I’m listening tonight to a “hi-res” 24-bit, 96kHz lossless version of “August and Everything After” through my good headphones, DAC, and amp tonight. I love this album. It helps that I was 15 when it came out, of course. But still, I think it is an emotionally rich artistic achievement. It surprised me when such an earnest, heartfelt record became wildly popular; only in the 1990s would that happen, I guess.
I compared this hi-res version, track by track, with two other versions I have on hand:
- my 16-bit, 44.1kHz ALAC rip from my original CD from 1992, and
- the 256kbps AAC version available through Apple Music.
The main improvement the hi-res version brings over the CD-quality rip, to my ears, is a lower noise floor. Otherwise, it sounds the same as the CD version. You gain about 1-2% in fidelity at the price of lot of extra bits on the hard drive, and, perhaps, more dollars out of your wallet. This is true even though the 24-bit version was mastered to be a little quieter than the original CD and iTunes versions. You have to turn it up a notch to match the others’ volume. Even with more amplification, the hi-res version’s noise floor is incredibly low, and everything sounds fantastic.
Overall, I would prefer to listen to all my music in lossless quality, in as high fidelity as possible. It can sound better than lossy rips, and, even if I can’t hear the difference on a particular track, why not listen to the best version available? That said, I subscribe to Apple Music, which serves AAC files, rather than Tidal, which has a lossless streaming plan, primarily for convenience. Fortunately, for me, Apple’s 256kbps AAC files are completely adequate substitutes for lossless rips. I do think, though, that if Apple offered a lossless plan at a slight up-charge, I would subscribe to it.