Is High-Res Audio Worth It?

High-definition video has taken over TVs, phones and tablets. But sound quality is worse than it was 10 or 15 years ago. New hi-resolution audio promises to change all that.

Consumer Reports checked out the audio quality of hi-res audio files played on three players — the Sony HiRes Walkman NWZ-A17 for $300, the Ponoplayer NY001 for $400 and the Astell and Kern AK100 II for $900.

Both Consumer Reports trained reviewers and regular staff were able to tell the difference between hi-res music and iTunes downloads played on an iPod Touch. But you need high-quality gear for it to be noticeable.

Hi-res audio tracks, available on several websites, takes up a lot more storage space and typically costs twice as much or more.

Consumer Reports says that given the relatively small difference in quality and higher cost, hi-res audio probably isn’t for the casual listener who’s going to be using average headphones or speakers. It makes the most sense for true audiophiles.

For the rest of us, Consumer Reports says it probably better to just invest in a good pair of headphones. Headphones from Grado are especially good, starting at $80 for the Prestige SR60e model. Even $10 can get you a decent set of earphones that may be a big improvement over the earbuds that came with your phone. Consumer Reports recommends the Panasonic RP-TCM125.

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