The High Fidelity Audio Controversy

Since music production equipment became widely affordable and available to casual computer users; and music streaming services becoming increasingly popular, two perspectives amongst audiophiles and music aficionados have been arriving at a collision.

Artists and engineers often support uncompressed 24 bit audio, hailing it as "listening to music the way the artist intended"-- Neil Young is a strong advocate of this viewpoint, but of course he also has his Pono High Definition Music player to sell. Many "watchdog" audio geeks hold that against him, claiming Young's motives are biased towards the sale of his own recordings. A USB DAC (digital to analog converter) like those made by Dragonfly  are certainly less expensive and easier to use than the dedicated HD Audio players currently on the market.

Then of course, there's  how most people listen to music; streaming over LTE on their phones, using highly compressed low sample rate files, into tiny and cheap ear buds that were packaged with their phones. When it comes down to it, headphones are the most important and first step in the chain, and many models by manufacturers like Bose  and Beats  are highly (inaccurately) colored despite selling them at a prosumer price. For transparent (tone) and high fidelity phones $30 Sennheisers go a long way.

While most in this debate are in agreement that 16 bit (CD Quality) audio is superior to mp3/aac streams, less are convinced of the audible difference between 16 bit and the 24 but HD files. A lack of necessary hardware to playback these files, and no standard for HD Audio file distribution (for commercial music) means is still early days in this race.

What everyone seems to agree on, is that most consumers don't care, they've gotten too used to low-fi playback, and many are disinterested in acquiring hardware to facilitate this next evolution in music distribution. The fact that vinyl is making a comeback in the bohemian space is evident that aesthetics and the act of listening to music supersedes the fidelity of the music format.

Rock and Roll is about listening to music wherever you can, and people seem to enjoy music regardless of format. Personally, when I want to sit back and listen to my music collection (which I've ripped at 16 Bit flac) through my studio monitors driven by the same Audio Interface I use for instrument input into my laptop. There's definitely a difference (increase) in texture and thickness between that and Spotify, but I know what to listen for and have a bias. I believe it's the plug and play USB dongle DACs have the most future viability.

Ryan CaldaroneComment