Does High-Resolution Matter for Whole-Home Audio?
If You're a Diehard Audio Enthusiast, the Answer May Be Yes
The audio world is full of terminology and buzzwords. There are the traditional ones, like preamplifiers, amplifiers, woofers, tweeters, crossovers, and more. If you’re into audio at all, you know what these are. Then there are words that describe how a speaker or system sounds, like soundstage. If you're an audio fan, you know what that means, too.
Then there are the terms that came in with digital audio. How about lossless vs. compressed, MP3 vs. AAC, 16bit/44 kHz vs. 24bit/192 kHz sampling? For some people, they might have little to no meaning, other than they might surmise lossless is always better than compressed. The reality is, like in most things related to audio, there are not always absolute truths.
If you are familiar with all this as you sit in Johns Creek, GA listening to music on your whole-home audio system, you might wonder if high-resolution audio is something essential or a feature you can blissfully ignore. Keep reading to see which side of the fence you may fall.
Compressed, Lossless, and High-Resolution Audio
The world of digital music ushered in various encoding formats. Trying to cover it all in the context of this short blog would be incomplete, so we’ll stick to the basics. CDs were the first successful digital format and brought the 16bit encoding and 44kHz sampling. To simplify, the number of bits (often called bit depth) affects the amount of data used to represent audio, and the sampling is the slice of the audio that is captured and digitized. Higher numbers, generally, make for better audio. So 24bit/96kHz and 24bit/192khZ recordings, the common high-resolution formats, should sound better. However, there is also the matter of the audio codec and compression.
CD-quality music, at 16bit 44kHz quality, is the most widely used standard for distribution. The container for that music might vary between lossy (compressed) and lossless formats. For example, Spotify uses the Ogg Vorbis format for its streaming, while Apple Music uses AAC, and these are both compressed formats. Other services use MP3 (the most common), and lossless streaming on Tidal uses FLAC. If you know all this, you may have strong opinions on what sounds better, and the rest of you are confused or won't care.
Why You Might Care
Remember when we said above that higher sampling and encoding numbers make for better quality audio? In the computing world, there is an old term called GIGO: garbage in, garbage out. A well-mixed and produced track in tried-and-true CD quality will sound better than a poorly mixed one encoded at the highest resolution. It's just like a poorly shot video in 4K is still a poorly shot video, even if it uses 4K resolution and HDR. So, if you have high-quality recordings in CD-quality stereo, you might not hear an incredible leap in quality with the same recording in high-resolution formats.
That said, some recordings have taken advantage of remastering to give old music new life. If you have high-fidelity speakers and high-current amplification in your whole-house system, you might want high-resolution music. If your listening is more background music and you don’t often crank up the volume, you might not notice the extra detail you can derive from high-resolution recordings.
Why You Might Not Care
There is some good news, so you won't worry that you're missing out on anything. As you may well know, Sonos is a leader in simpler, whole-home music setups with just a few zones. While there was a long holdout on high-resolution audio, the new Sonos S2 software is now compatible with high-resolution encoding. One of our most popular whole-home audio systems, Control4 (which comes with the bonus of home automation), is now high-resolution capable after the launch of the OS 3 software platform. Also, just about any new home theater or stereo receiver, integrated amplifier, or new DAC is high-resolution capable and are increasingly compatible with all the major lossless or compressed formats.
So, what are we telling you? There's more to whole-home audio than lossless formats and resolution. As audio professionals that sell and install high-end audio for two-channel, home theater, and any other application, GHT Group can guide you through the right choices in equipment, installation, tuning and configuration that will get you the sound quality you’ll be happy with over the long term. And of course, if you want to be ready for high-resolution formats now or in the future, you will be.
Want to know more about how to get the whole-home audio system that works for you? Contact us here or use the chat box below to connect with one of our audio experts. We look forward to working with you!