What is High-Resolution Audio?

Anyone who has ripped a CD to an MP3 file and compared the difference

will know that the music loses something in the process -

a liveliness and realism that makes it much more enjoyable to listen to.

Music producers and artists have long been aware of this,

so they capture their recordings at the highest quality possible -

in most cases, a quality that makes even CD sound flat and lifeless in comparison.

But until recently, these master recordings were simply not available

for the average listener to enjoy.

But, as music-lovers ourselves,

Sony created High-Resolution Audio products to give you that

next best thing, next to being right there

in the studio or live venue with your favourite musicians.

So, if you're a music lover, the simple fact is you'll love High Resolution Audio.

But in this video, I want to drill into you

some of the fundamentals of sound to help you better understand

why high resolution is such an important innovation

and how we got to this point in the history of audio recording.

Stick around - it's a fascinating subject.

Music, like all audio, is vibrations in the air.

An instrument, or speaker, creates high or low-speed vibrations

which our ears capture and translate into a huge range of pitches and tones.

At its most simple, a fast vibration, or high frequency,

creates a high pitch,

while a lower frequency one will produce a lower pitch.

Other characteristics such as the shape and energy of these soundwave vibrations

then determine the type and volume of the sound.

Capturing and storing this audio for later playback

has come in a variety of forms over the years,

but it can broadly be broken up into three types:

analogue, digital, and digitally compressed.

Despite being less convenient than digital formats,

a good analogue audio recording is valued even today

for its natural, realistic sound.

Analogue recordings, whether on magnetic tape,

record, or even wax cylinders,

capture and reproduce the sound vibrations directly.

The needle on a record player is literally bumping along microscopic grooves,

and those tiny vibrations are simply amplified into the electrical signals

that drive your speakers.

It's a good system, with few steps

between the audio being captured and being reproduced.

But it requires physical and sometimes fragile objects for storage -

not ideal for the large music collections we all have now.

A digital recording starts the same way as an analogue one,

with capturing those vibrations,

but these soundwaves are then converted to a series of coordinates.

When a digital audio file is played back,

those coordinates are used to reconstruct the soundwave back to an analogue signal

which your speakers or headphones can recognise, and reproduce.

All things being equal, the quality of a digital audio recording

is determined by two things -

the sampling frequency,

which is how many of these coordinates are captured per second.

And the bitrate, which is how accurate

each of these coordinates is relative to the original audio signal.

When the CD was developed by Sony and Philips,

a lot of thought went into what specifications would allow it

to deliver a good listening experience while being reasonably practical to use.

The result was a sampling frequency of 44.1 kHz,

or just over 44,000 samples per second, each captured at a bit rate of 16 bits,

which determines how precise the height, or energy, of that coordinate is.

Together, these two things determine the frequency range,

or the range of pitches from low to high, and the dynamic range -

the volume from soft to loud - a recording can contain.

That 44.1 kHz sample rate gives us a range of reproducible frequencies

of around 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz - roughly the capability of human hearing.

And the 16 bit bitrate results in a dynamic range of 96 dB,

easily enough to reproduce a live orchestra from solo piccolo to full noise.

So, the CD remains a good format,

but its physical dimensions and the inability to stream or download

means it has been rapidly replaced by new compressed file formats.

With much smaller file sizes and no physical size,

compressed audio formats like MP3 or AAC are the way most people enjoy music now -

whether via streaming services or from files stored on your device.

A compressed audio file offers unmatched convenience.

A good way to think about compressed music files

is by considering a drawing on a piece of paper.

If you fold up the paper you can fit it in your pocket

but, once you've done that, it's impossible to fully restore it to its original state.

How small the file is, is determined by the data rate.

It's common for streaming services to offer audio at around 120-300 kbps,

and most tracks you purchase and download are around 250 kbps.

That's about 1/5th the file size of a digital track on a CD.

Of course, not all digital file formats are the same either,

so a modern AAC file sounds better than an older MP3 file

even if it's the same file size. Think of it as more careful folding.

We now understand that most digital music starts out sounding pretty good -

at CD quality or better -

but it is then compressed so that you can stream it on your smartphone

or download it quickly to your computer.

The real question then is what you're missing out on, and should you care?

So here's uncompressed music...

and a typical compressed stream.

In that short sample, probably playing through your basic speakers or headphones,

you might not hear much difference, but this is what you're missing out on...

While compressing audio doesn't change the basic sound of a music track much,

it does change how you feel about it.

The more detail is contained in a music track,

the more real it sounds, and the greater your emotional response to it.

We've all been moved by music at some point -

it's a powerful tool used by film makers, retailers, even call centres -

so delivering all that detail to your ears quite literally changes

how much you enjoy it.

And that brings us back to High Resolution Audio.

High Resolution Audio goes beyond even CD quality -

offering higher sampling frequencies and bitrates.

It's like using that really nice glossy photo paper for your picture,

instead of regular printer paper.

The use of higher bitrates like 24 bits rather than CD's 16 bits

means you have more dynamic range,

so you can accurately capture the tiniest subtleties -

like the tap of a pianists fingernails across the keyboard,

or the subtle break in a singer's voice - as well as all the impact of a drum solo.

And all without compromise.

The higher sampling frequency of perhaps 192 kHz, 5x that of CD quality,

means a much wider frequency range is captured and reproduced.

When matched with an appropriate amplifier and speakers or headphones,

audio frequencies greater than 20kHz are reproduced,

including ultra-high frequency harmonics -

the subtle components of a sound which help to give

especially acoustic instruments their character.

We all know the experience of sitting in the audience for a live performance,

and we know the experience is not the same as listening to a CD recording of it later.

High Resolution Audio isn't just about hearing a difference,

it's about experiencing a difference -

the music may be the same,

but the feeling and presence that the music conveys is what changes.

We're lucky that recording engineers have known all this for years,

so they've already captured audio in their studios

at the highest resolution available to them.

What Sony is offering with High Resolution Audio products

is to reproduce that audio in your home, or headphones,

exactly as your favourite artist and record producer intended you to.

And a music lover couldn't ask for more than that!