Hi-res downloads. Worth the price difference to CD?

Posted by: iliria on 22 December 2018

I have been looking at getting some of my future favourite albums in Hi-res downloads and have been looking at a few sites that sell them. I have noticed a rather big price difference. Is it worth it? Does the difference in sounds between a CD and, let's say, a 24bit44.1khz file justify the price?

Posted on: 22 December 2018 by Xenasys

Buy an album that you know well and see if you can tell, its usually all about the source of the recording and how its mastered (put rubbish in get rubbish out)

ultimately your ears are the judge, there are a lot of people on here who buy both cd, vinyl and hi-res and still enjoy the music, which is whats its all about

Posted on: 22 December 2018 by feeling_zen

It's not always worth it. Unless it has been remastered and done well, repurchasing an existing library doesn't make much sense.

I remember one test with an older disc. The difference in quality when ripped in secure mode until I got matching Accurate Rip checksums vs. unmatching burst mode, was greater than the difference to HiRez 192/24.

When buying music, I have a look for decent HD downloads (somehow those from Columbia sound... off). If I find it, great. If not, I still buy CDs. I used to say the ratio was 1% of what I want available for HD download and the other 99% on CD. I think it is a bit better recently. But still like 5%:95%.

Posted on: 23 December 2018 by antony d

as others have commented it can be a little bit of a lottery, but some of the High Res albums I have purchased a superb - I am thinking of Richard Thompson Mock Tudor 24/192 Yes Close to the Edge 24/192 PG So 24 Steven Wilson

I tend to use Qubuz for dowlloads but as with other comments buy one and test re 16/44

Posted on: 23 December 2018 by Adam Zielinski

That really depends on how the album was recorded and mastered.

If it was recorded in high-res or analogue, then a good transfer to high definition will most likely sound better than a CD (which has to be down-sampled to 44.1 kHz / 16 bit).
Itís also worth noting that itís the bit rate (24 bits of information as opposed to 16) that really matters.
Sampling frequency of course does help too - the higher the better.
Ultimately itís about capturing those illusive transients of music, most often found in voices, cymbals, string instruments, etc..

Posted on: 23 December 2018 by Bert Schurink

As mentioned the pure quality depends. But mostly the addition of space around the notes etc is worth the additional costs. Speaking of which I you have Qobuz Sublime the cost are often even less then standard quality albums, so an easy one.

I get standard high res when i can, and i made in the past a couple of upgrades on for me special albums.

Posted on: 23 December 2018 by Innocent Bystander

As others have said, variable.

If the 16/44 version (CD or download) is simply a downsampled version of the music mastered at a higher resolution, then the higher definition stands every chance of sounding better, as described by others. Expect it to be subtle rather than dramatic, though, though how evident to the individual depends on the system, including the room (which can muddy the sound and make differences less apparent), and one's ears - however it certainly shouldn't in any way sound worse.

However if they are different masterings, as I gather is often the case, either version could be the better sounding one, though the higher res has greater potential.

And apparently there are fakes out there, that are simply upsampled from lower resolutions (e.g. CD), or even ripped from vinyl (which could be good, though inheriting  the limitations of the vinyl medium,, and very dependent on the equipment used to rip).

Overall choosing hi res is not too bad if adequate information is provided, or where you know the approach taken by a particular label, but otherwise it is a potentially expensive minefield, and you probably can't 'return' something other than if data analysis shows it was an undeclared upsampled lower res version.

Posted on: 23 December 2018 by EnglishRogue

I do wish that purveyors of downloadable music files would publish the DR value of each track. Now I know that DR isn't necessarily indicative of good sound quality, but a low value does suggest that dynamic range compression might compromise the audio.

In the meantime it's worth checking the Loudness War DR database because downloads from HDTracks do often appear. You can then make a more informed judgement.

And you can also check the Steve Hoffman Music forum. Granted, there are some loons on there but there are also plenty of sensible reviews of specific releases of a given album

Roguishly....

