HD Audio: Is the Best Yet to Come?

Does high-definition audio really matter? That depends on you.

Written by Ryan Jebavy • Photography by Terry Wyatt, Getty Images • December 12, 2016

When you want to play a song, where do you go to do it? YouTube and streaming services are growing into the popular option, while recent U.S sales statistics show that traditional formats—physical and digital—are still doing well. But what’s the next evolution? High-definition audio, once thought by many to be the format of the future, is struggling to gain traction.

Does high-definition audio really matter? That depends on you. Are you okay with a little fuzz on your music or do you demand to hear the most subtle, spine-tingling audio details created by your favorite artists?

For the latter group, two things affect how well you’re able to hear those details: the quality of the original recording and the quality of the equipment used for playback. If the master recording is low quality, a digital process to make it HD will reveal all its imperfections. If you don’t have costly, high-end equipment to handle an HD file, it won’t matter how wonderful your file is—it’s almost impossible to perceive any improvement in the sound.

If you’re looking for better-sounding audio right now, there are quite a few options already available. In 2012, Apple introduced MFIT (Mastered for ITunes) as a standard for higher-res audio files. There are also sites currently selling high-definition tracks exclusively, such as Acoustic Sounds,HDTracks and Pro Studio Masters.

In 2015, Grammy-winning artist Neil Young introduced Pono, a high-end audio service and player (to mostly negative reviews), but it was shelved in 2016. In recent years, high-definition formats like DSD (Direct Stream Digital) have been tested with varying degrees of success.

So, we wait. While creators keep trying to find that balance of format and equipment, fans will stick to their traditional formats until a new industry standard rises to the top.

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