High Fidelity Pure Audio showcase of Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

HFPA Goodbye Yellow Brick RoadYou know all of that space on a Blu-ray disc (50GB if it’s dual layer)? What would happen if all of that was taken up with fat wadges of audio data? Well, that’s what High Fidelity Pure Audio is and me and few others were treated to a show and tell held at Metropolis Studios in West London.

Where some might be tempted to get a bunch of albums on one Blu-ray or, perhaps, add extras such as video taken during the album’s creation and such, Hi-Fi Pure Audio is all about the quality, not the quantity of tracks on the disc.

With the announcement that 60% of the population has access to Blu-ray players, I’m guessing that includes PS3 and PS4, and Xbox Ones, Blu-ray spinners in PCs as well as those next to your telly, Olivier Robert-Murphy, global head of new business at Universal Music Group, starts to address this gathering of audio enthusiasts at Metropolis Studios in West London.

Olivier is passionate about this high end format and points out that although vinyl can give really good audio quality it is likely to give that only for a limited amount of times/plays so there is a real need for a format that can give that quality for a much longer period.

He is of course referring to this next gen audio format which utilises Blu-ray of which there are already 100 titles available, and it just so happens that a couple of weeks ago, the 2014 edition of Elton John’s classic album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was launched.

We will later be treated to Candle in the Wind, Bennie and the Jets, and Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting through huge speakers in the Metropolis viewing theatre but the real reason we’re all here is to be informed that High Fidelity Pure Audio is the future.

As someone that still enjoys the physical product, I am happy to hear that discs are still where it’s at.

Since last summer, this format has been touted by Universal along with Sony Music. What makes it interesting, practical and even plausible for consumers is that High Fidelity Pure Audio discs simply take advantage of the existing provision for sound on the Blu-ray format. Apart from a menu screen you won’t see any video, something which the packaging is at pains to point out to save unwanted (and unwarranted) complaints no doubt.

What you do get though, are high resolution versions in PCM stereo (uncompressed) and surround mixes in Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master Audio – the latter two relying on lossless data compression techniques. You might get only one of the surround formats or both; it just depends on the title.

hfpa stereo mix optionsRegardless of the playback choice, the prerequisite for all audio to be released in this format is a minimum resolution of 24 bits – which delivers a massive dynamic range – and 96kHz, a frequency response well beyond human hearing. That said, 192kHz recordings are accommodated and being mastered on High Fidelity Pure Audio (HFPA) discs too. A higher sample rate delivers greater accuracy when digitising analogue audio.

Metropolis Studios is behind the conversions to the new format, reviving analogue tape for remastering and remixing as well as preparing new material for duplication.

Before any of you audiophile folks point out, I realise that we’ve had SACD (Super Audio CD), to name but one failed format, before – but the thing there is that in order to enjoy the enhanced quality of the medium you had to spend around £400 for a player capable of handling it.

What High Fidelity Pure Audio (HFPA) is hoping makes the difference is that it just needs what apparently is already in most homes, or at least a player you can buy for under £100. That sounds fantastic – but there is always a catch and in this case the catch is as well as having a Blu-ray player you really ought to have a decent home theatre surround sound system in order to take advantage of the 5.1 selling point or a hi-fi that has the chops to reveal any difference over CD from 24-bit/192kHz stereo playback.

With such a large format it’s unlikely that you’re going to be slinging it on your phone to listen to and, whilst Pure Audio does have standard Blu-Ray copy protection, Universal do offer a voucher for a digital download of the title. In the UK these are limited to 320kbps MP3 files and whilst these are better quality than most MP3s out there I was happy to hear that they are considering offering Lossless FLAC encodings – they have already offered these as an experiment in France. This does have to clear some internal music industry political worries – it is obviously scary to offer downloads at the same quality as your master material – but if you’re hawking this to the high-end audio community you need to at least offer them something they’ll want.

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It does seem that, as with most quality Hi-Fi formats, HFPA is going to rely on those people out there that are willing to spend the money on quality gear. Would someone that has just spent money on a Bluetooth and NFC-equipped soundbar so that it can push out the audio from films as well as everyone’s portable device then decide they need another upgrade because their favourite album has been released on HFPA?

As well as Elton we were given blasts of classic Genesis and it all sounded fantastic, naturally, but is this quality format destined to join DVD-Audio in the ‘where are they now?’ files?

Personally I’m hoping that it takes off and runs parallel with the resurgence of vinyl. There will always be people that appreciate quality audio but might not be in a position to spend a four-figure sum on a headphone amp or specialist player for an obscure format. However, people may be happier to upgrade their system bit-by-bit to accommodate an enhanced listening experience.


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