If you want the very best audiophile sound you can get in your car you will want to consider equipment that can handle Hi-Resolution Audio.
Hi-Res Audio is simply better than CD quality audio. It captures more details from the artist’s studio performance.
Lately, more music is being released in Hi-Res Audio because musicians want you to hear their work just as they recorded it, with as much musical range as possible.
Streaming audio over Spotify or Pandora strips out more than 90 percent of the music’s original acoustics. So do MP3 files. But Hi-Res Audio returns much more of the original recording.
It doesn’t compress the music as does MP3 and many streaming services. Instead it records and plays back music at a higher frequency range to capture the nuances of music that may be lost even in CD quality recordings.
So technically speaking, where CD quality audio is recorded and plays back at 44.1kHz in 16 bit audio, Hi-Res audio gives you about more than twice the musical information per second. Hi Res music is often recorded at 96kHz in 24 bit audio or 192kHz/24/bit.
So how do you get Hi-Res Audio and how does it work in the car?
Hi-Res Audio music can be downloaded from sites such as HDtracks in several formats, the most popular being FLAC files that you can then upload to a USB drive to play in the car. Then you need Hi-Res capable equipment to play it back. There’s plenty of high end home audio receivers, headphones and even some smartphones that can play Hi-Res Audio. But what about the car?
That radio in your car will almost certainly not handle Hi-Res Audio with few exceptions (such as Tesla). But many aftermarket car radios will, including models from Sony, Kenwood and JVC.
Sony is a front-runner in Hi-Res Audio and is heavily pushing the format in its home, car and portable products. In car, even its most basic radios have Hi Res capability.
For audiophiles, Sony began offering the GSX-RS9 late last year. It claims it has the best specs of any radio on the market. It delivers some of the best quality audio at a price of $1,400. But you can also get a Hi-Res capable Sony radio, starting as low as $79 with with the newly released Sony DCX-G1200U or $99 for the CDX-G3205UV that also adds SiriusXM capability. Both of these budget radios will handle FLAC files at up to 24 bit/48kHz through the USB drive.
Kenwood has more than 15 car audio models that support Hi-Res Audio. Many can decode either FLAC or WAV files in up to 192KHz, 24-bit audio.
JVC offers the KW-V820BT, which also handles FLAC or WAV files in up to 192KHz, 24-bit audio.
Both Alpine and Pioneer also sell radios which will accept Hi-Res Audio files, but they downcovert them to CD quality during playback.
For those who wish to keep their factory radio but improve the audio quality in the car, there is yet another means to get Hi-Res Audio in the car. Many car audio brands now offer Digital Signal Processors (DSPs) that are installed in connection to the radio, allowing you to improve the audio acoustics. Many of these also include Hi-Res Audio capability.
But what about streaming audio services: do any offer Hi-Res Audio? Streaming service Tidal is expected to offer Hi-Res music streaming using a new technology called MQA that can be played back on Hi-Res Audio equipment. You can expect a number of announcements on streaming and Hi-Res Audio at CES in January 2017.