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Start building your HD music catalog at these high-res audio sites

The shift from lossy mp3 to high-resolution music that exceeds CD-quality is under way, and in a big way. Major tech giants like Sony have begun cultivating new HD hardware, while Neil Young’s Kickstarter campaign for his HD PonoMusic player and downloading service became the third most successful ever to launch from the site, seemingly proving that there are plenty of people for whom high quality digital music is a priority.

However, even as a number of new high resolution AV receivers and portable music players continue to emerge, the solution as to where to go for high quality HD audio files has remained somewhat elusive. The issue stems from a lack of digital recordings at high sample rates and bit depth (starting at 48kHz/24 bit and up) needed to produce the crystalline sonic quality, as well as a reluctance by some artists to release their original recordings for re-mastering at the higher standard. (see the Beatles below)

Still, there are quite a few online stores out there that offer a wealth of music to add to your HD catalog – if you know where to find them. To help you on your quest, we’ve compiled this list of some of the best websites to satisfy your HD audio fix, which we will continue to update as the high-resolution music trend continues to gain momentum. Check out our list below, and let the HD music loose.

HDtracks

HD TracksThe veritable MacDaddy (or is it DaddyMac?) of online stores, HDtracks has one of the most extensive collections of high resolution Pop, Rock, Classical, and Jazz music on the web. David Chesky, a noted composer, musician, and producer, co-founded and chairs the site, and continues to develop its catalog. Virtually all of the files on the site are available in multiple formats, with resolution rates that reach up to the highest industry standard, though many are only available at CD quality. You’ll find a host of your favorite pop artists here, from Bob Dylan to Bob Marley, Rush to Marvin Gaye – but don’t look for any Beatles tunes – they don’t play that way. If you’re looking to amass a big HD audio collection quickly, this is a great starting point.

File Formats: WMA, AIFF, FLAC, ALAC
Highest resolution: 192kHz/24 bit

iTrax

iTraxFor those purists who absolutely must have natively recorded HD music – meaning every note and cymbal crash was recorded at high resolution – iTrax is your mecca. Founded by Dr. Mark Waldrep – one of the chief pioneers of high-resolution audio – the site offers a respectable selection of around 700 HD audio files, and 200 HD video tracks, all of which have “actually been recorded and delivered in HD,” with no upsampled or transferred content, though the highest resolution we could find was 96kHz/24bit. Shopping around reveals a decent variety of genres, from Blues and Acoustic to R&B and Classical, available in multiple formats, and there are also a fat stack of Blu-rays with Dolby Digital and DTS compatible 5.1 surround.

File Formats: FLAC, WMA, and WMA Pro
Highest resolution: up to 96kHz/24 bit

Bowers & Wilkins Society of Sound

Bowers & Wilkins Society of SoundIf you’d prefer to have Peter Gabriel and the London Symphony Orchestra pick out your HD music for you, this is the site you’ve been looking for. Less of a store and more of a club, B&W will send you two curated albums per month with your membership, which costs around $60 per year, as well as granting you access to an assorted selection of choices from the catalog. The site even includes a vault of recordings made using the anatomically-based binaural recording technique. Don’t expect a heap of radio hits, however, as most of the selections are eclectic artists and Classical recordings. And as a bonus, the overwhelming sense of being better than everyone is free of charge.

File Formats: FLAC, ALAC
Highest resolution: 192kHz/24 bit

Acoustic Sounds

Acoustic SoundsSo much more than its title implies, this site offers a bevy of Pop and Rock selections from familiar artists sure to stop that all too common HD feeling that you’ve wandered into a soundtrack from a Sundance film. Some of the big names include Norah Jones, Aerosmith, Steely Dan, Depeche Mode, and Eric Clapton, as well as some more indie stuff like the Civil Wars. There’s even a nice peppering of Funk and Bluegrass in the mix, all of which is offered in high res from DSD to FLAC files. If you want to bolster your selection of HD radio hits and classic rock, this site should be on your shortlist.

File Formats: FLAC, ALAC, DSF, DSD
Highest resolution: 192kHz/24 bit

The Classical Shop

The Classical ShopHosting music from over 200 labels, the site boasts a massive collection of Classical and Jazz tracks numbering over 1.5 million. There are also a claimed 80,000 (!) new tracks being stockpiled to the arsenal every month, though many are offered at only CD quality as the highest resolution. Luckily, the simple tools at the top allow you to hone your search for HD only, as well as offering a host of sub genres in the Classical and Jazz realm available in hi-res studio masters.

File Formats: WMA, WAV, AIFF, FLAC, FLAC studio surround 5.1
Highest resolution: 96kHz/24 bit

ATMA Classique

ATMA ClassiqueThough not nearly as extensive as The Classical Shop, this 15 year old French-Canadian site has a great selection, good organization, and even a cool catalog section with pages that turn like a virtual book. The site hosts around 300 titles, and can easily be navigated by composer, artist, or genre. And perhaps best of all, the prices are very competitive, coming in at around $13-15 per album.

File Formats: FLAC, CD
Highest resolution: 96kHz/24 bit

Blue Coast Records/Downloads NOW!

Blue Coast/Downloads NowFor those looking for something a bit more eclectic and under the radar, the Blue Coast site/label offers a nice selection of indie rock and pop hits, many of which were recorded by the label and were then “hand-chosen from Grammy-nominated producer Cookie Marenco.” Users get a few free downloads upon signing up, and there are also more selections available on the excitably titled sister site, Downloads NOW! These sites aren’t the prettiest on the web, but they do have some cool live music from artists you’re unlikely to find elsewhere.

File Formats: WAV, DSD
Highest resolution: 96kHz/24 bit

Pristine Classical

Pristine ClassicalPristine Classical has a large swath of music that offers a serious blast from the recording past, with many selections pulled from recordings that reach back into the early 40’s. All of the tracks have been meticulously remastered, though they will cost you a pretty penny in some cases. The best resolution available appears to be in the lower realm, at 48kHz/24 bit, but if you want to hear the the music your great grandparents went to see, this is one of the best ways.

File Formats: FLAC
Highest resolution: 48kHz/24 bit

Those are our favorites for grabbing the most quality choices for your precious online time. However, there are plenty of other sites to pick and choose from, which we’ve thoughtfully listed below. We’ve also got big hopes for the aforementioned PonoMusic downloading service from Mr. Neil Young. With a throng of Rock legends for buddies, and some real industry clout, Young may be able to leverage some yet-untapped resources once the site is up and running. Until then, enjoy our list, and happy hunting!

Note: All of the sites on our list offer HD audio files, but some are hosted out of country and may have limitations as to what content is available for purchase in the U.S.

Analekta Records – Classical
Boston Symphony Orchestra – local performances from the Boston Orchestra, Pops, etc. 
Cedille Records – music from the Chicago Classical Recordings Foundation
Channel Classics – Classical
Gubemusic – Classical, Jazz, World
High Definition Tape Transfers – Classical, Jazz
Melba Recordings – Austrailian Classical performances from the Melba Symphony
Naim Label – Indie Rock, Classical, Folk, Pop
Sound Liason – Classical, ensemble works, Pop covers
Subradar – Free Jazz, Free Rock, Contemporary, Electronic

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