What is High Resolution Audio? Now There’s an Answer
New definitions should make shopping easier.
June 13, 2014 by Grant Clauser

Audiophiles everywhere have been promoting and arguing the benefits of high resolution audio since they discovered that the CD version of The Wall  sounded less like high school than the vinyl version they bought at a yard sale. Manufacturers have caught on, and now many are promoting their products’ ability to play high resolution audio. At the same time, a few music distributors are playing the audio elitist game by offering high res files of music.

While most people these days are satisfied with Pandora, Spotify and their iTunes downloads, the trend toward higher quality music sources is apparently growing so much that the music and electronics industries got together to slap a firm-ish definition on high resolution audio. In a nutshell, high resolution audio is anything better than low resolution audio, even if it’s only medium resolution.

Seriously though, high resolution audio files played on the right equipment can sound much better than the typical music download, and much better than a streaming source, but explaining the difference can be complicated.

This stereophonic meeting of the minds on this issue included the Digital Entertainment Group (which throws one of the most coveted parties at CES), Consumer Electronics Association (which throws CES), and The Recording Academy (which threw me out of the Grammys once).  Also involved was Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group.

The definition they came up with sounds pretty simple—high resolution audio is any audio that came from a better-than CD master. In their own words high res is “lossless audio that is capable of reproducing the full range of sound from recordings that have been mastered from better than CD quality music sources.”

To compliment that definition, the group also came up with a list of descriptors for different qualities of masters:

  • MQ-P From a PCM master source 48 kHz/20 bit or higher; (typically 96/24 or 192/24 content)
  • MQ-A From an analog master source
  • MQ-C From a CD master source (44.1 kHz/16 bit content)
  • MQ-D From a DSD/DSF master source (typically 2.8 or 5.6 MHz content)

The definition here may seem a bit broad and include a lot that some audiophiles may not consider quite high-resolution enough, but it’s a good starting point and meant to add to some clarity to a previously more-vague term.

Will there be a logo to go along with this definition, and will music studios and electronics manufacturers begin using these guidelines? It’s all voluntary, so maybe. “When properly implemented, we believe this agreement will be welcomed by our members and the music community, enhancing their ability to improve the music creative process,” said Neil Portnow, president/CEO of The Recording Academy

Also check out these high resolution audio products:
The ABCs of DACs
OPPO Gives Us the HA-1 Amp to Pair with New PM-1 Headphones
Sony Launches Hi-Res Audio Receivers, Speakers, Blu-Ray Home Theater System
Autonomic’s Mirage Music Player Does Hi-Resolution with a Solid State Drive

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Grant Clauser - Technology and Web Editor, Electronic House
Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.

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