What is it?
Although there is no formal standard for high-resolution audio, it is commonly considered to be music recorded and delivered in formats that are higher resolution (ie. higher bit depth and/or sample rate) than that of CDs.
Some people believe a minimum sample rate of 88.2kHz or 96kHz is required to qualify as high-resolution. While at the same time there is debate about the merits of DSD vs PCM encoding. We list all these formats on FindHDmusic and encourage you to make up your own mind.
Where can I find it?
You've come to the right place. Search for legal high-resolution music downloads on FindHDmusic. Refine your search by genre, site, resolution, format and availablity.
We also have a comprensive list of sites that sell high-resolution music downloads as well as a list of sources of free high-resolution music.
How do I play it?
You can play high-resolution audio on one of the many dedicated music servers that support high-resolution formats (see AudioStream's Greatest Bits for a selection of high end servers and players, or consumer brands such as Sony for more affordable options).
Or you can use a computer coupled with an external DAC. If you choose this option you'll also need playback software that supports high-resolution formats. For the MAC, playback applications include Amarra, Audirvana and Pure Music. For PCs, JRiver and Foobar are popular programs for playing high-resolution audio.
High-Resolution Audio Essentials
When searching for high-resolution audio, it is useful to have a basic understanding of the concepts of encoding, file formats and resolution.
Encoding refers to the method by which the analogue audio signal is represented in a digital format. The two encodings you will come across when searching for high-resolution audio are DSD and PCM. DSD is a technology developed by Sony and Phillips for use in Super Audio CD (SACD). PCM is an alternative technology for digitally representing sampled audio signals that was developed in the mid 20th century (the patent was granted in 1956).
When it comes to purchasing music downloads, the most important consideration when deciding on DSD or PCM is whether your equipment and software support the chosen encoding. The vast majority of players support PCM and although DSD support was rare until a few years ago, DSD support is becoming increasingly common.
Another consideration when deciding on DSD or PCM is the quality of the sound that can be reproduced from the two formats. There is considerable debate in the audiophile community about the merits of the two encoding techniques.
File formats specify how the PCM or DSD data are stored (and ultimately transmitted) in the digital domain. Some (most?) file formats allow metadata (eg title, artist etc) to be stored with the encoded data. Some formats also allow the encoded data to be compessed so that they take up less space. The compression is lossless which means the orginal data stream can be reconstructed from the compressed data. There is some debate about whether the process of uncompressing data during playback has a deliterious affect on sound quality.
Formats for storing DSD data include DSF and DFF. DSF allows for embedded metadata while DFF does not.
Common formats for storing PCM data include AIFF, ALAC, FLAC and WAV. ALAC and FLAC both allow for lossless compression. FLAC is a widely adopted open format but is not supported by iTunes. AIFF and ALAC were both developed by Apple with ALAC becoming non-proprietary in 2011 which has resulted in more widespread adoption of the format.
The resolution of high-resolution audio files is a function of the samplerate and bit depth used when converting the original analogue signal to digital. These original masterings (often referred to as Studio Masters) are often downsampled (eg from 192kHz to 96kHz) to produce files of lower resolution.
The samplerate indicates how often the analogue audio signal is measured and the bit depth is the number of bits used to store each measurement.
CDs use the PCM encoding method with a sample rate of 44.1kHz (ie. 44100 measurements of the analogue signal per second) and a bit depth of 16 (which allows for 65536 - or 216 different possible values for each sample).
High-resolution DSD files have a bit depth of 1 and a samplerate starting at 2822.4kHz (ie 64 times the samplerate of CD and so this resolution is also referred to as DSD64). DSD128 files are also available - these have a samplerate of 5644.8kHz.
High-Resolution PCM files have a bit depths of 24 or 32. The minumum sample rate required for a download to qualify as High-Resolution is a matter of debate but is usually considered to be either 44.1, 88.2 or 96 kHz.