Is High-Resolution Music Dead?
In a manner of speaking, it should be. Now that The Industry is promoting the crap out of High-Res Music, with that godawful logo, you may as well throw a flower on it and call it a day.
I never really liked the whole High Resolution Music deal to begin with, truth be told, and I still don't like it because it moves the focus away from what is most important—the music. High-Res Music also skirts the infinitely more important issue of the quality of the recording: The promotional machine wants you to believe that when you buy a high-res download, with that godawful logo affixed, it's going to sound really good; better than the lowly CD-quality version and this is simply not always the case.
CD-quality, good old-fashioned 16-bit/44.1kHz music, can sound really wonderful. As a matter of fact, I've heard good old-fashioned CD-quality music streaming from Tidal HiFi sound as good as any hi-res music I've ever heard. So there's that. I could, and do, live with CD-quality music and live happily ever after. Except...
But here's the twist—when I buy new music as a download, I want the highest quality version available. This is no different from buying an LP and looking for the best pressing. So when I buy a new album, I typically buy the 24-bit version when available (I mainly buy 24-bit music from Bleep or directly from the label). Why? Because it is the original recorded quality and I see no reason to buy a downsampled CD-quality version. After all, I'm not buying a CD so all of that lovely science behind squeezing music onto a physical disc with limited storage is, shall we say, passé.1
...I see no reason, whatsoever, to use a CD-quality container since we're not dealing with a CDWhile I'm not a regular purchaser of reissues, a high-res version can sound better than the old CD, which is often largely due to the fact that the reissue has also been remastered. When transferring an analog recording to digital, I see no reason, whatsoever, to use a CD-quality container since we're not dealing with a CD. To my mind, a 24-bit/96kHz container makes the most sense for PCM and for DSD, DSD128 strikes me as a good choice.
It is also the case that some/many/most DACs, especially the ones that use the digital filters that come packed in a DAC chip, sound better when they are sent resolutions higher than CD-quality and oftentimes DSD can sound even better than PCM, depending on the DAC. On that note, a logical alternative is to simply upsample everything you send to your DAC using software (like HQPlayer).
For me, high resolution music as some logical differentiating factor is dead. For new digital releases being sold as a download, give us the original recorded quality: Whether that means 16/44.1, 24/44.1, 24/48 and so on.1 And let's just call it what it is—lossless. Records have been recording in "high-res" for years, hell, Apple has been asking for 24-bit masters ever since they launched "Mastered for iTunes" back in 2012, so High-Res music is nothing new. We're just being sold something old as if it's new and, as we all know with music delivery formats, new historically = more expensive.
For the record, I buy music for the music and view recording quality as a nice-to-have extra.High-Res Music was always a walking corpse since it tried to divert our attention from the quality of the music, i.e. the most important factor when buying music, and the quality of the recording. For the record, I buy music for the music and view recording quality as a nice-to-have extra. The idea that some people buy music because it's high-res or well-recorded sends shivers down my spine. But that's just my spine.
Once Tidal begins streaming hi-res music using MQA, ideally for the same price as their HiFi service ($19.99/month), thus making the distinction between CD-quality and high-res moot, it'll be time to stick a fork in it.
1 Note to the record labels: Since we're talking about less work to sell the original recorded quality, i.e. no down conversion required, stop charging us more for it. Dammit! All lossless downloads should cost the same. In the mean time, for CD-quality albums, I just buy the actual CD on Amazon for less than the CD-quality download, rip it, and use the CD as a frisbee.
I'm also purposefully ignoring lossy downloads for the same reason I ignore "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter".