The shift from MP3s to high-resolution music that exceeds CD quality may have never taken the dramatic turn into the mainstream that companies like Sony, rock stars like Neil Young, or nerdy audiophiles wanted it to, but regardless of Spotify’s takeover, those with high-end gear and high-class ears are always on the lookout for quality digital music to add to their collection.
Although more and more high-end stereo receivers and even some cell phones are emerging with top-notch digital-to-analog converters on board, finding high-resolution audio files has remained a difficult task. The issue stems from a lack of digital recordings at the high sample rates and bit depth (starting at 48kHz/24 bit and up) needed to produce crystalline sonic quality.
If you want to own the music for all eternity — rather than “rent” it monthly — you do have options.
If you’re looking to stream music in the highest possible quality, one of your only solid options is the Tidal music service. Despite its quirks, Tidal allows subscribers to stream at up to 24 bit/96kHz quality, which is far and away the highest resolution of any major streaming service. Best of all, many modern receivers have network connections, making it easy to pair up a Tidal account with your hi-fi setup.
But if you want to own the music for all eternity — rather than “rent” it monthly from a service like Tidal — you still have options. There are quite a few online stores out there that offer a wealth of music to add to your 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 hi-res audio fix. Check out our list below, and let the music loose.
The veritable Mac Daddy (or is it Daddy Mac?) 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 artists here, from Bob Dylan to Bob Marley, Rush to Marvin Gaye — but don’t look for any Beatles tunes. If you’re looking to amass a big hi-res audio collection quickly, this is a great starting point.
For those purists who absolutely must have natively recorded HD music — meaning every note and cymbal crash was recorded at high sample and bit rates — 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 them have “actually been recorded and delivered in HD,” with no upsampled or transferred content, though the highest resolution we could find was 24 bit/96kHz. Shopping around reveals a decent variety of genres, from blues and acoustic to R&B and classical, available in multiple format. There are also a fat stack of Blu-rays with Dolby Digital- and DTS-compatible 5.1 surround.
If 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 grant you access to a 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 from eclectic artists or the classical genre.
Acoustic Sounds is so much more than its title implies. This site offers a bevy of pop and rock selections from familiar artists that are sure to stop that all-too-common HD feeling that you’ve wandered into a soundtrack from a Sundance film. You’ll find big names like Norah Jones, Aerosmith, Steely Dan, Depeche Mode, and Eric Clapton, as well as more indie stuff like The Civil Wars.
There’s even a nice peppering of funk and bluegrass in the mix, and everything is offered in high resolution from DSD to FLAC files. If you want to bolster your selection of quality radio hits and classic rock recordings, this site should be on your short list.
Hosting music from more than 200 labels, this site boasts a massive collection of classical and jazz tracks numbering over a million. There are also a claimed 80,000 (!) new tracks being added every month, though many are offered with only CD quality as the highest resolution.
Luckily, the simple tools at the top allow you to hone your search for sample and bit rates. A host of subgenres in the classical and jazz realm are also available in hi-res studio masters.
Though 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 hundreds of titles, and can easily be navigated by composer, artist, or genre. Perhaps best of all, the prices are very competitive, coming in at around $13 to $15 per album.
For 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 then “hand-chosen from Grammy-nominated producer Cookie Marenco.” Users get a few free downloads upon signing up, and there are 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.
Pristine Classical has a large selection of music that offers a serious blast from the recording past, with many selections pulled from recordings that reach back into the early 1940s. 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 24 bit/48kHz, but if you want to hear the music your grandparents (or great-grandparents) went to see live, this is one of the best ways.
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 listed below.
Niche Music Sites
All of the sites on our list offer HD audio files, but some are hosted out of the 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 Symphony and Boston Pops orchestras, 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: Classical performances from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
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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