Gimmick or Great Episode 1: Hi-Res Audio

Welcome to Gimmick or Great, where I look at marketing bullet points from the worlds of Tech, Audio, and Gaming, and possibly throw them under the proverbial bus.

Today: Hi-Res Audio.

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I’ve gone back and forth on this one myself, both declaring it stupid, and saying there’s something to it.

In that second article I was just in a weird mood, and I was wrong. I just gave away what’s coming.

Is Hi-Res Audio a Gimmick, or is it Great?

IT’S A GIMMICK. And here’s why:

The hi-res audio logo above was created by the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association (JEITA). To earn it, a consumer product must meet certain minimum specifications for audio playback. Typically, this product must as least reproduce 24-bit/96khz audio, and most of the time they go much farther than this.

More numbers seems like a good thing…but outside of the professional production world, these increases mean nothing for the average listener.

I could never hope to write a better takedown of hi-res audio than THIS article, from some of the folks that developed the excellent Ogg Vorbis codec which powers Spotify among other things.

Basically, hi-res audio files can often damage the playback quality compared to “standard” files. CD-audio or well-made lossy/lossless audio at 16-bit and 48khz is more than enough for any music.

Many of you won’t believe me.

And that’s fine.

But “hi-res audio” is just a fancy marketing badge companies can use to raise the price of headphones and subjectively convince you you’ve got something better.

Bias is a huge factor in audio listening, and if you think something should sound better, then it probably will.

Now, source is still important! A nice FLAC or a CD is probably going to sound a lot better than an old MP3 from the 90’s. But beyond a certain threshold of quality, compression stops mattering. And different albums can be better mixed or recorded than others…but this has nothing to do with the use of hi-res formats and everything to do with the skill of the sound people and the equipment used.

Don’t pay more just to get hi-res audio. If you like some gear that uses it, then that’s fine. But hearing the difference is essentially impossible and not worth extra money by itself.

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I do radio voice work by day, and write by day and night. I studied film and production. I love audio, design, and music. Also video games.

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