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What is Hi Res Audio: A Beginner’s Guide

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When CDs first rolled out a few decades ago, it revolutionized music by providing hi-res audio. It promised to deliver the ‘perfect sound’ which tapes and records fell short at. Indeed, it offered better quality audio, but it also has its drawbacks.

With the emergence of digital recording, we are now able to have the best audio experience. In this article, we’ll discuss all about hi-res audio, how to listen to it, and the best websites where to download such type of music.


What is hi-res audio?

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High-resolution audio, or simply known as hi-res audio, are audio files with the highest quality which exceeds that of a CD. A CD operates at only 44.1 kHz/16-bit in sampling frequency and bit depth. An audio file is considered hi-res if it operates more than that.

Music files in hi-res format have larger file sizes than those in MP3 format. In fact, that is one of the reasons why iPods and MP3 players can hold so much music. The MP3 format is compressed, which also decreases the quality of its audio. On the other hand, hi-res audio uses the highest quality digital recordings, therefore having significantly larger file sizes.

Hi-res music uses file formats such as WAV, AIFF, ALAC, and FLAC. A minute of audio using these formats is usually equivalent to 10 to 15 MB. That means one song would equal to approximately 50 to 70 MB.

This is also one of the reasons why hi-res audio didn’t progress as fast as it should. Its massive file size can’t be accommodated by most music players. You’ll need to get the right hardware to be able to download and play it. Some music producers won’t even embrace hi-res music yet because “it’s not mainstream enough.”

Fortunately, storage isn’t as novel as it was before. Plus, there are better-quality hardware and faster downloading now. Hi-res audio has become more accessible today, and you can now download songs in this format.


Pros and cons of downloading Hi-Res Audio

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Is hi-res audio worth the money, gear, and bandwidth it takes to download it? Definitely.

Hi-res music surely has its advantages. If you’re an audiophile, listening to music in hi-res can amplify your listening experience. The acoustics have better depth and clarity, thanks to the clean recording. It also delivers the entire sound range from the artist’s original recording. This lets you experience the original content that the artist intended it to be.

However, hi-res audio also has its drawbacks. Some of it includes the following:

Playback hardware — To be able to get the full hi-res music experience, you will need additional gears to listen to it. A digital-to-analog converter (DAC) and a pair of good quality headphones will do for audiophiles. Upgrading your equipment to these might burn a hole in your pocket. The good news is that it can be worth the investment. Some computers have built-in DACs, but it’s highly recommended that you get a separate one. It improves not just hi-res music, but regular compressed files as well.

Recording quality — Not all genres and songs sound good in hi-res. This is especially true for songs that are heavy on distortion and effects. If you want to easily distinguish the differences in equipment, listen to jazz, classical, and folk music. The unprocessed recording and acoustic instruments make it sound better in hi-res format.

Physiological complication — Even if you own the highest quality gear, it will still depend on how your ears process the audio. Each human ear is different, and there could be complications that can affect your hearing of hi-res. One example is if you’ve had ear infections in the past. It could have resulted in low-frequency hearing loss. Or if you’ve been constantly exposed to noise, you could have high-frequency noise-induced hearing loss.

If you want to be able to experience hi-res music, it’s best to remember a few things. Make sure that you have the best playback hardware that you can get. Take note that not all music will sound good in hi-res. And finally, manage your expectations whenever you listen to music labeled as hi-res.


What do you need to play hi-res audio?

Not all devices can play hi-res audio. Thus, it’s important to know if your device supports files in its formats or not. You’ll also be able to determine if you’ll need to upgrade or make do with your current device.


Desktop computers are the most ideal devices to play hi-res audio in, although you might need computer speakers to optimize your sound trip. This is also where you’ll be downloading hi-res music. Any computer will do, but make sure to download a hi-res media player software. Otherwise, you won’t be able to enjoy it. Here are our picks for the best computer speakers under $50.


There are certain smartphone brands and models that support hi-res audio. Sony Xperia is the leading smartphone for this. Additionally, Samsung and LG also offer a few models that support hi-res audio. If you’re using an iPhone, you can plug it into a DAC to enable hi-res listening experience.


