A POINT OF VIEW: The Myth of ‘High Resolution’ audio

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There seems to be some misapprehension concerning 'hi-rez' audio which is surprising considering it is not a new thing, having been on the market well over a decade.

Firstly it is nothing like hi resolution video as some folk still seem to think. We all know that the more pixels you have the more detail you get and we have all experienced the clear difference that a hi-res video signal has to a standard definition one. But this is in no way comparative to audio which works completely differently.

I'm not a technical person but it is not that difficult to understand the basics.

We have bits - 16 bit, 48 bit and 96 bit.

We have sampling frequency - 44.1, 96, 192 KHz

Bits is amplitude and sampling frequency is wavelength. As we know any audio signal is a continuous emission of sound at continuously changing wavelengths and volumes

So the more bits you have the higher the dynamic range, the difference in volume between the quietest and the loudest signals on your recording.

The higher the sampling frequency, the higher the frequency of sound that can be re-produced. This is half the sampling frequency. So sampling at 96KHz we can reproduce sounds up to 48 KHz.

Lets take bits first. 16 bits gives a dynamic range of 110 dB. How much do we need? Well a good vinyl Lp might manage 45 dB of dynamic range. And no-one complained about lack of dynamic range on LP. So 110 is more than enough, well more than enough. So no need for more bits than 16

Now frequency - Even if you have really good hearing you will struggle to hear up to 20kHz, most people will not hear above 16Khz. Do we need to be able to reproduce sound above that level? Well it has ben argued that some few instruments do have overtones that go up higher than that even though we don't hear them we do hear their secondary effect at lower frequencies. That is the theory. In practice no-one can reliably tell the difference so if it is improving sound quality it is at best doing it at a tiny, infinitesimal amount.

So why do my hi rez files sound better than my red book CD copy of the same album?

Because when hi-res (SACD and DVD-A) were launched the record companies went back and painstakingly re-mastered a whole slew of titles from the original tapes, many dating back to the early 'Seventies. Needles to say they did a better job (more time, more money, better resources) than was done at the time, consequently they sound a lot better than the originals.

It isn't always that easy to find a 'hi-rez' and a red book version of the same master consequently a lot of the time people are comparing apples to oranges. The record companies are happy to keep that confusion going.

Now I agree that it is worth having some form of 'hi res' replay in order to hear those better masters when they are not also available in 16/44.1 - but can we please stop thinking/saying that there is 'more information' or 'more detail' or 'higher resolution' available because it just 'aint so

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