The advent of high-resolution audio, which some liken to high-definition, or HD, video, has many in the audio industry questioning whether listeners can really hear a difference in sound quality compared with standard compact disc-quality sound.
Now, according to a first-ever study conducted by the Centre for Digital Music at Queen Mary University of London, the answer to that question appears to be yes.
The study compared data from more than 12,000 different trials from 18 studies where participants were asked to discriminate between samples of music in different formats. The new study found that, indeed, listeners can tell the difference between low- and high-resolution audio formats. Moreover the effect is dramatically increased with trained test subjects who could distinguish between formats approximately 60% of the time.
Unlike HD video, which has to meet certain criteria to qualify as “high definition,” there is no universal standard for what constitutes high-resolution audio. However the term is generally used to describe audio signals with a bandwidth or dynamic range greater than that of compact disc digital audio, or CD-quality sound.
The research, published in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, suggests that careful selection of stimuli, such as using longer audio samples of more than 30 seconds, may play an important role in the ability to discriminate between the formats.
“Audio purists and industry should welcome these findings,” said Dr. Joshua Reiss, head of audio engineering at Queen Mary University of London’s Centre for Digital Music in the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science. “Our study finds high-resolution audio has a small but important advantage in its quality of reproduction over standard audio content.”
The audio samples analyzed were mainly classical and jazz music, although it is not clear which type of high-resolution recording and playback made the biggest difference.
Further research will focus on identifying how and why listeners perceive differences in sound quality.