Sounds of Class
Critics and audiophiles agree that no genre of music benefits from powers of high definition audio more than the genre of classical music. Classical music is layered, deep and meaningful music often without vocals. Representing the specific details that the composer and director wants only makes for a more meaningful audiophile music experience. Being able to reproduce the actual room acoustics of a concert hall only adds to the emotional power of listening to classical music.
Below are some of the formats that people listen to classical music in high definition audio:
Sadly LPs are considered by many audiophiles to be HD but they respectfully are not. The limited dynamics of the format (around 90 dB) and the high signal to noise ratio makes vinyl records wonderfully collectable, packing that analog sound but not anything close to what the Compact Disc can do let alone SACD, DVD-Audio, Blu-ray and today's HD 24-96 kHz downloads. Sorry vinyl lovers, your format just isn't high definition enough. Moreover the discs start to wear from the first play. Silver discs and downloads don't have that problem either.
Compared to the downloads that Apple sells the Compact Disc seems like an HD format but 16 bit 44.1 kHz sampling rate represents 30 year old audio technology that sadly isn't "analogous" enough to the master tape to be high definition. Compact Discs are very affordable today and can easily be ripped to music servers, NAS drives and the like because of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act but other than that CDs are also not HD enough for our standards.
Ah, Sony's failed SACD platform is in fact a high definition format but its lack of video, lack of major label support and high equipment cost made SACD a flopped format. There are audiophile labels out there like Linn Records who still sell meaningful classical music on SACD and there are archival discs out there in the catalogs and used on Ebay.com but SACD is pretty much of a dead format at this stage. With its backwards compatibility to the Compact Disc – there was hope for this format but not at this point. Burry it next to Betamax in Sony's tech graveyard.
Speaking of SACD, we can't forget to mention the other format of its format war – DVD-Audio. This format also failed like SACD but did have video support and backwards compatibility with DVD-Video players which at the time reached 92 percent of American households. Record labels like AIX, 2L and many others pushed classical music in surround sound and high resolution stereo for DVD-Audio but in the end the consumer's lack of stomach for an audio format war won out.
Why major record labels don't love Blu-ray more is beyond me. Discs hold up to 50 GB of data. Players are about $100. About 50 percent of American homes have a Blu-ray player at some level or another but most importantly the digital signal that comes out of it (be it 24/192 stereo audio or 24/96 7.1 surround sound for movies) is as close to the actual master tape as money can buy. Better yet for the labels a) the files are huge thus hard to share assuming anyone could rip them and put them on the Internet a 'la Napster in the late 1990s and b) with a $9 HDMI cable these files are significantly copy protected. Can hackers in Denmark get around the copy protection? Sure. They also can hack the CIA when they want to. Is the copy protection enough to keep Joe Consumer from stealing music? Absolutely yes. Can Blu-ray playback music like the master tape itself? Also an enthusiastic YES thus why Blu-ray is currently the best format for classical music in high definition. With that said – little to no labels embrace classical music on Blu-ray other than Norway's 2L, AIX Records and a few other small players.
With the popularity of Apple's "iProducts" like the iPhone, iPod and iPad Apple has cornered the market on downloaded music. What nobody wants to talk about before they go to the App Store is that the music files that Apple charges $9.95 per album for are one quarter the resolution of a Compact Disc and unlike a CD – they are copy protected. That's a lousy value and lousy performance. The good news is that there are download systems like HD Tracks that sell music in 24/96 high definition that you can rip right to your computer. Do they work well with Apple products? Not right now but HD Tracks is working on that and a solution is pending. Singer-songwriter Neil Young is also working on a system for delivering HD music called Pogo which also has some promise.