With that in mind, we thought we’d share a few excellent places to find and download high-res audio.
But First, Let’s Define High-Resolution Audio
If we start with CD audio as the baseline and call that “standard resolution” for lack of a better way to put it, then high resolution files fall into three categories: 96k/24bit, 192k/24bit and DSD. There are more high-resolution options available, but for now let's just stick with the basics. File types you should be looking for are ALAC, FLAC, AIFF, WAV, WMA, and DSD. No matter where they come from, mp3 are not high resolution.
The Source. It’s All About the Source
Almost all of the music recorded and mastered during the CD era (roughly 1983 to the early 2010s) were done so at the CD Red Book standard of 44.1/16bit or 48k/24bit. So when you are buying downloads from that era, keep in mind that even if the track is “remastered” the source resolution cannot be changed. In short, a file is only as good as the resolution it was recorded at. Period. You simply can’t put back in stuff that was never there in the first place.
Songs digitized from excellent analog masters may outperform their digital counterparts, and in those cases 96k/24bit will be worth it. Files rated at 192k/24bit will only shine in their full resolution if the source was recorded at that sample rate and word size.
So, new stuff listed at 192k/24bit, DSD and the like will be completely “high-resolution.” Just be careful with older stuff – even if the source recording was digital.
Some Really Great Places To Buy High-Resolution Music
With all of that being said, here’s some great places (in no particular order) to get your high-resolution fix. You can also buy direct from most records labels which is a great way to find high-resolution music from lesser-known artists as well. Happy downloading!
Vinyl, CD, SACD, ALAC, FLAC
Good selection of all genres. Very deep Classical and Blues inventory. New music.
AIFF, ALAC, FLAC, WAV, DSD
Selections above 192k/24bit
Very deep jazz and rock inventory. New music.
Native DSD Music
DSD direct from record labels and recording professionals.
Very deep new music catalog.
High Res Audio
FLAC, ALAC, DSD, DXD-FLAC, MQA
Studio Master Recordings. Deep across most genres.
One of the oldest digital download sites.
mp3, WMA, WAV, FLAC
Limited maintsream catalog.
New and hard to find Classical.
mp3, CD, SACD, FLAC, ALAC, USB, vinyl
We’re all pretty much familiar with the major streaming services, which can be a great addition to your library (if not a complete alternative to buying music to download), but here’s a brief recap of the Big Five (in the US anyway):
Not hi-res, but mp3 quality 320kbps bitrate for paid subscribers. The free side of the app streams at 160 kbps on your desktop device and up to 96 kbps on your mobile device. Spotify’s library is massive, and its radio algorithms are good (not up to Pandora’s level yet but getting there). Spotify is generally the fastest service to get new music.
Pandora leased their API to hardware companies only when they launched back in 2008, so the service is available with most boog AVR’s and the like, but not for software frontends such as Roon. The free side streams at 64 kbps and the paid side streams at 192 kbps. Pandora’s radio algorithms are excellent and don’t cycle through the same batch of songs like some of the other competitors, but it is limited in how users can access it – hardware devices only.
TIDAL base resolution is 44.1 kHz/16-bit which is CD Red Book standard but is also considered somewhat lo-res by current standards. However, TIDAL does deliver MQA authenticated and unbroken resolution at 96 kHz/24-bit which is considered high-resolution. The library is massive and new music appears fairly quickly.
Until recently Qobuz streamed at mp3 resolution for Premium subscribers, but the service now offers up to 192 kHz/24-bit resolution with its Studio Premier service. Qobuz’s library is massive and growing, but where it really shines is with its metadata and available documentation for each track, album or artist.
High definition tracks stream at 850 kbps which will land you right about CD quality on the paid side. The free side is around 320 kbps, or mp3 quality. Ultra HD streaming resolution is up to 192 kHz/24-bit at 3730 kbps.
It really is all down to preference and what service works best with your current platform, but truly, more high-quality music is available at the click of a mouse than ever before – so whatever way you choose to go, give your ears a treat and play some high-resolution music!