High Res or Low Compression?

Well, both.

Cranking the resolution up to 24 bit / 192 kHz is a great thing… for a great recording. But on a not-so-great recording, all it does is highlight the flaws. Each. And. Every. One.

So what makes a great recording?

On the one hand, it’s subjective. The choice of venue, microphone and A/D equipment certainly plays a role. And, of course, a great recording is usually one that captures great music.

But, I want to point out something today that we don’t often discuss in audiophilia — the mastering process. Most recordings are mastered for general consumption. General consumption was historically radio or vinyl. More recently, it’s become radio or MP3 (thanks Zune, iTunes, Pandora, Spotify…). That means most tracks are not mastered for a system with a wide dynamic and wide frequency range. And as audiophiles, we pay the price.

[NOTE: there’s a lot of info on the web, and even many great YouTube videos on loudness wars and compression. Check them out if you want to learn more.]

So before you run out and re-buy your digital collection in high res, you may want to find out what you’re actually getting. A re-mastering + high resolution release (which likely targets the audiophile crowd) is bound to sound absolutely amazing. An old master, re-released in a higher resolution is likely to be a lamentable letdown.

To wrap up, I can tell you this: I would listen to a great recording in plain old 16 bit / 44.1 kHz (CD Quality) any day. And on most days, I do.