High Resolution Audio

Tue 24 Jun 2014

These days it's easier than ever for music lovers to access studio master quality audio as downloads, and the arrival of higher quality streaming services is also very positive. And as a sign of the appetite for higher quality audio, the launch of Neil Young's Pono music system, set to encompass everything from mastering to download to the hardware on which music is played, has been an amazing success so far. 

Pono went to Kickstarter with a target of raising $800,000 to fund its development; already more than $6m has been pledged, and it's encouraging that Young was able to harness the power of the demonstrations to some of music's greats in his Lincoln Continental Mark IV to make a powerful case for high resolution audio. 

Take the demonstration to the target audience, and that audience will appreciate what you're trying to achieve.

It's sad to see how many people have become accustomed to the hard and compressed sound of MP3s, not least because they haven't been exposed to anything better, and amazing to see the joy expressed by people in the music business when the music sounds real and uncompressed. The power of a good demo chimes with all of us at Arcam.

The shift from downloads to streaming has been gathering pace but until recently this has been at the cost of sound quality, as services tried to cope with limited bandwidth. Now all that's changing, and in recent months we've had the pleasure of using and listening to the Qobuz service. 

We're impressed: it's streets ahead of any streaming service we've heard before, with more than 15 million tracks available on the desktop in uncompressed CD quality. Yes, it's more expensive than lesser streaming services but in my opinion, if you care about sound quality, the extra £10 a month for more than twice the amount of digital information makes it irresistible.

HD tracks is expected to launch in the UK later this summer which should make the whole job of getting mainstream music in studio master quality a whole lot easier, and Sony has launched a new range of high performance portable players to join the Astell and Kern range and the very affordable Fiio models.

It seems to me that the industry should have coined the term Ultra High Definition Audio rather than High Resolution Audio, but whatever it's called, the growing realisation from record companies and artists that people love better sound and aren't happy with low res MP3 heralds a brighter future for music lovers and hi-fi manufacturers alike. 

Even if we manage to get people listening to uncompressed CD-quality music rather than MP3s that will be a success, but it will be even better if the mass-market embraces beyond-CD formats, as may well happen with the next generation of iPhones and iPads. After all, it looks like Apple's new iOS8 system will be compatible with high resolution audio, and without a doubt this will also help raise the profile of studio master sound when it launches in the autumn.   

Bring it on! 

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