Smartphones have liberated us in so many ways – but perhaps none more than when it comes to music.
Twenty years ago you needed a bag full of tapes or CDs with you if you wanted to listen to more than one thing on your commute. Fifteen years ago you had an MP3 player filled with digital music from your still limited physical collection. Today, simply point your smartphone to a streaming or download service and away you go – millions of hours of music, literally at your fingertips. It's something EE majors in with its ultra-fast 4G network.
And because we spend more time than ever listening on our smartphones, it’s more important than ever to make sure they sound good.
The new LG G5 is packing some mighty impressive audio innards – it can handle 24-bit hi-res music out of the box, and can even stream it wirelessly via Bluetooth AptX HD – but if you want to take it to the next level, LG and Bang & Olufsen have a trick up their sleeve.
As you may have read here, the LG G5 is the first mainstream modular smartphone. The B&O Hi-Fi Plus ‘friend’ module replaces the phone’s base with some serious sonic circuitry, capable of playing back CD-quality-trouncing 32-bit/384kHz hi-res audio files that you’d normally only find on high-end home hi-fi systems. It has its own B&O-tuned headphone port that will work wonders with any set of cans – not least B&O’s own H3 earbuds – and promises to give your regular music collection and streaming services a sonic boost too. You can even use it as a standalone USB DAC (digital-to-analogue converter) for your home computer to give that an audio leg-up.
Not sure where to start with hi-res music? We’ve got your back. Get yourself onto a download service such as Qobuz or HDTracks (there’s a complete guide over on What Hi-Fi?’s website) and start marvelling at what’s on offer. If you need a starting point, try the albums below. Best of all, on EE’s advanced 4G network, which is 50% faster than any competitor, they’ll only take a jiffy to download - up to 60Mbps, in fact, on selected plans.
1. Led Zeppelin – Coda, Presence, In Through the Out Door
This remaster wasn’t some cynical ploy by a record company to get you to re-buy a few albums you already own on tape, CD and vinyl. No, the mighty Jimmy Page himself wanted this. “The last time that Led Zeppelin music was remastered it was for the advent of CDs over 20 years ago,” he told Ultimate Classic Rock. “I wanted to really approach every way that you could listen to it outside of MP3 [and] let it be available for people who want to hear it … with all the distance in it and the depth and the 3D picture of the mixing, etc, etc.”
You don’t get much more authentic than that.
2. Taylor Swift – 1989
Taylor Swift’s 1989, along with Disney’s Frozen soundtrack, accounted for an incredible 43% of US digital album sales in 2014, according to research by Nielsen. No country twanging here, either. This is pure, no-nonsense, unashamed pop – and that’s why it’s great. Yes, it’s a guilty pleasure. Yes, it has more than a whiff of gorgonzola about it. But if your feet aren’t tapping within ten seconds of pressing play, you’re dead inside.
3. The Unthanks – A Retrospective
Twin sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank, from Tyneside, specialise in an ethereal, fascinating, powerful, adventurous blend of modern sounds and ancient Northumbrian folk music. And ‘powerful’ really is the word here – you’re guaranteed to get goosebumps even if you stream it at Last.fm resolution; in full-fat hi-res, you should probably sit down before you start.
4. The Rolling Stones – Let it Bleed
The process of locating original Stones recordings for remastering unearthed a treasure-trove of material that gives insight into how they approached the recordings. For example, the people responsible for handling 1969’s legendary Let it Bleed found the original tape had splicing points that showed the band wanted as little time between tracks as possible. They used vintage reel-to-reel machines to get the audio onto the computers, and then churned out amazing 176.4kHz and 88.2kHz hi-res versions. You’re in for a treat.
5. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
If ever there was a band that hi-res was made for, Daft Punk is it. Spacious, clear, precise, involving, innovative, addictive… pick an adjective and it’ll fit this album. Don’t go thinking it’s a repeat of the Tron: Legacy soundtrack or 2005’s Human After All, though. Random Access Memories is more mellow-funk-with-a-twist than harsh EDM, paying homage to the sounds of the late '70s and early '80s with a list of collaborations as long as your arm.
6. David Bowie – Blackstar
Bowie’s 25th and final album was released on his 69th birthday, two days before his death. It was described by co-producer Tony Visconti as a “parting gift” to his fans, and that sentiment washes over you from the start. Blackstar is full of tracks written by a man who clearly knew he didn’t have long left – and listening to it in its entirety (it’s only seven tracks, and 41 minutes, long) results in a peculiar mix of emotions.
7. Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
Everyone knows So What. Everyone knows Freddy Freeloader. Everyone knows Blue in Green, and All Blues, and Flamenco Sketches. You’ve heard them all on ads, in coffee shops, in films… even without knowing you know them, you know how they sound. How they were produced. And then you hear them all again in hi-res, and it’s like you’re listening to them for the first time – suddenly you hear that tiniest tap of brush-on-snare, or that intake of breath during a solo. Magical.