Entertainment Technology Explained

High-Resolution Audio: The Future of Music or a Scam?

Matthew Hughes 19-10-2015

Generally speaking, audiophiles and their money are easily parted — but genuine audiophiles are actually quite discerning with the equipment they choose to buy.


They won’t drop $200 on some Beats by Dre headphones (which look gaudy, are overpriced, and sound utterly mediocre What Are Celebrity-Endorsed Headphones And Why You Should Avoid Them Celebrity endorsements are nothing new. There is one type of product, however, that's become notorious for its epidemic of endorsements; headphones. Read More ). Instead, they’re likely to spend more but on the things that matter, dropping thousands of dollars on ultra-high-end headphones and/or speakers.

But would they spend $400 on an MPR player just because its feature-list boasts something called “High-Resolution Audio”? Good question.

What Is High-Resolution Audio?

From the get-go, I want to stress something really important: High-Resolution Audio is not lossless audio.

When a CD is ripped and converted to MP3 (or any lossy format), it is compressed How Does File Compression Work? How does file compression work? Learn the basics of file compression and the difference between lossy versus lossless compression. Read More . The advantage of this is you can store a five-minute song in 4 MB (it would be around 50 MB in Compact Disk Digital Audio, or CD-DA, format).

But there’s a downside: in the process, you lose some of the richness of that original source audio. Audio data is lost in that compression process. This video visualizes this process beautifully:


Lossless audio is merely audio which hasn’t undergone a lossy compression process How Audio Compression Works, and Can You Really Tell the Difference? In this article, we'll take a look at how music compression works, and whether it has any real effect on how your music actually sounds. Read More , and therefore has retained all of the original audio data. When you rip a CD to a lossless format like FLAC, the audio is effectively identical to the original CD-DA audio since nothing has been lost — hence, lossless.

High-Resolution Audio, on the other hand, is supposedly better than CD-DA. Yes, you heard that right. Better. What makes it better? Well, for starters, it has radically different audio bit depths and sampling rates.

Until recently, there was no standard criteria for High-Resolution Audio, but that changed in June 2014 when Warner, Universal Music Group, and Sony agreed upon an accepted definition. Before that, the only certainty was that it would feature sampling rates higher than 44.1 KHz and greater than 16-bit depths (the maximum threshold for CD-DA).



As of now, there are four different standards for High-Resolution Audio depending on the source of the audio. Generally, though, High Resolution Audio has a 192 KHz sampling rate and a 24-bit depth.

The end result is audio that’s supposed to be near-perfect in quality and sounds closer to what was recorded in the recording studio than any other medium. Supposedly, High-Resolution Audio faithfully recreates the studio master tracks in a way that CDs cannot.

Note: While High-Resolution Audio is often saved in lossless formats (e.g. FLAC), a lossless audio file not necessarily High-Resolution Audio.

What Do the Critics Say?

Ask around and you’ll hear some interesting responses. Some people say that the benefits of High-Resolution Audio are negligible, while others have accused it of being close to a scam.


In a blog post, the Xiph.org Foundation wrote:

“192kHz digital music files offer no benefits. They’re not quite neutral either; practical fidelity is slightly worse. The ultrasonics are a liability during playback.”

They were even more damning when it came to the subject of 24-bit, 192 KHz audio, describing it as “a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, a business model based on willful ignorance and scamming people”.


Indeed, there’s little evidence that High-Resolution Audio is perceptibly better than CD audio. Quite the contrary, the evidence appears to suggest otherwise.


A 2007 paper by Brad E. Mayer and David R. Moran described a double-blind trial where audio engineers, “dedicated audiophiles”, and audio-recording university students were played CD-quality audio and self-described High-Resolution Audio.

The result? No perceptible difference between CD-quality audio and High-Resolution Audio. That said, there are still thousands of audiophiles who swear by it and are willing to pay a premium for it.

What’s Needed to Play It?

If you want to listen to High-Resolution Audio, you’re going to need to buy some truly expensive equipment. There’s just no way around it.

Probably the most well-known High-Resolution Audio player is the PonoMusic PonoPlayer, which was launched by Neil Young in 2014.


Pono Music Portable Music Player, Black Pono Music Portable Music Player, Black Buy Now On Amazon $195.00

The Android-powered PonoPlayer costs $399 and comes with 64 GB of storage. That sounds like a lot, but remember, High-Resolution Audio files are big. One thing that the PonoPlayer has going for it is its quirky and endearing design, which looks more like a Fisher Price children’s toy than a top-shelf piece of audiophile gear.

Some critics — like ArsTechnica — have derided the PonoPlayer as “snake oil” while others — like Leo Laporte — have given it glowing reviews, hailing it as a significant step up from existing standards of audio equipment.

Then there’s the more budget-friendly FiiO X1 Music Player, which can be had for as little as $100. Although it looks the part, and it boasts some pretty impressive reviews, you can tell some corners have been cut in order for it to hit that price point. For instance, it doesn’t actually have any integrated storage. You have to buy a MicroSD card separately.


