High Resolution Audio – Editorial by Robert Harley

The Absolute Sound Issue 244 June 2014

High-resolution digital audio is rapidly approaching a tipping point. No longer a niche format for audiophiles, high-res is poised to become a mainstream alternative to MP3 and CD-quality audio. As I noted in my editorial in Issue 238, the major hardware manufacturers, music labels, and the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) have joined forces to educate the public about the more compelling listening experience that higher-resolution offers. A lot has happened in the six months since I wrote that editorial. Most significantly, the high-res download service Pono Music from Neil Young was launched with massive media exposure. The response to the Pono Kickstarter campaign was instant and overwhelming; Pono surpassed its $800,000 target in a few hours, and as of this writing has raised $6.2 million from more than 18,000 backers. Music fans clearly want a better listening experience and are willing to pay for it.

To illustrate just how far high-res has transitioned from the audiophile fringe into the mainstream, Sprint just announced a smartphone with high-res capability. The HTC One (M8) Harman Kardon edition can not only store and play high-res files (up to 192kHz/24-bit), but has been designed with an emphasis on sound quality. With a 192/24 DAC, dedicated headphone amplifier and premium Harman Kardon headphones, a circuit developed by Harman Kardon that improves the quality of older compressed files, and up to 160GB of storage, the Sprint phone is aimed at bringing high-res to the mass market. It's as much an audio product as a phone. Sprint is also offering six months of free Spotify with the HTC One along with Sprint Sound Sessions, a package that includes premium streaming music services, a music store, and advanced access to new releases. Is there anything more mainstream than a Sprint mobile phone?

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