Industry Opinion: Hi Res Audio – believe the hype?
Hi res audio: advocates push it as offering a superior sound quality over compressed audio formats that should be pitched as the ‘HD’ for the ears to clients, and naysayers call it out as marketing hype offering imperceptible difference to CD-quality. HiddenWires asks industry experts why or why they are not backing hi resolution audio and how it should be pitched to clients.
Experts from the world of custom installation, retail and manufacturing answer the question: “Are you a promoter of the ‘hi res’ listening experience? Why is this your view?”
Hugo Fitzjohn, education manager at Meridian Audio:
“I’m a keen advocate of high resolution audio — you don’t need golden ears to hear the difference, you just need an open mind. We’re chasing the High Definition vision with video, but we’ve been only too happy to sell ourselves short with the audio. When the CD standard of 16-bit 44.1kHz sampling was established 35 years ago, we thought that we’d cracked it, but science and technology have moved on. Back then, we were watching VHS, now 8K video is on the horizon! We knew that CD quality would capture the frequency range of human hearing, but we were oblivious to our hearings true potential. Recent studies have revealed our sensitivity to timing information in audio — this makes sense when you think of how we can pinpoint an audio source with our eyes closed.
AV is about creating an illusion and fooling us into believing that something is happening that isn’t. It stands to reason that presenting information more convincingly will help heighten the illusion and the hi res audio standard from the Japan Audio Society ensures that equipment is up to the job. What we really sell are experiences, the technology is merely the vehicle. Let’s give people the best they can afford, use better quality and higher margin equipment in key areas that they will truly appreciate. Avoid spreading the budget thinly across too many zones which gives a poor overall experience. Finally, there’s a great opportunity upgrade existing audio systems to the latest technology. After all, as an industry, we had no fear of doing that many times with televisions.”
Enrico Rausa, managing & technical director at Sonic Syndicate:
“Coming from a retail background selling hi-fi I have heard my fair share of audio systems, the good, the bad and the popular. One thing has always remained a constant: the client’s love of music.
My approach is simple: just listen! Using a hi res streamer, I use a service like Spotify playing a track that they really love. The client is often happy to hear one of their favourite songs on a great sounding streamer but without telling them, I then play the same track using a hi res service like Tidal. The look on their face when a whole new layer has been discovered on a track that they thought they knew so well is priceless.
It is all about how demo what it can deliver and letting the client simply listen – this is the best sales tool by far. A lot of companies sell Sonos at an extremely low margin providing mediocre sound, but we try and set ourselves apart and offer a high quality service using hi res products which meet our clients’ needs and expectations, whilst generating higher profits. We specify Bluesound & NAD in most installations as standard.”
Wayne Hyde, technical manager for Custom AV Distribution:
“We believe that hi res is important but doesn’t automatically mean a better experience for the client using the sound system. There’s a real art to making a great sounding record and releasing it as hi res isn’t crucial to the artist in getting their message across to connect with listeners. Well recorded and mastered content, from speech to music, historically carries well in many formats. It’s the playback stage using the equipment in the home that can help or hinder delivering content well.
The secret to amazing multi-room audio, that draws the listener in, is in choosing a complete system that brings the very best out of low-res compressed internet radio, audiobooks and podcasts as well as hi res recordings. A system from source to speaker that simply delivers any audio really well.
We urge integrators to listen closely to multi-room products and reconsider the ‘hi res hype.’
Things to listen out for when choosing multi-room audio: Does it still sound good at a low volume? Does it still sound good with low-res Internet radio stations? Play a dance track up loud. Is your foot tapping? If you feel that the tonal balance of a system isn’t to your liking, consider the aforementioned points before writing it off!
Deliver a multi-room system that can do that for your client, and then encourage them to play some hi res. They’ll never stop thanking you.”
Tim Moss, owner & director at Moss of Bath:
“We firmly believe that consumer electronic retailing is now about the experience, product theatre and customer service. No longer can we simply stack the boxes high and sell them. Hi res audio provides the perfect opportunity for independent retailers to up-sell and add value to a hi-fi equipment sales. As with other innovations within the audio section, 16-bit compact disc being the obvious one, hi res audio needs to be demonstrated to be fully appreciated – this is why we have two designated audio lounges suited to this.
The key to growing the market for hi res audio is customer awareness, the accessibility of demo lounges and the equipment on which hi res is played. Consumers are often unaware of new product launches and need to be educated and persuaded to upgrade to the ultimate hi res listening experience. Hands on (or rather ‘ears open’) product demos cannot be had online and lend themselves perfectly to audio retailers and installers. The issue with the various hi res formats and the relatively large file sizes are of a concern and is confusing to the customer.”