What Exactly Is Hi-Res Audio, and Should I Care About It?
Pitchfork.com reports that record labels have always salivated at the opportunity to re-sell you their catalog in some new, “improved” format. Their latest update comes in the form of high-resolution digital audio: Music delivered at better-than-CD quality, intended to come as close as possible to the fidelity of a record’s original masters. Audiophiles have been chasing the hi-fi dragon for decades, and it’s mostly remained a niche market. But with the proliferation of streaming services draining music fans’ wallets, the industry is looking for a way to leverage a “premium” product at likewise premium prices to one of its most fervent user bases.
Enter high-resolution streaming. Record labels would love to see this become a trend, of course, regardless of whether consumers will actually benefit from it; there’s the potential for big profits from minimal effort. The question is, should you buy in? If you pay extra for a service like Tidal Masters, will you even hear a difference on your current headphones or speaker setup? And there are caveats: Although some labels are announcing with the Digital Entertainment Group(DEG) that they want to start licensing hi-res files for streaming services, that doesn’t mean much if streaming platforms don’t adequately support them.
To see if hi-res streaming is worth the hype, we spoke with Tony Gillis, a mastering engineer who uses hi-res files in his work; Dr. Julie Glick, an audiologist who works with musicians; and David Chesky, a musician who also runs the hi-res music retailer HDTracks. Their answer? “It depends.” But first, let’s parse what “hi-res audio” really means.