lossless audioIn the world of high end audio there is always some way of improving the sound of a system.  Whether it be with a new and improved amplifier design, or the latest in interconnect design, the upgrade cycle can seem never-ending.  Of course this is exactly what manufacturers want.  But every once in a while something comes along that truly does make a significant difference in the way we hear our music.  As one home theater installation company in Charleston is finding, clients are asking for this type of thing more and more often.

This is one of the promises of high-resolution audio.  Here’s a bit of background from a recent article on Electronic House.

Resolution, in audio, refers to the sampling rate. High resolution usually features a sample rate of 96kHz or higher, with a bit depth of 24, shown as 96/24. Sampling rates of 192 kHz are common with high res files. CDs are 44.1 kHz/16, for comparison.

High resolution audio music can come in various file formats, including FLAC, WAV, ALAC, PCM and DSD. Audiophiles argue over which format is the best, with one of the main points of contention being DSD’s use of a bit depth of one vs. PCM (which is the underlying format behind FLAC, ALAC, and WAV), where 24 is standard in the HRA realm. However, DSD uses a sample rate of 2.8MHz, where PCM’s typical HRA rate is 192kHz.

While it does require some additional equipment, the results are absolutely stunning.  Here’s more from the article.

DAC – Yes You Need One

If only it was as easy as downloading HRA files and calling it done, maybe adoption of the format would have taken off more than it has. But simply throwing a 192/24 FLAC file on your iPhone or home server won’t put you in the world of HRA yet. For that, you’ll need a Digital Audio Converter (DAC).

Let’s start with most people’s go-to music device – their phone. Not many mobile devices will handle HRA files, though a handful of Android phones from LG, Sony and Samsung do. Apps exist for the iPhone such as the Onkyo HF Player (free, but with $9.99 in-app purchase to unlock the good stuff), and there is some belief the DAC built into the phone (whose specs, unsurprisingly, are not public) could handle the files in a future update.

When it comes to home use, the picture muddies a bit. If you store your music on a PC, and want to use that PC as the audio source, you’ll need an external USB DAC (and additional drivers to play music above 96/24) as a middleman between your computer and amp if you plan to hook your computer directly to the amp.

You’ll also need to download a program to play those files, as Windows Media Player and iTunes won’t handle the higher resolution HRA files. J-River Media Player is one of the more popular. Finally you should ensure the DAC uses asynchronous USB for the best possible results, and one with balanced output is a good idea as well.

Many newer stereo or home theater receivers contain high quality DACs, but it becomes difficult sometimes to pin down the specs for your receiver’s DAC and to understand if you truly get all that HRA files have to offer by using DLNA, for example, to stream the tracks right to your receiver.

To avoid the work that comes with trying to use the PC as a source, newer all-in-one hardware is appearing, such as the Aria Music Server that seemed to put Norah Jones right in the room with me at Paragon Sight and Sound. Oppo’s 103 and 105 Blu-ray/DVD players can also play back HRA from an attached USB hard drive, and the Oppo BDP-105 includes a 2-channel asynchronous USB DAC input.

Special amp/DACs exist for headphone listening from computers or mobile phones, such as the Audioquest Dragonfly USB stick or the Denon DA-10.  Full article at Electronichouse.com

More and more companies are coming out with products that are capable of storing and reproducing lossless audio.  As storage devices capable of holding these massive files are becoming cheaper and cheaper, we’re only going to see more.

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