There are two types of people in the world: people who can hear the difference between an MP3 and a CD and those who can’t. If you fall into the former camp, you probably prefer to buy your music in at least CD quality. You can go much further with high-resolution music files, also known as hi-res, which are increasing in popularity.
If you have a collection of hi-res music, you probably want to make sure you can do it justice when you play it back. You could buy a standalone audio player, but if you have an Android phone, you might not need to.
Hi-Res Audio vs. Lossless Audio
If you’re not intimately acquainted with the world of audio, you might confuse high-resolution audio with lossless audio. Let’s start by looking at what both of these terms mean.
MP3 is a lossy format, which means that when you encode to this format, you’re losing a little bit of the original. Converting from MP3 to WAV then back again will continue to lose fidelity. Formats like FLAC are lossless, which means they work similar to .zip files. You can convert from FLAC to WAV and back as many times as you want, and you won’t lose a thing.
All hi-res music formats are lossless, but not all lossless music is necessarily hi-res. High-resolution audio simply means better than CD quality, which is 44.1 kHz / 16-bit. High-resolution audio files are frequently 192 kHz / 32-bit, which theoretically captures more of the original signal than CD quality. There are arguments to be made that digital hi-res files aren’t all they’re made up to be, but we won’t get into that here.
Start with Your Hardware
Some Android phones come with high-quality digital-to-analog converters (DACs) included. The LG V20, V30, and V40, for example, are popular among audio enthusiasts. Part of this is the high-quality DAC included, and part of it is that these phones still have headphone jacks.
If your phone doesn’t have a higher-grade DAC (or a headphone jack, for that matter), you can use an external DAC. While you can buy a standalone DAC for your stereo that does nothing but convert, a DAC meant for a phone usually includes a headphone amp.
You can find a number of DACs meant for Android phones on the Web. Fiio makes several popular models like the K3 DSD256, while the Audioquest Dragonfly is another popular model, but you’ll need a USB OTG cable for that one.
The Best Android Apps for Hi-Res Audio
You’ve got a few great options for music players on Android with support for hi-res playback. If you’re looking for a one-stop shop, USB Audio Player PRO, also known as UAPP, might be your best option. For $8.99, the app supports hi-res formats like FLAC, MQA, and DSD up to 384kHz / 32-bit. It also plays music from Tidal, which offers hi-res through its Tidal Hi-Fi plan.
The Neutron Music Player app is a little cheaper at $6.99. This features support for a ton of formats, including several hi-res formats. Like UAPP, Neutron also has support for external USB DACs, completely bypassing the internal DAC.
Finally, the Onkyo HF Player isn’t as full-featured and doesn’t support as many formats, but it is available for free. If you’re looking to dip your toes in the hi-res waters, this is a good way to test them out. A Pro version is also available that adds more features.
What If You Use an iPhone?
Not everyone uses Android devices. If you’re a fan of Apple’s platform, you’ll need different apps, but much of the advice here remains the same. Get a quality DAC, and you’ll be set. That said, if you’re using a Mac to manage your music, the FLAC format isn’t the easiest to use.
If you’re using an iPhone and a Mac, it might be worth your while to convert your collection from FLAC to ALAC. It’s still lossless and won’t suffer at all from conversion. Not sure how to get started? Don’t worry, we already have a guide to converting your music from FLAC to ALAC.