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Listeners Know When Music Is Hi-Res, Study Finds

A new study finds that casual listeners can tell a difference between standard and hi-res audio, with trained test subjects accurately ID'ing the formats around 60 percent of the time.

Can listeners really hear the differences between standard and high resolution audio formats? A new study arriving soon from Queen Mary University of London thinks so, though the results found that it clearly helps if you’re a trained audiophile.

The findings, which will be published in an upcoming Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, compared data from over 12,000 trials where participants were asked to examine samples of mostly classical and jazz music. It found that casual listeners could tell a difference between the audio formats, with trained test subjects accurately ID’ing the formats around 60 percent of the time.

“One motivation for this research was that people in the audio community endlessly discuss whether the use of high resolution formats and equipment really make a difference,” writes Dr. Joshua Reiss of QMUL’s Centre for Digital Music. “Conventional wisdom states that CD quality should be sufficient to capture everything we hear, yet anecdotes abound where individuals claim that hi-res content sounds crisper, or more intense. And people often cherry-pick their favourite study to support whichever side they’re on.”

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According to Dr. Reiss, the new study took an impartial stance on whether hi-res audio can be heard, and went about examining dozens of previous research papers on the topic. “We subjected the data to many forms of analysis,” he says. “The effect was clear, and there were some indicators as to what conditions demonstrate it most effectively. Hopefully, we can now move forward towards identifying how and why we perceive these differences.”

A request for an early look at the full study was not immediately returned.