Is That All There Is?

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Sony and CEA's new "High Resolution Audio" initiative has got me thinking about higher resolution. Sony listed the following formats as "high resolution formats" in their press release - "PCM (44.1kHz/ 48kHz/ 88.2kHz/ 96kHz/ 176.4kHz/ 192kHz in 24 bit depth) and DSD (DSF, DSDIFF); plus a variety of music files including, MP3, WAV, WMA, AAC, FLAC, ALAC, ATRAC, ATRAC Advanced Lossless and and AIFF." Obviously it is in the audiophile nature to debate such things. And I've read heated discussions that relegate anything less than 88.2 kHz PCM as "standard resolution."

Regardless of the efficacy of putting MP3, and 44.1 kHz in with "high resolution formats" the main point here is that higher resolution is better than lossy lower resolution. It's hard to find ANY audiophile who would disagree with that statement. But is there a point where the resolution is "high enough?"

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Since the beginning of the digital era we have been racing up the resolution and file size ladder. The first professional digital cameras produced files no larger than 3 MP. Now some of the latest "full-size" pro cameras can produce files of over 30 MPs! Some photographers are balking at the huge file size. The proof of this is that the discontinued full-frame Nikon D700, which produced 12.1 MP files goes for as much on the used market as the brand new full-frame D600, which produces 24.5 MP files. Photographers have seen with their own eyes that for some applications larger files with higher bit densities are not desirable. The smaller 12 MP files produce images that are adequate for all their needs.

We may have reached a similar place when it comes to high-definition audio. While we do have some DACs capable of processing 384 kHz audio files, I've never seen or heard a recording project that has used native 384 kHz sample rates, yet. As to whether there is any sonic reason for going up to 384, I'm willing to suspend final judgments until I hear a native 384 file compared to a native 192 file from the same recording session. And yes, I've seen the xiph article which claims that 44.1 is more than good enough for our merely mortal ears. But since I've heard in blind tests how much better higher resolution sounds compared to 44.1 and how it's still not as good as a live mic feed, I can confidently put the xiph piece into my "flat earthers deafened by science" file.

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But there is bound to be a point where we can begin to level off the race toward a billion bits. In photography it looks like 24 MP may be the upper limit of what we need for a high-resolution image file. Obviously for audio the jury is still out, but I suspect that we may come to find that 192/24 PCM and DSD128 are the resting points for high fidelity digital files. And, frankly, that won't be such a bad thing.

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