High-resolution audio (HRA) is perhaps the ultimate sonic choice for digital music fans, but what is it exactly?

High-resolution audio (HRA) has become more mainstream thanks to the release of more devices and services that support the HRA format. Tidal Music spearheaded the cry for better quality audio downloads.

Digital downloads from sites such as Amazon and iTunes, and streaming services such as Spotify use compressed file formats. Therefore, the use of lossy compression means that data is lost in the encoding process and in turn, audio resolution is sacrificed in order to use less data.

Many serious music fans want better options and more access. This is where high-resolution audio, or HRA, the term mainstreamed by the Consumer Electronics Association, comes into play.

What is the difference between Hi-Fi and HRA?

High-Res audio is: “Lossless audio that is capable of reproducing the full range of sound from recordings that have been mastered from better than CD quality music sources.”

Hi-Fi audio is : “CD-quality audio”, also known as high-fidelity sound, which is music files that haven’t been compressed

HRA also has increasing support by major labels and musicians.

What is high-resolution audio?

At this point the definition of high-resolution audio isn’t set in stone. Unlike high-definition video, there is currently no universal standard for hi-res audio. In general the term is used to refer to audio that has a higher sampling frequency and bit depth than CD.

There are several high-resolution audio file formats to choose from, all of which support the above sampling rates and bit-depths. They include FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) and ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec), both of which are compressed but in a way where (in theory) no information is lost.

Other lossless formats include WAV, AIFF and DSD, the format used for Super Audio CDs. A HRA system is compatible with only certain formats at a time.

FLAC tends to be the most popular format, scoring points over WAV for better meta-data support, ensuring your tracks have artist and title information.

What’s so good about hi-res audio?

Obviously the highlighted benefit of high-resolution audio files is exceptional audio quality over compressed (lossy) audio formats.

With more information to play with, high-resolution audio tends to boast greater detail and underlying texture, offering listeners an imimitation closer to the original intended performance.

However, there are some people who can’t hear a difference. Obviously on some systems the limitations are severe and there is NO difference. So, if you naturally can’t hear a difference and don’t care, save your money…