Today’s blog post is aimed at all the PC / Server-stored music fans who think they can ignore the tangible disc and achieve true hi res playback. Hi Res Audio is leading a renaissance in the audio world, suddenly everybody wants to know what it is, how to get it, and why they should want it. Recordings made in the last 5 years have all been mastered at 24/96K or higher so if you get a copy of one of those there’s a good chance it’s a native hi res copy. The record labels love selling their back-catalog hits (particularly Steely Dan and Pink Floyd) again and again to unsuspecting audiophiles at the hi res audio download sites like HD Tracks, SuperHiRez and others. They will sell you a 24/96K hi res audio version of a previously released CD or album for $25. My post today is about how to know what’s really hi res and what’s just below that level, a good copy of a 24/96K re-master. There’s a big difference.
The debate starts at the provenance of the so-called original master from which the hi res download is derived. Do they actually re-master older, lower res original recordings up to 24/96K? Yes, that’s exactly what they do, particularly the older catalog hits originally mastered at 16/44.1K long ago. In some cases they have to digitize the original analog master first, then they upsample to 24/96K. This is the same thing you can do to a CD, MP3, or Netflix audio stream at home with an Essence HDACC, you can upsample all your low res content, including all audio streams from any source up to 24/192K. In many cases this is the equivalent of what they’re selling at the hi res download sites and it does sound better than the original CD, with more richness and texture. This should not be confused though with an existing original LPCM 24/96K master recording, what we call the “native” hi res version, the original original, with no compression whatsoever. This version is not sold on the download sites. This version contains the full bandwidth and dynamic range of the original, bit for bit perfect.
This level of fidelity is copyright protected and encrypted on Blu-ray Live Concerts, PureAudio High Fidelity, and SACD discs only, not available in any other format. In order to hear it, your component must have a “decryption key”. If you dont have an HDMI connection with HDCP, you don’t have the decryption key that authenticates a secure connection in a two-way handshake communication between the source device and the downstream component.
Think about it. Why would the record labels agree to sell you a digital copy of a hi res original master recording file to keep on your hard drive via USB but then make it illegal to do the same with a Blu-ray soundtrack? Thats where the contradiction exists. The encrypted 24/96K hi res audio on Blu-ray and SACD is truly a one-to-one copy of the native original master recording and requires a decryption key from the downstream DAC or component by way of HDMI with HDCP in order for the bits to flow. This hi res content is not available for download, that’s against the law. We can listen but we are not allowed to copy at this level of resolution, this is the security protocol we accept to see and hear the highest fidelity in history. Its more than a fair trade.
There are esoteric record labels like AIX and 2L that will sell you an actual one to one copy of their original masters via download but they are the exception to the rule and their music is not by major artists like Adele and The Rolling Stones. Be careful though, ask questions about the provenance of the download you buy, you have a right to know that it was not sourced from an MP3 file.
Those who rip Blu-rays to their hard drive or server fail to understand that it still requires the decryption key to hear the hi res files, without that they hear the default lossy version of the soundtrack. Without a disc in the drawer of a real player and a secure authenticated HDMI connection between a player and a downstream component, the highest resolution cannot be achieved. It’s a point to point security protocol. I have not run into a single computer that can do it and its notable that computers dont have HDMI inputs. Considering the epic battle between the record labels and the computer industry for the last 30 years over copyrights and copying, its no surprise then that the labels would block the computers from copying their most treasured assets, the original hi res soundtracks.
If you have an older audiophile system or even a newer generation version with only analog inputs and want to gain access to the new all the new digital content available today, Essence makes the most popularly priced digital hub featuring HDMI, starting with the HDACC at $499 retail, sold direct including free shipping in the USA. Countless rave reviews and customer testimonials reveal the popularity of this unique device, one of today’s best sellers. Nothing else even comes close. The HDACC also includes USB, Optical, and Coaxial digital inputs, 2 line level analog inputs with A to D conversion, OLED display, remote control, and perhaps the best headphone amp on the market, the only one with selectable user impedance matching from 16 to 600 Ohms.