Understanding High-Resolution Audio

Understanding High-Resolution Audio

Understand High-Resolution Audio, its properties, how it's produced and how it enhances your music in this simple article on your journey to being an audiophile.
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When quality matters, shouldn’t you go for the best? If you love cars, you’d prefer buying an Audi over a Maruti. Similarly, when it comes to audio, go for High-Resolution.

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?

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, allow us to explain things in a simpler way. Imagine driving your car on a six-lane highway. So, at a time 6 cars can travel at the same speed side by side. This no. of cars together is the bit depth and the speed of the cars is the bit rate.

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. Allow us to help you understand what exactly is High-Resolution? Let’s get into the details.

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.  So, do you now understand the difference between everyday MP3s and high-resolution music?

Other than MP3, there are many other file extensions. 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.

Hence, a standard song would be huge in terms of size. Thinking of the size of a Theater song would be simply scary. This, the bulky size of a song, is the reason music was compressed into formats like MP3, AAC and WMA among others. These audio files range between 64 to 320 kbps. Such an audio file would fit your song in 5MB. Convenient, isn’t it? But what about quality? When one can fit more songs into a device, a tendency to choose quantity over quality does tend to creep in. This resulted in MP3 becoming 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.

How different is high-resolution audio and 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, Sony and Cayin make perfectly excellent sounding players that support a variety of hi-res audio formats. Some even have an inbuilt DAC to further enhance the audio output. Besides these, smartphones like Sony Xperia Z5, Huawei p10 plus, LG V20 and ZTE Axon 7 support High-Res audio, if you didn’t know.

You could also buy hi-res music online from reputed sources like HDtracks, HighResAudio, Primephonic and many more. Websites like Technics tracks and Twaang offer Hindi and Indian classical music in HD as well for download and streaming. You can buy an official CD and rip it and add those files to your player too. A less tiring affair is using Tidal or Qobuz, which are online High-Res streaming services.

Thanks to growing awareness about hi-res audio and its subsequent demand, coupled with memory storage devices that seem to keep increasing in capacity while shrinking in size, high-res audio is making an epic comeback. With hi-fi brands like Bowers and Wilkins, Linn and mobile brands like Samsung, LG getting into this market, high-resolution audio is definitely here to stay.

You know that wonderful feeling when you’re syncing with those feel-good factors that your favourite song brings out in you? HD Audio can amplify that experience a 100 times, at least. If this is the first time you’re hearing about HD audio and what not, do not worry. Understanding and appreciating it will come with time. At least begin on the right path, the tunes will carry you there one day.