Fiio X1 High Resolution Lossless Music Player (Silver) Fiio X1 High Resolution Lossless Music Player (Silver) Buy Now On Amazon $384.99

Sony has also dipped its feet in the High-Resolution Audio player world with the Sony Walkman NWZA17SLV. Available on Amazon for $300, it sits right between the PonoPlayer and the FiiO X1.


Sony Walkman NWZA17SLV 64 GB Hi-Res Digital Music Player (Silver) Sony Walkman NWZA17SLV 64 GB Hi-Res Digital Music Player (Silver) Buy Now On Amazon

Not only does it support a smorgasbord of lossless formats, it also comes with 64 GB of storage, Bluetooth support, and an enduring 50-hour battery life.

Finding High-Resolution Songs

Let’s say you buy into it. Once you’ve got your High-Resolution Audio player, where can you get songs to play on it? As of now, your best option is to check out the PonoMusic download service.


Their catalog selection rivals most other sites, but you do pay a premium considering many albums here will cost you about $16. Although not all of their music is currently available in High-Resolution format, they’ve promised to issue upgrades to previously-purchased songs when they become available.

Will You Get One?

It’s worth noting that the value of a medium is often subjective. For example, some users find that vinyl is superior to digital 5 Reasons Why Vinyl Is Better Than Digital for Music Lovers Digital music may be more convenient, but there are still plenty of reasons to listen to vinyl records. Read More while others disagree vehemently Vinyl vs. Digital Music: 5 Reasons Why Digital Is Better In the age-old debate between vinyl music versus digital music, we think digital music wins. Here's why! Read More .

High-Resolution Audio isn’t without its detractors, but it’s also got a rabid base of adherents, all of whom are willing to pay a premium for this supposedly better-quality music.

Are you one of them? Do you listen to High-Resolution music? Are you thinking of getting a player? Or are you skeptical about the whole thing? Tell me about it in the comments below.

Image Credits: blue lines equalizer by anigoweb via Shutterstock, hand on mixer in the recording studio (via Shutterstock)Array of multicolored high end RCA style audio cords inserted into pre-amplifier jacks (via Shutterstock)

Related topics: Record Audio, Scams, Technology.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

Whatsapp Pinterest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Phil
    August 20, 2017 at 8:54 pm

    I bought a Fiio X3 about 4 years ago now. I have Sennheiser Momentum Over Ear headphones and have added a Fiio E12A headphone amplifier. I haven't spent that much money but can say there is definitely a different feel when listening to 24/192 wav files.

  2. Dave Coles
    April 18, 2017 at 9:43 pm

    I've made good conversions from vinyl to WAV files. Then to play them on my normal resolution music player, I convert to WMA. It's noticeably better than MP3 but uses more memory.

  3. Muawiyah Alanazi
    January 22, 2017 at 4:48 am

    this subject can be easily compared to the nowadays phone makers' trend of manufacturing "octa-core" processors where the end-user will make no use of it in the lifetime of the device; i.e. useless headroom.

  4. Glenn Shaikun
    December 28, 2016 at 2:51 am

    I have used all file formats including all of the hi-rez formats. Like all recordings some seem good and worth it, some don't. Music really recorded/captured well in the studio tends to sound good on all the formats.

    Biggest deifference maker to my ears is the electronics chain you play it back through. The not inexpensive SONY HAP Z1ES makes all my digital files - and my whole system -sound better. At the computer I use better "DAC's". where are you play your music from the computer through the USB plug-in device and then out. The SONY I described has outstanding sound quality. But for a few hundred ( and of course on up) you can greatly change the quality of sound.

    1. If listening via computer buy a USB DAC like the Dragonfly or AudioEngine. $150-$200. Very nice improvement Consider using JRiver instead of any other pc media player. $50 one time. Simply better fuller richer sound than ITunes or WMA.

    2. For home listening consider a well reviewed Digital Media Player where you store (rip) all your CD''s and can play internet radio and Pandora or Spotify with superior sound quality due to better DAC and circuitry. Figure at least $500. But well worth it for years of better sounding and more convenient listening.

    3. Pandora and Spotify premiums up the bitrates and sound very clean and nice, especially Spotify. VERY noticeable improvement over MP3, or ITunes. and you can play anything you want anytime
    anywhere (but not cheap at $10 a month)

    4. Internet Radio. Off any computer, smart phone, tablet. Thousands of digital stations. A few are audiophile with higher bitrates and sound similar to Spotify premium. (320k instead of the usual 128k of MP3's. Though a 128k internet station can still sound quite good).

    5. Buy CD's. The ARE lossless and uncompressed. And cheaper often than even downloading MP3's. Rip into lossless format of your choosing. Play back on the best you can afford in DAC or digital upgraded player. Play a better sounding streaming service (Pandora premium only $4 a month) You can try a few hi-rez files on some PC software like JRiver but I'd say you can save the money by buying CD's and playing or ripping.
    Add a better DAC either outboard like the USB's or part of a better digital music player whenever you can.

