The term ‘hi-res audio’ is being chucked about a lot these days, but what does it really mean? Is it like HD telly for our ears? How do we get it and do we need it?
IT’S A MARKETING TERM
Like a lot of things, high-resolution audio, or HRA, is a marketing term used by manufacturers – a bit like Full HD. There are technically no hard and fast rules to describe what standard-definition audio would be, but generally speaking, HRA describes a dynamic range that is greater than CD quality.
Companies like Sony, Warner Music Group and Universal Music Group are now using this term to describe a higher quality of music than we’ve been enjoying from streaming services like Spotify and Deezer.
The highest quality sound we can get from streaming services at the moment is 320kbps (kilobytes per second). If you check out the settings on your Spotify account, you’ll be given the option to stream music in normal quality (96kbps), high quality (160kbps) and extreme quality (320kbps).
The main difference being that if you’re listening to music on the go, when you’re not connected to a Wi-Fi network, you’ll be using that much data per second while enjoying a slightly better quality of music.
DOES IT SOUND ANY DIFFERENT?
When an artist records their music in the studio, that final mix will be the highest quality it will ever be. From there, the quality is compressed – really high and really low frequencies get chopped out – most of which the human ear can’t even comprehend.
HRA is an uncompressed version of that mix, so essentially you’ll be listening to the music exactly as your favourite artists intended.
CHECK IT OUT FOR YOURSELF
If you want to find out what all the fuss is about for yourself, there are a few options currently on the market.
Streaming services like HDtracks and Qobuz let you enjoy a lot of albums in what’s termed as 24-bit audio (another name for HRA). They do come in at a premium cost however, with HDtracks’ albums generally costing more than you would expect to pay in the shops, and Qobuz’ monthly subscription fee of £19.99 – twice that of Spotify and Deezer.
Alternatively, Neil Young (yes, that Neil Young) has started a company called PonoMusic. It produces an MP3 player-like device called the PonoPlayer (pictured above) which uses a custom streaming service that deals exclusively in HRA. The man himself was at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Vegas, and shipments of Pono are expected in the first quarter of 2015.
If you have any questions about high-resolution audio, don’t hesitate to drop us a comment below and we’ll get back to you.