The real truth about "High resolution audio"
by Maarten van Druten
High Resolution audio is new business
Format wars in the past have left a niche market wide open, and many
manufactures are trying to
promote their own high resolution audio format.
The problem is that there is no High Resolution standard at this
We as consumers have the last word, we together decide which format will
and of course "we" will choose the best possible format, that is the
cheapest, and is also the most flexible.
In this article you can read which format will win and why.
In the good old days...
First of all... High resolution audio is nothing new.
In 1995 when I was a teenager, I bought myself a Sony DAT recorder
(TCD-D3) with a Super Bit Mapping
I made music recodings in 16bit - 48 kHz with this equipment with a
Audio Technica AT822 OnePointŪ microphone.
SACD wasn't invented at this time, and most
people were still listening to analog compact cassete tapes.
I already experienced the quailty above the CD standard of 16bit 44.1
The Super Bit Mapping encoder that I had did something unique, it
rendered the input signal with 20 bit
precision and encoded this signal into a standard 16 bit signal (48 kHz)
On the Wiki website:
"The Super Bit Mapping process converts a
20-bit signal from
master recording into a 16-bit signal nearly without sound
quality loss, using noise shaping to
improve signal to noise ratio over the
frequency bands most acutely perceived by human hearing.
This processing takes place in dedicated
hardware inside the recording device. A similar process is used in
Sony's DSD to PCM conversion and is called
So what I had in 1995 was a device that could record in "high resolution
A audio file with 20bit precesion converted to 16bit 48 kHz file without
sound quality loss.
unfortunately this device was really a "niche" product, and after one
year it disapeared from the Sony catalogue...
SACD: Sony strikes back ...return of the Super
In 1999 Philips and Sony introduced a
replacement for the Compact Disc called SACD.
SACD uses a technique called direct stream to encode the audio signals
with a sample rate of 2,8224 MHz
This technique has some similarities with the in 1995 introduced Super
Bit Mapping technology.
But something went wrong...
SACD was not good promoted to the public and there was also another
system introduced to the public
that could play high resolution audio, namely: DVD-A (DVD Audio)
DVD-A uses Meridian Lossless Packing (or uncompressed LPCM) to encode
This digital audio technology is based on Pulse Code Modulation (PCM)
One DVD-A disc can hold 24bit stereo music with a sample rate of 192 kHz
These two formats created a format war, and with a format war there are
Neither DVD-Audio nor SACD won a significant percentage of the recorded
SACD became a "niche" market, and like DVD-A none of these formats
The format war between SACD and DVD-A left
a big "gap" wide open that has to be filled.
This "gap" was the "high resolution market".
instead of giving the costumers the high resolution audio standard that
they wanted, the audio manufactures continued promoting their
"lossy" inferior audio format MP3 to the masses...
So Sony came with a "new" plan, let's promote SACD again!
but now they called it "Hi-Res Audio" - "DSD Direct Stream Digital" !
On Wednesday, 3 September, Kazuo Hirai, President and CEO of Sony
Corporation presents on the IFA2014
that the future of music is high resolution audio...
He's right, but unfortunately for Sony it will not be their proposed DSD
Introducing the DSD(=SACD) format again (for the thirth time!) is
for them the cheapest way, they invested a lot in SACD, and they finally
want to see some profit of this investion.
But Sony is not the only company that has noticed that there is huge
open market for High Resolution audio...
Monday, 1st December 2014
Bob Stuart, founder of Meridian Audio, just introduced MQA (Master
This format should be the future of high-resolution audio...
This format means smaller audio files that contain all of the
information of very large sound files produced through the use of very
high sampling rates.
of course this format is not open source, and to use it you have to pay
royalties to Bob Stuart :-)
The selling points of Meridan's MQA is: "convience" and "efficiency"
But unfortunately for Bob, Audiophiles doens't care about smaller
audio files, that are very efficient.
Audiophiles care only for one thing and that is the best quality
and in meanwhile the PCM audio format has grown and has also evolved
to a very populair flexible audio format...
The flexible PCM audio format called: FLAC
"Pulse-code modulation (PCM) is a method used to digitally
represent sampled analog signals. It is the standard form of digital
audio in computers, Compact Discs, digital telephony and other digital
What a lot of people maybe don't now is that PCM is "THE" standard
form for digital audio.
99% of all the music studio's in the world record and mix in PCM.
Why? because it's THE norm, and the best way to record and mix audio
MP3 is a terrible "lossy" sounding audio format, and a lot of
Audiophiles didn't wanted to archive their music collections to this
They found another alternative format, named: FLAC
And FLAC is many advantages above MP3.
First of all it's open source, so it's free to use and even to improve
FLAC is also a PCM format and uses compression, so that the music files
will take less space than the original, but the quality of the original
file will stay the same. this is called "loss-less"
Flac is also supported by almost any operating system, Windows, Linux
and on Mac OS with VLC mediaplayer.
FLAC also is a very modulair format, It can handle any PCM bit
resolution from 4 to 32 bits per sample, any sampling rate from 1 Hz to
655,350 Hz in 1 Hz increments, and has multichannel support up to 8
Populair sample rates for FLAC are: (2
channel) 24bit 96 kHz and 24bit 192 kHz.
This format has become so poplair that more and more music artists and
music online stores are using FLAC audio files as the preferred audio
Even SONY supports the FLAC high bitrate standard, on their newest
high resolution portable audio players!
Of course they no that their own DSD format will never make it to the
big public, so they have to play save :-)
They allready lost the format battle 2 times (DAT SBM vs DCC in 1995 and
SACD vs DVD-A in 2009) a third time could be catastrophic for them...
