I wonder historically when this term was first coined. I suppose it must have been in the murky distant past of times immemorial when primitive man glazed upon the yellowish gleam of Keynes' "barbarous relic" and began ascribing all manners of idealistic properties. Or not...
The other day, a forum poster brought up this link from What HiFi? about Hi-Res audio. Yeah, it covers the basics, but I did want to add an item #5 in terms of "factors to consider":
5. You must have good enough ears to appreciate the difference hi-resolution makes.
I know this can be touchy for some folks, but it is what it is. Our ears (and brains), like all the other sense organs (and cognitive domains) do not have infinite resolution. And like everything else, time is not on "our" side. At 42 years old this year, my ear's "frequency response" only goes up to about 15-16kHz at normal amplitudes. Do I really have the need to go for files with sampling rates of 88kHz+? Honestly, I don't think so... But as I've expressed elsewhere, this is about perfectionist audio so I'm certainly happy to have access to my favourite music using the most accurate technology available (I'm still of the opinion that 24/96 is more than I'll ever need in terms of the technical specs).
If you haven't seen it yet, recently, our friends at Philips have come up with a very cool website called the Golden Ears Challenge. Just enroll with your E-mail address and get going with some ear training. Log off and it'll keep your place in the test. Seriously, if you believe your equipment and ears are up to the task, take the challenge! I suspect some audiophiles will be surprised at the limits of their hearing ability.
I took the Challenge using the ASUS Essence One on my desktop with a pair of venerable Sony MDR-V6 (<$100) studio monitor headphones. I figured, if the V6 is good enough for Roger Waters, it's good enough for me!
I suppose better headphones like my Sennheiser HD800 and being in my much quieter audio room downstairs could have made tasks like hearing high frequency extension or detection of minor amounts of reverberation easier, but the computer desktop was more convenient... Remember to make sure the DAC is set to native 44.1kHz and something like Windows Mixer isn't upsampling.
The Bronze level wasn't difficult at all unless one has hearing issues, I suspect.
Here's the "coveted" Golden Ears achievement :-). You get an E-mail to confirm.
Not bad, took my time over a couple of nights in between some virtual paper work. Achieved with a little patience and using the same ASUS Essence One / Sony MDR-V6 combination. The most time consuming part was getting the Boost/Cut Identification Test right at the various frequencies (63, 125, 250, 500, 1k, 2k, 4k, 8k, 16kHz). A frequency boost at 16kHz with real music was barely audible for me. Tests like the bass boost really benefits from headphones capable of good bass response so I suspect an open unit like my AKG Q701 would not be the best headphone to try this on.
As of this writing, here are the overall statistics for this test:
Anyhow, I highly recommend giving this a try yourself... I believe that anyone can have an opinion about equipment fidelity just like everyone has the right to have an opinion on what music they enjoy. But it does require good ears technically if one is to claim discernment of small differences between pieces of gear. I think for many, engaging in tests like this one would be very educational if not eye opening in terms of limits of one's hearing. Furthermore, I think doing challenges like these should be mandatory for those who engage in "professional" audiophile hardware reviews focused on audio fidelity. (And those championing technical specifications based on 'articles of faith' like 24/192 over 16/44... errr... who's that Pono guy again?)
PS: Remember that JPlay software I measured awhile back which made no difference (actually there was a bug in that version which makes it even worse)? Looks like they've returned with a line of "JCAT" hardware! USB cable for 299Eur, SATA for 349Eur! How about Cat 5e (!) for 349Eur - man, they didn't even bother trying for Cat 7; at least the AudioQuest "audiophile" ethernet cables did! Reminds me of sellers on eBay trying to scalp some bucks by listing items at huge mark-ups with "Buy It Now" to catch shoppers who have never tried "The Price Is Right". This time around, they don't seem to claim sonic superiority of these products - merely "help you create the ultimate PC audio transport and get the most out of JPLAY".
Considering that a high quality SATA-III cable with fastening clips (which this one doesn't even seem to have!) runs for about the equivalent of <$4Eur at my local computer store, these guys are charging at >8700% mark-up presumably for that JCAT logo stamped on, silver plating and teflon coat (of course unless you're pimped out and have a window into your computer case, these will be hidden from view)... Sorry J-Dudes, but IMHO, The Price is Gluttonously Wrong. Why don't you guys show us in what way these are better than good quality generic SATA-III 6Gb/s cables first? (As if there's even a plausible explanation.)