Numerous streaming platforms provide hi-fi audio, but little information is available about how this varies from standard audio streaming. In short, hi-fi audio is the chosen method of streaming for all audiophiles.
Hi-fi audio really is worth the investment because it provides the top streaming experience possible. While most hi-fi platforms are prohibitively expensive, there are several affordable alternatives. Regardless of price, high-fidelity audio is the best way to achieve studio-quality sound at home.
This post will define hi-fi audio and address its benefits and drawbacks. Additionally, we will cover the equipment used for hi-fi streaming and how to locate high-quality audio files.
What Is Hi-Fi Audio?
Hi-fi audio is music that is devoid of all audible restrictions usually found on the CD format. The expression refers to music files with a sampling rate greater than 16-bit/44.1kHz.
The sampling rate of a signal corresponds to the number of times it is sampled per second during the analog conversion. The more bits in the signal, the more precisely audio devices can measure it.
Generally, hi-fi audio files have a sampling rate of 24-bit/96kHz. There are, however, additional high-quality frequency options available.
Read more: The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Hi-Fi Audio
What Are the Advantages of High-Definition Audio?
The primary advantage of hi-fi audio files over compressed audio formats is better sound quality.
Usually, files from streaming platforms use condensed file formats with low bitrates. Since lossy compression involves the loss of data during the encoding process, clarity is exchanged for the sake of relatively small file sizes. And this degrades the sound quality.
Hi-fi audio is capable of reproducing the sound level used by artists and engineers in the studio. With more data to work with, hi-fi audio typically offers greater clarity and nuance, enveloping audiences in the original performance.
What File Formats Are Available?
When using hi-fi audio, you can select from various file formats to ensure the highest possible sound quality. The following is a list of the most often used file types:
- FLAC: A royalty-free format that is commonly supported. (Read more about FLAC.)
- ALAC: Apple’s lossless compression format also supports hi-fi audio and stores metadata.
- WAV: Excellent sound performance; however, the files are enormous. It does not serve metadata well.
- AIFF: Apple created this format. AIFF is a lossless format, meaning all audio data is in its entirety.
- MQA: A lossless compression format for high-resolution files that places a greater focus on the time aspect. This format is used to stream audio on Tidal Masters.
Related article: Is FLAC Better Than WAV? Here’s What You Need To Know
What Are the Disadvantages of Hi-Fi Audio?
The main disadvantage of hi-fi audio is the file size. Usually, a hi-fi file is tens of megabytes. A few tracks will quickly use all of the capacity on your smartphone or make streaming over your home network inconvenient.
An easy solution for this is to have substantial storage allowances on your gadgets. Additionally, ensure that the download speed is sufficient for streaming hi-fi files.
Is Hi-Fi Audio Worth It?
Hi-fi audio is unquestionably worthwhile, even more so for audiophiles. As previously said, the audio files obtained from a hi-fi device will be significantly more precise, and each sound will be audible. Hi-fi audio can dramatically improve the listening experience for those who are deeply involved in music and production.
Though hi-fi streaming is typically subscription-based, the fee varies among platforms. Notably, it is not the audio itself that is considered costly, but rather the devices used to hear it properly.
A pair of high-quality speakers cost about $250 or more. This price does not include any additional equipment you may require for the optimal listening experience.
What Do You Need To Play Hi-Fi Audio?
The most critical feature of a hi-fi audio system is the speaker. Numerous internal components of a speaker have a significant effect on the final tone, including the following:
- Cabinet size
- Speaker drivers
- Frequency response
There are two primary categories of loudspeakers that you should be familiar with when assembling a hi-fi system: active and passive.
Passive speakers cannot function without additional amplification from an amplifier. Active speakers have built-in amplification.
Each has advantages and drawbacks. Passive speakers are more affordable and have greater amplification flexibility. On the other hand, active speakers are more costly but do not require several components to operate.
A great example of affordable active speakers with high quality is the KEF LSX!
Once you’ve decided on a speaker that supports hi-fi, there are additional tools you may have to consider.
If you want to use your computer to play Hi-Fi audio, you should definitely read our guide on getting audiophile quality sound from your computer, where you will get all the information you need.
Preamplifier and Power Amplifier
Preamps are responsible for preparing the poor audio signal from your music source for the next step of amplification.
Certain units, such as network players, have a built-in preamp, so there is no need to introduce one to your system if you already have one.
The power amp takes the preamp’s low signals and adds the necessary drive to make it audible.
Another example, which is more common among beginners, is to choose an integrated amplifier. If you choose an integrated amplifier instead of a preamp and a power amp, you get it all in one unit.
Digital to Analog Converter
A DAC converts electrical data to an analog audio signal. Following that, it transmits the analog signal to an amplifier.
When you listen to recorded music on any system, you are simply listening to an audio form that has been transferred from digital to analog with a DAC.
Internal DACs in most systems are not well suited to accommodate clocking errors, which results in increased jitter. By contrast, external DACs address these errors. As a consequence, they will reconstruct the music more easily from the bitstream of binary digits.
As a result, you’ll get an authentic, distortion-free sound.
Though standalone DACs are not needed, they significantly enhance the hi-fi experience.
Headphones (instead of speakers)
There are a few different types of headphones available. If we are just discussing over-ear headphones here, you have to choose between closed-back or open-back headphones.
Closed-back headphones capture sound inside the cup. This is an excellent function for noise isolation, but it can result in a restricted soundstage. Open-back models, on the other hand, provide a more natural tone.
This advantage is achieved by the use of vents that allow air to circulate the dynamic drivers. Due to the more realistic sound produced by this headphone design, these are better suited for a hi-fi experience.
We recommend these (link to Amazon), a fantastic pair of headphones that bring you incredible detail and a very pleasurable listening experience. Even though they’re not cheap, you get a lot for the money!
Surge Protector (optional)
When purchasing a hi-fi unit, it is critical to keep in mind that unexpected voltage surges or grid outages will potentially destroy system components.
As a result, it is vital to invest in surge protection to safeguard your equipment. It is preferable to use a surge protector that also acts as a filter for electricity entering the signal direction.
Where Can You Stream High-Definition Audio?
If you choose to listen to music by streaming, there are several options for high-quality sound.
- Tidal Masters is a website dedicated to providing listeners with the best listening experience possible. To access the Master’s section, you must first subscribe to Tidal’s HiFi tier. After which, you can stream MQA files through the desktop or mobile app. Tidal’s MQA library totals approximately 70 million tracks at a resolution of up to 24-bit/96kHz.
- Qobuz Sublime+ is a download-streaming hybrid technology. Their premium bundle includes hi-fi streaming up to 24bit/192kHz files and CD-quality songs. The sound collection hosts a 50-million-track archive that has over 240,000 high-resolution tracks.
- Amazon Music HD is a relative newcomer to the world of hi-fi streaming platforms. This platform is the most economical of the three services listed. About 75 million high-resolution audio tracks are available on the service.
The enjoyment of hi-fi music has become more available to audiences. Regardless of the sound output, you need a device capable of transmitting the sound correctly.
It’s worth noting that assembling a hi-fi system that meets your requirements does not have to be extremely expensive.
A great start is a nice pair of headphones, a headphone amplifier, and a DAC. That’s all you need to experience real hi-fi audio via your phone or computer. Of course, you need some music to play, and there is where a music streaming service comes in.