There is a large number of people vocal on social media with an interest in music and audio quality, from different age groups, with different musical preferences, who believe that hi-res audio, i.e something higher than Redbook 16/44.1, is complete nonsense and cannot make any audible difference if the original signal encoded is the same. I wouldn’t go that far myself necessarily, but rather any difference is pretty negligible to say the least. However, I have been aware for years that some of these ‘hi-res’ releases do sound radically different, and sometimes, but not always, better than their CD equivalent. What I am quite sure of though, is that the difference has much less to do with the digital resolution, instead it is the mixing that has changed, or possibly a lack of the dynamic compression applied to the CD master at the loudness battlefield.
Having switched my Qobuz subscription from Sublime to Studio, which now means I can stream the full catalogue of Hi-Res albums available, I’ve been surprised at how many albums I’ve been frequently playing have hi-res versions, and often how vast the difference is between those hi-res versions and what I’d been playing before. The difference is often very unsubtle, but still, I believe, for the reasons mentioned earlier around the mixing and compression. Nevertheless, it was, and is, great. Many times I’ve thought ‘This is what that album should have sounded like. Why can’t Hi-Res be marketed differently for what it is, a more high-end system friendly and dynamic recording / master?’ Well, the problem with that idea is that too often it isn’t.
Meanwhile youtubers, among others, revel in mocking audiophiles for believing they hear differences between CDs and Hi-Res. And given the marketing blurb for Hi-Res, I don’t actually blame them. They’re not as stupid as they look these young youtube folk. Well…actually, a lot of them are, but still, no one likes a sales pitch they believe can be proven to be BS, and I have no issue with them speaking out on the topic.
The fact remains though, in terms of a standard, the only thing you can say about albums bearing the ‘Hi-Res’ label, is that they are a higher bit-depth and sample rate than CD. There is no guarantee that they will be more dynamic, or sound better in any way at all. Look at what they’ve just done to Keith Richards - Talk is Cheap, now remastered in glorious hi-res. It’s become the full 24/96 LLOOOOUUUDDD!! The original was among the most live sounding studio albums I’ve heard. Fair enough, someone just had to mess about with it to celebrate it’s 30th anniversary, but I wish Qobuz could have retained the original version as well. Same with the Led Zeppelin catalogue, it’s all the 2014 remaster stuff, which while not all bad, not my preference, and I would expect John Bonham to turn in his grave over it.
It seems a shame that many people consider anything bearing a hi-res label to be a marketing con, and just a way for record labels to sell you the exact same thing again, or at a higher price. It can actually be really good, and while I feel it’s poorly marketed, I concede that as it stands, there is no other constant it could be marketed with. MQA seems to be a little more focused on the content being as per studio engineer and artist recording, presumably void of any further compression for a CD master, but still waffles on too much about the technical stuff (hi-res with some wacky data compression) being the reason anyone should want MQA, which seems unlikely to win people over either.
In this community I would expect many to have had similar thoughts about the reasons for hi-res stuff sounding different. Or merrily chime in now to explain why I am completely wrong. Would’t be the first time, and no doubt won’t be the last. I’d be interested in the conclusions and thoughts of others on topic.