    And if you're already happy with what you're doing - forget I brought it up ?

    • Doesnt really matter
      August 29, 2017 at 12:05 pm

      Music player cannot make music sound better, thinking that jriver player does it better than foobar or any other player is placebo.

      For home listening use PC with player of choice and terabytes of HDD storage. Use ASIO. Don't forget to get decent DAC and headphones. There is nothing more to it.

      Buy CD's to support artists, torrent the music you can't afford.

  5. tomaszewskipaul55@yahoo.com
    May 22, 2016 at 9:41 pm

    This is starting to go the way megapixels did for camera's five to six years ago. We finally realized that at a certain point, we couldn't tell the difference between a picture at 25 megapixels and the same picture at 40 megapixels. At some point we will not be able to hear the difference at any bitrate.

    • Ken
      January 25, 2017 at 10:46 pm

      You are correct, for me I just want my music to sound as close to what the artist / producer had in mind. I like to rip my cd's / albums to flac or wma, and listen through flat eq headphones where I am hearing the music as it was meant to be heard. As you said once you get to a certain resolution, you probably cannot tell the difference. I can totally tell the difference between flac and mp3. The highs and mids are much crisper. I am not a snob about it though, I just like the way it sounds. I wouldn't sit there and bash an mp3 if I heard it, I still listen to them if I have no other option.

  6. Andrew Hills
    February 21, 2016 at 11:38 am

    Although i now purchase 24bit 96KHz files through Qobuz I'm sure i can detect a difference but after much reading i believe its more about the transfer and the recording that these files are taken/converted from.I have only ever bought Two very high res recordings "Dark Knight" from the Batman movie and Metallica Black album (the Metallica is known to be a top class recording but they actually sounded worse than the lower res version with the equipment i have, i don't bother with anything above 24/96 now (with an annual sub with Quobuz the 24/96 is not much more or the same price as 16/44.

  7. Anonymous
    October 20, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    We all have a pair of 'hearing devices', both with slightly different perceptions, and these are our only sound input devices. They are limited, different from one person to another, and there are also ear physiology and sound perception which give the input data some post treatment. Reading about the many sound systems and their differences will not change peoples inability to listen to and enjoy - or neglect - music and sound tracks. After all, we are mainly talking about music and sound tracks, right? Not sound patterns that are used to identify what is the best noise figure or lowest THD. Yes, I was raised amongst analog audio, I read RMS, PMPO, IHF but I also deal with digital audio. In fact, higher sampling rates and data depth will create bigger files and much more data from the same audio piece.

    But will audiophiles actually listen to them? If so, they may also suffer from listening to so too many noise everywhere it must give them headaches. I'm not skeptical about technology neither about peoples' inability to listen, I just agree with the fact that whatever is added to sound systems that goes beyond human hearing limits is a waste. Same applies to hi-res image systems: if one cannot see, why bother? My thoughts.

    • Matthew Hughes
      October 26, 2015 at 12:52 pm

      Interesting. Thanks for your comment!

  8. Anonymous
    October 20, 2015 at 7:58 am

    Some cheap Hi Res options: My old Blackberry Playbook and Neutron music player sounds good through my Epoz Atimate powered speakers. My Blackberry Passport plays 24 bit 192 kHz files. My Raspberry Pi with Runeaudio streams Hi Res files from my Pc and handles up to 96 kHz but stutters a bit on 192 due, I think, to wifi bandwidth.

    As for sound quality relative to 16 bit 44 kHz the jury is out. I think the quality of the original recording may be more important.

    • Matthew Hughes
      October 26, 2015 at 12:51 pm

      Although I'm not convinced by High Res audio, I appreciate the hints. You can get Playbooks pretty cheap on eBay now, which is cool.

  9. Anonymous
    October 19, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    I own a substantial library of SACD and DVD-Audio content, which I've converted to .FLAC using an old PS3. SACD hardware and discs are exotic but far and away the easiest way to get high resolution audio. SACD content is generally created from remastered studio tapes, a clean source. SACD and DVD-Audio content also can have more than stereo audio mixes, which can be interesting for some sorts of music and muddy and awful for others.

    In file trading communities, another option for obtaining high resolution recordings of LPs involves using professional grade recording hardware to make high resolution samples from vinyl. In that case, the turntable, tonearm and needle will influence the recorded output as much as the quality of the source disc. I can honestly say that I can't hear the difference between that sort of high res recording and something that came off a CD, but in many cases, the recordings in question were never issued on CD in the first place.

    • Matthew Hughes
      October 26, 2015 at 12:52 pm

      Good to know. Cheers!

    • JD
      November 23, 2015 at 6:01 pm

      Truth! Agree Likefun