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CES 2015: The Unrequited Love of Hi-Res Audio
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CES 2015: The Unrequited Love of Hi-Res Audio

Despite previous lukewarm reaction and customer confusion, the world of Hi-Res Audio is here.

Since I began covering technology for Popzara I’ve had a vested interest of the high-resolution audio (Hi-Res Audio) trend. Admittedly after a few years, the movement hasn’t quite taken off as anticipated with some harsh criticisms doubting the practically and necessity of such a abrupt industry-led shift, but there’s been progress as companies and a few guests promoted the merits of lossless digital sound throughout CES this week.

Recapturing the instrumental essence of analog has been the dreams of affluent audiophiles and engineers who believe Compact Discs and the convenience of MP3s have set audio quality back decades to just “good enough” – a sentiment many would agree with today. To that end, there’s been an underlying initiative to get back to the fundamentals despite vague marketing and a premise that only truly obsessive listeners can get behind so far like Super Audio CDs (SACD), DVD-Audio, and the DSD format.

I won’t get too deep into how Hi-Res Audio works because there’s nothing defined other than two general things: the first being that content (music) sampling rates must be beyond the PCM 16-bit/44.1KHz (44,100 Hz or 1,411 kbps) and lesser rates we’re used to, with Hi-Res usually at 24-bit/96KHz (4,608 kbps) minimum. Secondly, the components are (or expected to be) equipped with higher quality transducers, drivers, and woofers to properly transmit the sound itself.

It’s a very broad classification for consumers grounded in reality but this didn’t stop the likes of Sony from presenting the largest and probably literal stable of offerings from recorders, DAC systems (UDA-1), headphones (MDR-1ADAC), to even a Walkman Player (NWZ-A17SLV) to name a few. Audio-Technica has jumped on the bandwagon too with their ATH-MSR7 over-ear, ATH-CKR10 in-ear; and their flagship ATH-W1000Z High-Fidelity headphones that feature teak wood housing that’s made to control driver airflow focus and magnesium frames to eliminate unnatural resonances, to name a couple of refinements. Perhaps the most prolific debut was Pono Music and their personal PonoPlayer spearheaded by iconic Rock legend Neil Young, who’s on a personal mission to bring unspoiled music back to our ears.

To find out if high fidelity music was truly worth it I did get a demo at a private Wharfedale showing in their suite, with Jazz instrumentals and some Beatles tracks played locally and FLAC streaming by TIDAL. If you do spend time listening to a lot of tunes you’ll most likely notice the improved range and openness the added data brings, it’s definitely a cleaner and unprecedented sound with unsavory distortion eliminated at higher room-filling volumes, even with a basic front speakers/subwoofer orientation. Of course, having a prime-$700 setup like the Wharfedale Diamond 10 system and/or aforementioned Hi-Res compatible headphones are prerequisites to experience the superior quality.

Right now though, Hi-Res Audio remains limited to premium Hi-Fi, home cinema AV receivers, and on-demand services tied to monthly subscriptions; no matter how you look at it that’s going to be a tough line for regular people to cross. As for myself, I’m hoping the trend eventually catches on and is finally coordinated right; otherwise, manufacturers can only hope for niche appeal in a rigorously crowded market.

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About the Author: Herman Exum