Consumer Reports casts shade on hi-res audio

Consumer Reports wonders whether hi-res audio is worth paying for.

According to Consumer Reports’ testers, though, the differences between hi-res audio and CD, high-quality MP3, and high-quality AAC files are less distinct to the ear than one might expect, even on the very high-end audio system in our labs. “If you notice any differences at all, they will only be in the very fine details of audio and only if you are paying close attention,” says Maurice Wynn, our resident audio expert. "We also found that the differences were less noticeable when listening through headphones.”

UPDATE: for the TL;DR crowd, the “tests” were done prior to April 2015, they only tested three portable music players playing unspecified “high-res” tracks compared with an Apple iPod playing 16/44.1 WAV and 256K AAC versions of the tracks, only with what the Roon crowd would probably consider down-market headphones and an unspecified “high-quality audio system”, and the expert listeners could indeed tell the difference between compressed and uncompressed when using the highest-end headphones. Not much of a test, IMO.

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Shrug. MP3 and AAC use perceptual coding that was designed to mask the effects of lower sampling rate. The people who invented those methods were very smart and did a lot of human listener testing. It would be surprising if the differences between those codecs at sufficiently high sample rates and lossless would be glaring. Nevertheless, they are there, as the perceptual masking that those codecs exploit varies among different source materials, listeners, and reproducing chain. Good averages can include some really bad outliers. Whether someone is able to hear or willing to pay to get rid of the outliers is their call.

How dare they do actual comparative listening tests. The nerve of some people. :astonished:


Huh? Using a high quality headphone is where I hear most of the differences.

Consumers Reports should stick to testing washing machines, etc.


True CR does tend to struggle when dealing with enthusiast pursuits such as audio, wine, bicycling etc.

It’s called “Consumer Reports” (mass consumption), not “Connoisseur Reports” for a reason :wink: Love your “Conference of the Birds” avatar, BTW :slight_smile:


Thanks! I’ve been using it for years on

And you are quite right about CR

For 99% of the music-listening population, “hi-res” and lossless formats don’t mean diddlysquat. Most are listening on $5 earbuds that came with their mobile, or worse yet, though the speakers in their laptop.

The market for hi-res, or even just lossless 44.1/16, is beyond niche. CR is correct that most normal users should not pay extra for it, as they’ll never be able to tell the difference on the kit they use to listen to music.

I think that CA article is pretty fair, and I also agree that selling a new „hi-res“ version of a ~50 year old (analog) recoding may be seen as milking the consumer - especially if your equipment (or hearing) isn‘t up to the task.

Apparently Suzanne Vega , Solitude Standing was one of the main test records

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Some old stuff has been quite dramatically cleaned up so it can make a difference.

A lot of CD masters distributed were many generations from the originals Many early South African Cd pressings were very dubious, compared with the UK ones I brought with me. This was 20 yrs back when my hearing was much better

try the recent Sgt Pepper remix very different

But as you say it needs good kit to spot it, these days tinnitus is louder than the music. :mask:

That’s mastering, though. Nothing to do with hires. Bad masters were bad, yes (especially in the early days of CDs). But a remastering that addresses these issues will still be fine at 44.1/16 (or for the masses, MP3/AAC/OGG from their streaming platform of choice) and still sound way better than the original release simply due to modern mastering tools and techniques (though hopefully the engineering doing the mastering has learned that the loudness wars were won by nobody).

The people writing these reviews grew up on MP3 quality streaming and don’t know what real music (live or recorded) really sounds like. Consumer Reports is NOT where you should be going to find out about music quality!

Scientifically, MP3 quality music is actually harmful to your ears…this whole generation of earbud listeners will pay the price…

And hi fi Led Zeppelin through HD 800’s at Mach 9 isn’t !

I have 50 yrs of damage to-prove it


Please provide links to peer reviewed studies that provide proof of your statement


They probably tested rap on the latest £400 Beats headphones.

Edit : just noticed they conducted their consumer reports on mobile phones… in 2015.


Ditto. I can easily hear differences between 256kbs (or less) MP3’s or AAC’s and full-rez 44.1/16 on my headphones (Sennheiser HD650’s). Through my speakers (Magnepan 1.6QR’s run by a Musical Fidelity A5 amp and Schiit Bifrost multibit DAC), the difference is less apparent. By the time we get to 320kbs vs. lossless, the differences start to disappear for me, even via headphones. And I honestly have never really been able to isolate a difference between lossless CD quality and 24/96. But I’ll freely admit that at 63 years old, my hearing ends at about 12K.

I’m MUCH more sensitive to the engineering/mastering process. Bad engineering always equals a bad listening experience. Good engineering/mastering = good experience, even at reduced bit rates.


Very well stated and I could not agree more.

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