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This is Only the Beginning for Hi-Res Audio

Marc Finer

It’s been nearly a month since the close of the 2014 International CES, which should be more than enough time to assess the hot topics at this year’s event.
During the show, more than 150,000 attendees visited more than 3,200 exhibitors and 25 Tech Zones and listened to more than 850 speakers at conference sessions discuss a variety of subjects, including everything from Ultra HDTV and smart watches to 3D printing and driverless cars.
In the midst of all of this, another initiative was unveiled that created quite a stir amongst music enthusiasts. Generally referred to as High Resolution Audio, it raises a number of implications for not just the future of music but audio devices and digital delivery, as well. 
Hi-Res Audio (as it’s occasionally called) comes more than a decade after the launch of the first MP3 music players and download services. While MP3s were a convenient way to carry “a thousand songs in your pocket,” this benefit came at the expense of sound quality. As a result, an entire generation of music enthusiasts have never had the opportunity to experience the full fidelity that music can provide. 
Yet do consumers still care about sound quality?  Well, according to a CEA’s Notions of Quality: Audio Expectations of Consumers, nearly 90 percent of online adults who listen to audio content cited sound quality as an important criteria when it comes to their listening enjoyment.  Moreover 60 percent of self-described audio enthusiasts are even willing to pay more for better sound, providing they don’t have to sacrifice convenience.
Some might say that hi-res audio recordings have been available for decades, via formats like Compact Discs, DVD-Audio, SACD and of course vinyl. But in today’s world built upon downloading and streaming, there are millions of young people who don’t use any physical media to meet their entertainment needs. 
However, until recently, digital delivery systems lacked the type of bandwidth and storage capacity that was necessary to make hi-res audio a reality.  Most were also complicated and file transfers were limited by the capabilities of legacy home networks. 
Fortunately all of this has dramatically changed, thanks to a variety of new hi-res audio products that are entering the market. In fact, during CES, many manufacturers demonstrated or displayed a wide range of devices that fit practically any lifestyle, from headphone amplifiers and USB drives that connect directly with your PC, to shelf top systems that come complete with amplifier and speakers. There are also hi-res enabled Blu-ray players and home theater systems, along with enough D/A converters and servers to delight any audiophile. All of these new hi-res products are more compatible, convenient and compelling than before and offer an outstanding value for consumers. 
Consider compatibility. Most of these devices can play automatically virtually every hi-res audio format that’s available, including the latest PCM and DSD options. They also support WAV and FLAC files, as well as low resolution codecs like MP3 and Apple Lossless.
Additionally, most of these products are far more convenient to use than earlier models and simplify the way you transfer files to your entertainment system. Plus their controls have been designed to be more intuitive, making it easier to access, organize and store your music collection. Many models also utilize metadata to deliver a wealth of supplemental information about the artist and the recording.  And they incorporate the latest, most advanced USB and Wi-Fi technology, for greater speed and efficiency.
Best of all, there are thousands of hi-res music recordings being offered by major music companies and independent labels. These titles span every category and genre and can be easily purchased from a number of digital retail stores. Finally, thanks to organizations like The Recording Academy, the leading producers and engineers are also fully engaged in hi-res audio. And this will enable digital enthusiasts to get closer to their favorite music and experience it the way the artist originally intended. 
It all adds up to an incredible Hi-Res Audio Experience, which was dramatically on display during CES at the Hi-Res Audio Experience TechZone.   
But for high resolution audio, this is only the beginning.  There’s a lot more to come.