By Marc Finer

Hi Resolution Audio Takes The Stage at CES

Hot topics at the 2014 International Consumer Electronics show, held in Las Vegas January 6-9 for 150,000 attendees, included everything from Ultra Hi Definition TV and smart watches to 3D printing and driverless cars.

In the midst of all of this, another initiative was unveiled that created particular excitement among music enthusiasts. Generally referred to as High Resolution Audio (HRA), it raises a number of implications about the future of music, audio devices and digital delivery. 

HRA arrives more than a decade after the launch of the first MP3 music players and download services.  While MP3s were a convenient way to carry a thousand songs in your pocket, that benefit came at the expense of sound quality, resulting in an entire generation of music enthusiasts who have never had the opportunity to experience music in full fidelity.

So do consumers still care about sound quality?  Well, according to a recent study by the Consumer Electronics Association, nearly ninety percent of those surveyed cited sound quality as the most important criteria when it comes to their listening enjoyment.  Moreover, sixty percent are willing to pay more for better sound, provided they don’t have to sacrifice convenience.

High res audio recordings have actually been available for a decade in formats like DVD-Audio and SACD. But in today’s world of downloading and streaming, millions of people don’t use physical media to meet their entertainment needs, and until recently, digital delivery systems and home networks lacked the bandwidth and storage capacity necessary to make HRA a reality.

All of this has dramatically changed, thanks to a variety of new HRA products entering the market. During CES alone, nearly 50 manufacturers displayed a wide range of HRA capable devices, from headphone amplifiers and USB drives that connect directly with your computer, to shelf top systems that come complete with amplifier and speakers. There were also HRA enabled Blu-ray players and home theater systems, along with enough digital to analog converters (DACs) and servers to delight any audiophile.

These new products are more compatible, convenient, and compelling than before and offer outstanding sound and value for consumers. Most of these devices can automatically play virtually every available hi-res audio format. They also support WAV and FLAC files as well as, along with low resolution codecs like MP3 and Apple Lossless.

These products simplify the way you transfer files to your entertainment system. Plus, their controls have been designed to be more intuitive, making it easier to access, organize and store your music collection. Many models also utilize metadata to deliver a wealth of supplemental information about the artist and the recording.  And they incorporate the latest, most advanced USB and Wi-Fi technology, for greater speed and efficiency.

Best of all, there are thousands of high res music recordings now offered by major music companies and independent labels. Titles span every category and genre and are readily available from digital retail stores such as HD Tracks.

Within The Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing, leading producers and engineers are fully engaged in hi-res audio. This will enable digital enthusiasts to get closer to their favorite music and experience it the way the artist originally intended. 

It all adds up to the incredible HRA experience that was dramatically on display during CES.  But for high resolution audio, this is only the beginning.  There’s much more to come!

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