What Are Hi-Res Headphones & Are They Worth The Money?


Audio technology is constantly improving. There are more audio formats than ever before. The level of detail now depends mainly only on the amount you want to pay.

One of the more expensive options is high resolution audio. It requires specific equipment and larger audio files. But in return, it promises better sound quality.

So what are hi-res headphones and are they really worth it?

What are high resolution headphones?

High resolution headphones are headphones capable of reproducing high resolution sound. In order for the headphones to be officially certified as high resolution, they must reproduce a frequency of at least 40 kHz.

Many high-resolution headphones use Bluetooth, but high-resolution audio requires specific codecs. LDAC, LHDC, and LLAC are all suitable for high resolution audio. Other Bluetooth codecs do not transmit data fast enough.

Hi-res headphones are generally more expensive, but it’s worth noting that you’re not just paying for the hi-res media. The more money you spend on headphones, the better the sound, even in lower quality audio formats.

What is high resolution audio?

High-resolution audio is a collection of different audio technologies that allow music to be played at a higher level of detail than CDs.

In order to understand the idea, we need to look at audio formats. Audio formats are generally measured in terms of sample rate and bit depth. Hi-res audio is superior because it offers higher levels of both.

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What is the sampling rate?

Sample rate refers to the number of times per second that analog audio is sampled during digital conversion. The higher the sample rate, the more accurate the conversion.

CDs have a sample rate of 44.1 kHz per second. High-resolution audio has a sampling rate of between 96 kHz and 192 kHz per second.

Related: Audio Quality Explanation: Bit Depth Versus Sample Rate

What is bit depth?

While sampling rate refers to the number of samples taken, bit depth refers to the precision of each sample. If the bit depth is too low, the number of samples taken is not important because they will not have enough information.

CDs are recorded in 16-bit, while high-resolution audio has 24-bit bit depth.

Why isn’t all audio in high resolution?

Increasing the sample rate and bit depth gives you much more precise sound reproduction. You might be wondering why this is not standard.

The answer is, all of these extra details aren’t always recognized by the human ear. High resolution audio files are also much larger.

What equipment is required for high resolution audio?



wired-headset-connected-to-the-phone

In order to enjoy high resolution sound, all components must support it. This means that you might need more than just a pair of headphones.

Depending on the device you want to use, you may need an external DAC (digital to audio converter), a small device that sits between the audio source and your headphones.

Smartphones generally don’t have native support for high-resolution audio, but many can play it if you install the right app and / or add a DAC. Likewise, any computer can play high resolution audio with the right software installed. But again, you might need a DAC.


Related: How to Play High-Resolution Audio on Your iPhone or iPad

Many music players have been specially designed to play high-resolution audio right out of the box, with high-resolution music players available for Windows and macOS.

What file formats are required for high resolution audio?

High resolution audio is only available in certain file formats. These formats include:

  • WAV: This is the standard format for CDs. It can be used for high resolution audio, but WAV is uncompressed resulting in huge file sizes.
  • FLAC: This is a popular alternative to WAV that uses lossless compression. It therefore provides high resolution sound at half the size of uncompressed formats.
  • MQA: This is a high-resolution compressed audio format that is becoming increasingly popular for streaming purposes.

High resolution audio vs lossless audio

High resolution audio should not be confused with lossless audio. They are similar terms, and the two sound better, but they are not the same.

Lossless audio means compression has been applied so that no data is lost. But the term does not place any restriction on the quality of the original file.

High resolution audio is often lossless. But some high resolution audio files are not compressed. High resolution audio is also only used to describe audio that sounds better than CDs.

How to stream high-resolution audio

High-resolution audio is widely available for streaming online, but you may need to change providers to do so.

As of 2019, Amazon has been offering high-resolution audio streaming for $ 14.99 per month. Tidal and Qobuz also offer the service.

Is Hi-Res Audio Worth It?

High resolution audio is more and more popular because it offers superior sound quality. If you spend a lot of money on audio equipment and want the best sound possible, nothing short of high resolution audio will get you there. High-resolution audio, however, comes at a cost.

Regardless of the compression method, high-resolution audio files are larger than traditional audio files. File size is less of an issue, but it’s currently not as convenient as other listening options. This is especially problematic if you have limited bandwidth.

High resolution audio requires a significant financial outlay. If you really want to reap the benefits of the format, you need equally high-end equipment. You might find that hi-res headphones are just one of the many necessary purchases.

The biggest problem with high resolution audio is that a lot of people can’t really tell the difference. High resolution sound is superior. It is not a marketing gimmick as each file contains additional information. But if you can’t hear this extra information when you listen, is it really worth paying?

Should You Buy Hi-Res Headphones?

If you’re unsure about hi-res headphones, you’re not the only one. While the superiority of Hi-Res audio is not up for debate, many people disagree on whether this difference is noticeable or not.

For audiophiles and anyone who is already spending a lot of money on audio equipment, upgrading to high-resolution audio makes a lot of sense.

The easiest way for everyone to answer the question is to try out the high resolution audio before purchasing it.


audio mixer setup on wooden table

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