Written by 6:06 am Digital

Is That All There Is?

Steven Stone wonders if high resolution audio has finally reached its goal…



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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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