Hirez Audio on the Cheap

High Resolution audio files, digital audio files at 24/96 or higher resolution (CD music is 16 bit/44.1 khz sampling rate) are all the rage amongst audiophiles.  Yes, there still is the vinyl vs digital debate, but hirez files somewhat ameliorate that debate.  For years, golden ears listeners felt that CD audio did not provide enough resolution.  With broadband internet now commonly available, several sites have sprung up to provide hirez file downloads. 

Along with hirez files, new equipment is now required:  expensive DACS to convert the digital files to analog, special servers to store and deliver the files over a listener's network, and exotic software to organize music libraries and control the whole process of delivery and playback of hirez files.  Needless to say, a listener can spend thousands, even 10's of thousands, to set this up.  And the cost is exclusive of the analog audio system needed to finally push the music out to the listener.

I've been fooling around a bit with hirez files.  Since I've updated an old Dynaco system combined with new speakers, I felt I should examine the whole hirez deal.  But how to do this without spending zillions?  Well, I'd previously bought a small, Oppo HA-2 DAC to use with my iPhone and a pair of Oppo headphones for improved personal music listening.  The little Oppo DAC received excellent reviews, but more importantly, is amazingly flexible, offering line out and backup battery power as well as other features. 

Looking for a good way to store hirez files, I decided to exchange an old iPhone plus cash for in iPod Touch, thinking the large capacity would be great for storing the large, hirez files.  Plus it combined nicely with the HA-2 DAC.

I stripped all unnecessary apps except those audio related.  I did add the Onkyo HF player, since iTunes won't do hirez without some pain (get it together, Apple).  Organizing the files on the iPod via connectivity with iTunes (yes, you still need iTunes to transfer files to the iPod) was somewhat confusing, but I think I've finally figured out how to do it under File Sharing to the Onkyo app.  Then it was a matter of connection the Oppo DAC to the Dynaco system and away we go (a future post will describe new enhancements to this playback system).  Following an online recommendation, I did purchase quite reasonably a Zeskit USB-Lightning cable to connect the iPod to the Oppo.

All this cost me a fraction of what is suggested in sources like Stereophile.  Besides the playback system (maybe $600-700 in upgrades) with new speakers ($500), the iPod-Oppo combo was only about $600.  Pretty cheap in comparison.

And the sound?  Well, I won't get into the debate about CD vs Hirez, but I'm enjoying the music immensely.  And you don't need to spend a lot to get into this audio arena.

Now the bad news...  iPods seem on their way out.  The Touch is the last of the breed, and maybe not for long.  The iPhone is taking over, although it is needed for so many other purposes (apps), that music becomes almost secondary.  Finally, Oppo has suspended sales of it's consumer audio gear, a true tragedy since their Blu-Ray players were superb, especially for the money.  So the HA-2 is no more.  Other compact DACs exist, but tend to be way more expensive and less flexible.  

I'm sure there are other economic ways to assemble a hirez system.  Just be careful to download hirez files that are well produced, rather than old stuff converted from dubious sources just to provide product.  I look mainly for recent recordings (last ten years) that avoid the loudness wars that squish the audio.  This takes some careful consideration.  Ultimately it's the music, not the method, so enjoy whatever the source of your sounds.

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