What are hi-res audio headphones?

Did you know you could buy hi-res audio headphones? There's no denying the hi-res audio boom over the past few years, and just as consumers have upped their interest in getting their ears around better-quality music, so manufacturers have supported this with kit that's capable of playing it. To help make the buying decision easier for consumers, the Japan Audio Society (JAS) and the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) created guidelines for hi-res audio and in the process developed the Hi-Res Audio logo you'll have seen on all manner of audio products. But are hi-res headphones just a gimmick? It's not quite as obvious as you might think…

What are hi-res headphones?

Firstly, there is, at least, a specification for hi-res headphones. In order to carry the Hi-Res Audio logo, headphones need to produce an upper frequency of at least 40kHz. Interestingly, that's above the limit of human hearing, which sits around 20kHz (or lower, depending on your age),but that doesn't mean the sound information sitting outside of this range is useless. If headphones are capable of playing back the full harmonic structure of a note, it will help to ensure that the part we can hear is as fully formed as it can be. Ask the manufacturers and they will tell you that headphones without the logo may experience a frequency roll-off when your music pushes the outer limits of the 20Hz-20kHz range. They either don't reproduce extreme frequencies particularly well, or they can't handle them at all. Hi-Res Audio headphones claim to handle the full spectrum of hi-res audio ensuring no sonic detail is lost. In theory your music sounds better. Of course, you're only going to get this frequency range from hi-res music, so if your collection doesn't stretch past CDs or streaming, it's unlikely you'd get the full benefit of the tech.

Do hi-res headphones sound better?

That's the tricky part – just because a pair of headphones are emblazoned with the Hi-Res Audio logo doesn't mean they'll sound better than a pair that aren't. It's just a technical specification and has no bearing on tonal balance, timing, dynamics, detail or anything else that makes a pair of headphones great. So how will you know whether hi-res headphones sound better than 'normal' headphones? As ever, the proof is in the listening.

What hi-res headphones are available?

Most of the big-name manufacturers sell headphones that carry the Hi-Res Audio logo. These include Audio-Technica, Onkyo, Philips, RHA, Sennheiser and Sony. It's worth noting that just because a product doesn't have the logo, it doesn't mean it doesn't reach the standard. Manufacturers have to pay to use the logo and so it's worth looking at the headphone spec to be sure. Even better, keep an eye on our reviews, visit the What Hi Fi Show and select what suits your genre the best.