How to listen to Hi-Res audio?

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Below are the steps you need to do to be able to listen to hi-res audio:

Step 1: Download hi-res audio player software

Before you can enjoy high-definition music, you must have the right software. Since hi-res audio must be downloaded to your computer, you need a media player that supports its formats.

There are many hi-res audio players that are available today. You can try out BitPerfect, Amarra Hifi, or Audirvana for PCs. There are also hi-res music player apps available too. Check out Radsone, Onkyo, or Neutron.

Step 2: Get a digital-to-analog converter (DAC)

As mentioned above, a separate DAC is recommended if you want the full hi-res experience. All gadgets that use sound have built-in DACs, but it’s better to get a dedicated one. High-quality DACs can easily cost a thousand dollars, but there are also well-performing and affordable ones. Plus, you can choose between portable, desktop, or USB-type DACs.

Some of the best DAC brands include iFix, Audiolab, and Creative.

Step 3: Invest in high-quality speakers or headphones

To ensure that you get to listen to hi-res music at its best, the rest of your gear should be high-quality as well. Computer speakers with a good subwoofer will do the trick. You can also get high-quality headphones using an HRA-capable player.


Where to download hi-res audio

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Once you have the right hardware, it’s time to look for websites to download hi-res audio from. Here are the top 5 websites you can get the best audio streaming or download:

1. HDtracks

Available formats: AIFF, ALAC, FLAC, WAV

HDtracks has one of the most extensive collections of downloadable hi-res audio. You can find various genres in different file formats, like pop, rock, jazz, and more. Most importantly, the sample rates they offer can be as high as 352kHz/24-bit.

Launched in 2008, HDtracks proves to be one of the most reliable websites when downloading hi-res music. Unfortunately, they don’t offer free hi-res audio streaming. However, their online store does offer a competitive price.

2. Acoustic Sounds Super HiRez

Available formats: ALAC, FLAC, DSD

Looking for direct stream digital (DSD) audio files? Acoustic Sounds Super HiRez has the largest catalog of this and more. Whether you’re looking for classic albums or newly-released songs, you’ll surely find it in this website.

While hi-res music is known to be quite expensive, this website begs to differ. It doesn’t have hi-res audio download free for users, but their prices are definitely affordable. It has also been around for more than 20 years now, so it’s sure to be reliable.

3. Qobuz

Available formats: ALAC, FLAC, WAV, AIFF, MP3, AAC, WMA

Qobuz is easily your all-in-one hi-res music streaming website. Aside from buying and downloading songs and albums, you can also stream here too. Since they have their own online music store, you can also pre-order hi-res albums and singles in here.

If you’re an audiophile, subscribing to Qobuz Sublime Plus streaming is recommended. Aside from streaming songs, you can also download music at a discounted price. If you purchase albums frequently, then this will help you save more.

4. Chandos

Available formats: WAV, WAM, AIFF, ALAC, FLAC

Classical music lovers will surely love this website. Chandos, formerly known as the Classical Store, houses over a million classical and jazz music. Aside from hi-res file formats, a lot of CD-quality music is also offered here.

In addition to music, you can also find audiobooks here. From Mark Twain to Haruki Murakami, you won’t run out of titles to choose from.

5. ProStudio Masters

Available formats: ALAC, AIFF, DSD

Whatever song or music you’re looking for, ProStudio Masters is sure to have it. Getting their songs straight from the record labels, there’s no doubt you’ll only get the highest quality audio. They even feature movie soundtracks in hi-res formats!

Fortunately, all albums are priced reasonably. You can even play a hi-res audio sample of all the songs in an album.


Final Thought

High-resolution audio is essential to enjoy music at its best. It gives crisps and dynamics to your music. However, it’s not necessary to download them as they tend to eat up so much of your storage space. Streaming is a great option for this type of audio file. It’s also important to note that hi-res is gaining more and more traction from the largest music platforms. Some music streaming platforms like Tidal and Primephonic have already started to offer high fidelity tracks. We still don’t when will the other big players such as Spotify and Apple Music will follow suit. But one thing is for sure, they certainly will.

What is Hi Res Audio: A Beginner’s Guide

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