24 bit vs 32 bit (Audio bit depth)
Bit depth determines how loud a recording will be. For every 1 bit
increase, there is about 6 dB of added dynamic range. using
higher bit depths during studio recording accommodates greater dynamic
16-bit integer resolution allows for a dynamic range of about 96.33 dB
20-bit integer resolution allows for a dynamic range of about 120.41 dB
24-bit integer resolution allows for a dynamic range of about 144.49 dB
32-bit integer resolution allows for a dynamic range of about 192.66 dB
The most audio files that are now
available are 24bit, this is more than enough, even for the most
32 bit is also used in studio's for editting. but 32bit audio files are
rare for playback.
Most modern DAC's can playback 32bit audio files, but these audiofiles
are rare and properbly you will not hear the difference with the same
file recorded in 24 bit.
24 bit is more than enough, so don't worry about this.
And what is the best audio file possible?
Simple, it's the same audio file that has been used for years in almost
all professional recording studio's, and is the master format for SACD
since 2004, it's called: DXD "Digital eXtreme Definition
The DXD format is designed to by the flexible studio master format
for SACD and High Resolution PCM
recordings. and has a sampling rate of 352 kHz!
So "DXD" is the real thing, it's the actual studio master
where all other version are made of!
Normaly consumers like us doesn't have access to the orginal
studio master format but recently company's like "2L Nordic Sound",
"Promates Music Store" and "HDTracks" released DXD albums on their
websites in the original studio master DXD WAV format!
"Promates Music Store",
is the first website in the world that is devoted exclusively to ultra
hi-resolution DXD downloads,
their website currently offers 26 native DXD recordings (352.8kHz
sampling rate and 24-bit bit depth) from labels Dacapo and OUR
I think that the audio and music industry themselves are to blame that
audio rips of analog and digital music records at higher bitrates became
more and more populair. because they killed the high resolution market
by not giving us a decent high resolution audio standard, but a format
war instead! (SACD vs DVD-A)
and when you don't make what the people want, people are going to
make it themselves!
And so it happend...more and more people started to digitize their
analog and digital music collection
in a loss-less, higher bit rate audio format...that they choose
Personally I think that the customer is not waiting for another audio
Sony's DSD and Merdian's MQA are both decent audio formats, but there is
already a thirth and better one.
PCM High Resolution.
PCM High Resolution is a very flexible audio format, it can be loss-less
compressed (FLAC) or uncompressed (WAV)
This format has been choosen by the people themselves, instead of being
pushed by big audio companies.
The best of all
PCM FLAC and DXD are definitely the winners, and it's THE high
resolution audio format for the future.
Technics recently revealed that they are offering a music service that
is offering 24 bits 192 kHz FLAC encoded music tracks!
99% of all music downloads on the internet
are PCM based, the public has already choosen, and also the experts have
made clear to support PCM and DXD instead of DSD.
so Sony, Meridan, and all others to follow, don't waste your money by
starting another format audio war,
you have allready lost the battle, you only are to stuborn to commit
The winners are:
Note: these formats can be presented in
FLAC or WAV format, sonically there are the same.
What the real experts say:
"The advantages of DXD for SACD"
Is a company that also makes SACD recording equipment:
From the "Grimm Audio AD1 DSD AD converter" user manual pdf:
Page 10 "About DSD"
"While DSD is the format of choice for high quality recording and
digital editing is performed with PCM audio. This because every change
to the DSD audio stream will lead to a wider word lenght then 1 bit.
Since a multibit signal at 2.8224 MHz has a data rate thatʼs too high
for practical use, DSD is converted to a lower rate PCM format before
When Philips engineers were building DSD editing tools the design
criterion was thus to find a PCM format that would not detract from the
sonic capabilities of DSD. It was found that it was
possible to convert a DSD signal to 352.8kHz/32 bit and back without
audible quality loss, as long as good care was taken with the filtering
and remodulation stages.
Later on this format was called ʻDXDʼ. Conversion of DSD to DXD is
performed ʻon the flyʼ in certain DAWʼs
One could ask if it makes sense to record DSD format audio, when it will
be edited in PCM anyway.
The answer depends on how your recording and editing sessions are
Certainly for recordings made on stand-alone recorders, the use
of DSD as a storage format is warranted. Practice so far shows that DSD
is at least
as sonically transparent as 192kHz/24 bit and better than 96kHz/24bit.
one channel of DSD takes up only 2.8Mbit/s, whereas one channel of
takes up 4.6Mbit/s. Given that the AD1 puts out DSD data anyway, itʼs
most economical to store the audio in this format. Converting to PCM
would only increase the data rate without any added benefit. The
conversion to PCM
is best left to the Grimm Audio DD1 or the DAW when the recording is
What the above text learn us, is that
editting of digital recording find place in PCM and not in DSD.
and that the Philips engineers were looking to design an PCM master
format, so that editting was made possible, and after editting that this
DXD format made it possible to convert to DSD.
without any audible quality loss.
So why make all the trouble to record nativily in DSD when you have to
convert it back to DXD to edit it?
and after this you will have to convert it back to DSD again?
All this converting doesn't make the quailty of the signal any better!
The only reason I could think of is that that DSD takes less space on
the harddisk compaired to DXD?
Harddisk space costs nowadays very little,
and for a big important recording events we have to save costs on
harddisk space? that's redicilous!
Buying very expensive recording and audio equipment and than playing
back a inferior format just to save costs?
That makes no sense...
No! DXD is the preferred format for
professional audio studio's and audiophiles.
99% of all worldwide recording studio's work in PCM!
The recording studio's and audiophiles will only be staticfied with the
best format possible, and that is DXD!
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