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High-Res Audio Coming To More Smartphones

Playback of high-resolution 192kHz/24-bit music files — FLAC at least — turned up in the latest HTC One M9 flagship smartphone, and it could soon turn up in midtier models, thanks to new Qualcomm smartphone chipsets — the Snapdragon 620 and 618 — expected to be in devices in the second half of 2015.

The first cellphone to feature 192/24 playback — of FLAC and WAV files — was LG’s G2 in 2013. It also recorded 192/24 audio. In 2014, HTC launched a special-edition HTC One M8 co-branded with the Harman Kardon name through Sprint. It delivered native decoding of 192kHz/24-bit FLAC files and supported CD-quality WAV files. It also featured Harman’s Clari-Fi technology, which restores missing information in lossy compressed-music files.

Now comes the HTC One M9. The standard version of the M9 features 192/24 FLAC playback and 192/24 DACs.

In another audio change, HTC enabled 192/24 streaming via HTC Connect, which allows for a three-finger swipe to send music wirelessly to home audio devices equipped with HTC Connect technology. The company also added multiroom-audio capabilities to the new HTC One, enabling HTC Connect to send music to wireless multiroom-audio systems based on the Qualcomm AllPlay and Blackfire Research platforms. Monster and House of Marley use the former, and Harman Kardon uses the latter.

If high-resolution playback proliferates in smartphones as the Qualcomm chipsets indicate, sales of smartphones with high-res playback sales could eat somewhat into sales of dedicated portable high-resolution music players. Smartphones killed the MP3 player because they delivered the same sound quality from lossy music files as MP3 players. Music lovers interested in high-resolution playback, however, won’t be satisfied with the DACs available in smartphones, and they’ll miss some of the audio features that will be lacking in smartphones for some time. They include DSD playback, the ability of some portable high-res players to double as a home audio DAC, or Bluetooth enhancements – such as Sony’s LDAC technology – that deliver near high-res transfer of music files to Bluetooth headphones and Bluetooth-equipped home-audio products.

Smartphone suppliers, like TV suppliers, are focused less on audio than on such features as screen resolution, 4K video capture and the like.

High-res smartphones won’t kill the high-res portable audio player, not for some time at least.