The True Value of High-Resolution Audio
We all understand how important resolution is when it comes to TVs and projectors; no client wants to watch their favourite movie in anything less than perfect clarity.
Indeed, custom installers were specifying 4K TVs before native content was even available, because they knew, with the content on the horizon and the visual performance it offers, that it would be just the kind of premium quality solution that their customers would expect, even demand. Precisely this same principle should apply to high-resolution audio in the home.
High-resolution audio is a pure and accurate reproduction of the sound the artist recorded in the recording studio. It offers a clarity, subtlety and depth to music that goes far beyond anything we currently listen to, including CD quality tracks.
Over the last decade, thanks in large part to the popularity of the iPod, MP3 has become the dominant format. The small size of MP3 files enabled us to fit 20,000 songs onto our iPods, which we wouldn’t have been able to do with a larger file format, so naturally it became the standard. But with the advent of MP3, we sacrificed the quality of the music we listened to, for the convenience of having so much of it.
MP3s, because of their compressed file size, lose up to 90% of the sound that was recorded in the studio. This eliminates many of the nuances that can add so much character to music. More than that, this compressed version of the original is, most definitely, not the way that artists intend for us to hear their music.
A recent report from the Consumer Technology Association showed that 86% of consumers now use streaming services in their home, so clearly for many customers, convenience is a priority. They want easy access to their music and playlists.
Convenience, however, is no longer a barrier to custom installers specifying high-res audio systems. Increasingly popular high-fidelity streaming services such as TIDAL and Qobuz now offer easy-to-use interfaces, similar to streaming apps like Spotify, but with music of a much higher quality. With the growth of these services, and higher broadband speeds enabling higher resolution streaming, high-resolution audio systems are much more attractive to a consumer who wants quick and easy access to their music.
Some custom installers might wonder whether there is any point installing high-res audio systems, and if customers can even tell the difference between high- and low-res audio. Extensive research indicates that most people can tell the difference. With a much higher dynamic range and frequency range, there is a clear and audible difference in quality.
But, asking if the customer really cares or knows should not be the focus of the hi-res audio debate. Even if people aren’t always able to tell the difference between the two formats, it is the duty of the custom installation industry to educate customers, provide them with information on the latest technology, and offer them a premium service.
Our industry is all about delivering premium quality. By offering a premium quality audio solution, installers are positioning their advice, their business and their reputation in exactly the right place to deal with their customers. Hi-res audio, and moving away from low resolution formats, can help return the CI industry to its foundations of putting quality of technology and service above everything else.
This positioning also makes sense from a financial perspective. High-resolution audio is a higher value product, so can offer higher margins and profit to installers who take advantage of this potentially lucrative business opportunity.
Consumer demand for high-resolution audio is certainly growing. A recent report from the Consumer Technology Association showed that 53% of customers who bought an audio product, in store or online, were interested in high-res audio, indicating that in coming years we will continue to see the growth of high res audio as it takes becomes the dominant technology in the audio market.
Another important aspect to consider is future-proofing. With the innovative developments such as MQA, a technology that reproduces the sound exactly as it was recorded in the studio, high-resolution audio is undoubtedly the future of music in the home. Custom installers who provide their clients with high-resolution audio systems can reassure them that they are prepared for the next generation of music, and that their system will be more than capable of handling the technological developments of high-resolution audio.
The eco-system through which the audio travels is essential to maintaining the high resolution. Every component must be optimised for high-resolution audio, including the source, whether that’s an audio core or NAS drive, through to the end point, the in-wall or freestanding loudspeaker. A distributed audio system such as Meridian’s Sooloos (pictured above) is crucial in maintaining the resolution of the audio across the system, and provides an effective backbone for a high-resolution audio system. Sooloos also offers a very easy to use interface, bringing together services such as TIDAL with existing music libraries, so that the client’s whole collection is in one place.
High-resolution audio is the future—it’s how music should be listened to. Custom installers who embrace this technology, and begin educating their clients on the benefits it can provide can expect to generate greater profit for their business, set themselves apart from the crowd by offering a premium service, and have happier customers with a high performance, future-proofed audio system.
Barry Sheldrick is Meridian Audio’s director of sales.