Posted on: 23 December 2018 by Innocent Bystander
EnglishRogue posted:

I do wish that purveyors of downloadable music files would publish the DR value of each track. Now I know that DR isn't necessarily indicative of good sound quality, but a low value does suggest that dynamic range compression might compromise the audio.

In the meantime it's worth checking the Loudness War DR database because downloads from HDTracks do often appear. You can then make a more informed judgement.

And you can also check the Steve Hoffman Music forum. Granted, there are some loons on there but there are also plenty of sensible reviews of specific releases of a given album

Roguishly....

When I looked at the DR database some of the values didn't seem to bear much relationship to the actual dynamic range I experienced listening to the music of a couple of albums I knew, so it made me question the reliability of whatever algorithm is used to measure DR, and left me feeling the that DR value can be misleading. That said, if assessed the same way it might well be a way of differentiating between different versions of the same album.

Posted on: 23 December 2018 by intothevoid

IMO it's very rarely worth the difference. I'm still surprised by just how good ripped cds are on my system.

I only buy hi res versions when on offer because of this. 

Posted on: 23 December 2018 by Mike-B

With the price of CD's at the moment its hard to justify the prices from the download vendors.   

e.g.  Mark Knopfler 'Tracker'  CD (16/44) 11 tracks is £5.99 from Amazon.      Qobuz has the same 16/44 11 track version at £12.49,  plus the Deluxe 15 track version at £14.99 & the Deluxe 24/192 version at £20.99.    HighResAudio have the 24/192 deluxe at £15 & HDTracks is £21.50   !!!!!      

I had a ripped CD copy to start with & then got the 24/192 Deluxe version.   Was it sonically better ?? 100% yes.      But was it worth the extra £££ ???    thats individually subjective,  but in the cold light of dawn,  I have to say no.   

The download vendors need to have a long hard look at their prices IMO.

Posted on: 23 December 2018 by SAT

All good points above. What really annoys me about HD downloads is the absence of liner notes etc. You pay loads and get one picture. I almost never buy Hi-Res now especially as ripped cds sound so good (generally) and cds are so cheap.

Posted on: 24 December 2018 by Huge

HD has the potential to carry noticeably better sound quality, but, in practice, the advantage isn't always realised.

There are a few cases where the 24/192 recording really shines.  From my collection two that are particularly worthy of note are the Weber Wind Concerti (SCO) and particularly the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique (SCO/Ticciati).  Both these are exceptional recordings.

For non-classical music as people have said the mastering (or remastering) has far more influence than the playback resolution.


Automatic measurement of DR is a red herring for a variety of reasons; it says very little about perceived quality, and there are other factors in the mastering process that are far more important.

Posted on: 25 December 2018 by Peakman

I recently downloaded the Ora Singer's recent (late 2018) recording: "The Mystery of Christmas" from Qobuz.  The HR version was only a couple of pounds cheaper than the CD resolution so that is what I chose.  When I came to listen to it, I realised from the info displayed on the Naim app that I was listening at CD resolution and must have downloaded the wrong version.  So I went back and re-downloaded the HR.  I was about to delete the lower res recording when I thought it would be interesting to keep both and do a back-to-back comparison.  My conclusions:

1)  The difference between the two was present but very subtle.  A bit of extra realism in the voices and their placement, a slightly more convincing realisation of the recording acoustic, removal of some slight harshness in the percussion accompaniment to one of the pieces were what I heard.

2) Is the difference worth it?  Sitting, a few minutes ago listening to their utterly ravishing performance of Lauridson's Magnum Mysterium with shivers running down my spine and tears down my face, absolutely.  But, the emotional wallop is so great that either recording is quite overwhelming and hifi considerations fade into insignificance.

3)  So does the HR improvement make the CD version sound "broken"?  Of course not.  If I only had the CD version, I could live happily with that forever.  So, whilst I am happy to pay an extra £2 for the little extra HD gives in my system, CD quality reproduction is more than adequate for the most intense musical enjoyment, at least for me.

Merry Christmas to all

Roger