cayin make perfectly excellent sounding players that support a variety of hi-res audio formats. You can explore the entire range of Hi-Res Music Players here.
You could also buy hi-res music online from reputed sources like HDtracks, HighResAudio, Primephonic and many more. You can buy an official CD and rip it and add those files to your player too. A less tiring and convenient affair is using Hi-Res streaming apps like Apple Music, TIDAL or Qobuz, which are online High-Res streaming services.
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Jog your memory a little bit here to the first time you switched from a CRT to an OLED Flat screen television or when you switched from 144p to 2160p on a YouTube video? That’s how you’d feel when you switch from Lossy audio to that of Hi-Res audio format.