High-resolution audio looks to be the next “big” thing. But what exactly is it and why is it important for everyone interested in listening? That’s the question we posed to David Fisher, Sr. Manager, Audio, SHARP ELECTRONICS MARKETING COMPANY OF AMERICA.
So what exactly is High Resolution Audio?
David Fisher: In its most basic form, High Resolution Audio refers to any digital music format with fidelity is better than CD quality. Fidelity is essentially a function of two elements – Dynamic Range and Frequency Response. The more data points (bit samples) captured and the broader the range of frequencies (measured in kHz) captured, the higher thefidelity.
David Fisher: While we would like to claim simply that a high-resolution audio file offers superior sound quality, there is too much subjectivity in that statement. The main advantage is that with more data captured, a Hi Res file is closer to the original sound quality that musicians and engineers captured in the studio. Whether you agree with me that the Hi Res file is richer and fuller, or that nuances and subtleties present in a 24 bit / 96kHz .flac or .wav file cannot be heard in the .mp3 version of the same recording can be debated. What cannot be argued is the Hi Resolution file contains greater dynamic range and frequency response than a compact disc or .mp3 formatted file. If the opportunity exists to choose the file with more data, closer to the original, than why not choose that file type to ensure a more enjoyable music experience.
Is consumer access to high resolution audio a new thing?
David Fisher: Audiophiles have been enjoying Hi Res content for a number of years, but the general public is much less familiar with the concept. Industry developments in the last decade have been more focused on making all types of music quickly consumable, introducing .mp3 and subsequently, streaming services.
But the trend is shifting and over the last 2-3 years, companies like Sharp have made Hi Res audio more accessible, building products like the Sharp Universal High Resolution Audio Player that are more convenient to use and don’t require an IT degree to setup. The time is ripe for a convergence of more readily available content, both downloadable as well as hard media including Blu-Ray Audio and SACD, and easy-to-use hardware like the Sharp WH1000U that can play any type of Hi Res file. Ultimately, Hi Res will be driven by the recording industry. As more artists recognize the importance of capturing a Master recording in hi resolution as a way of ensuring the nuances of their music are not lost in the transfer to digital
What’s changed today with the advent of Hi Res audio players?
David Fisher: For one, download speeds have quickened and data storage has become less expensive, making it more convenient to build a Hi Res library today. Additionally, the advent of streaming has created a new appreciation of quality music. More and more people are using the popular streaming services for music discovery, and then turning to other delivery methods like Blu-Ray audio, SACD, Hi-Res downloads, etc. to augment their listening experience. Likewise, the technology for delivering true lossless music in a convenient way has caught up to the devices used for listening to compressed formats. Standards like WiSA (Wireless Speaker & Audio Association) can even deliver that better quality over a wireless platform.
Will portable players increase high-resolution awareness?
David Fisher: I don’t think portability will inherently grow the appeal of Hi Res audio. Appreciation for hi-res audio is more like active listening. Slowing down and concentrating on the quality of the performance; experiencing the sound as though you are there live at the time of the recording, whether in the studio or at a concert performance. That said, if I have the ability to listen to my hi-res collection at home AND “on the go” it certainly broadens the appeal. But I don’t see Hi Res “on the go” as the driving force behind the growth.
So component high resolution players, like that from Sharp, are seen as being part of the drive for bringing Hi Res audio into the home theater?
David Fisher: Absolutely. Let’s remember, the industry is known as AV, and that means Audio before Video. While the last 10 years has seen a shift in how people engage with Video, and the display and video content industries have done an exceptional job at revolutionizing that engagement; to truly appreciate video, you need great audio.
The new Sharp Universal Hi Res Audio Player has all of the functions you need to build a truly unique home theater experience, including an exceptional honeycomb Blu-Ray drive, 3 HDMI inputs, 4K upscaling, Wireless HDMI output to allow wireless video transfer up to 1080p, all the while providing hi resolution wireless audio, as well as pre-amplification. Built on the WiSA standard of interoperability, it can provide multi-channel output from 2.0 up to 7.1 channels. It has been dubbed the Most Innovative Home Theater product of 2015 by the Digital Entertainment Group (DEG).
What else needs to happen to make Hi Res audio more accessible to the general public?
David Fisher: Hi Res Audio will be an Artist driven medium. Recording artists and engineers are realizing they have the capability of providing the most authentic experience in the history of music and they are taking advantage of that technology. But it’s only going to be successful if we don’t “cheat” the public out of what is possible.
We need the recording and content delivery industries to be honest about what they are providing. Re-packaging a CD at 24 bit / 192 kHz is not going to provide the same effect as an original Hi Res Master Recording. We want music enthusiasts to appreciate the difference in fidelity of a Hi Res track from an .mp3 or CD. Listening to music in Hi Res is like enjoying your favorite indulgence. My wife loves chocolate. She can wax rhapsodic about the flavor, texture, richness, and other attributes of each morsel. To me, candy is candy. Hi Res music is like that. Some people may not appreciate the spatiality and separation that I hear listening to The Afro Cuban Latin Jazz Project – El Vuelo (AIX Records) but those who do should be able to reap the benefits of Hi Res audio.
Are there places where consumers can go to listen to Hi Res audio?
David Fisher: Retailers are embracing the importance of quality audio in their product offerings. Sharp has teamed up with content providers including AIX Records and HD Tracks to equip retailers with USB drives and Blu-Ray Audio discs (both of which can be played using the WH1000U) that they can use to demonstrate the sound quality of Hi Res Audio files.
Hi Res Audio will continue to gain traction. As more people have an opportunity to engage with the technology at retail, and mainstream media begin to introduce it to a broader audience, we will see the adoption go beyond the audiophile. As recording artists and engineers push for their vision to be brought to market as authentic as possible, and demand that it not be simply compressed for portability, music enthusiasts will recognize what they have been missing and will appreciate the opportunity to enjoy Hi Res audio.