Help with PCM, 96khz/24bit, 176.4khz/24bit FLAC, DSD, Double DSD, Quad DSD, MQA, WAV, etc

I am considering downloading some musical files and am very confused on the above formats.   Is it better to download 96khz/24bit files or DSD Files?  

The Reference Recordings website offers several options including 176.4khz/24bit FLAC or 176.4khz/24bit WAV.   Several other options are available but these seems to be the best.

HIGH RES Audio exclusively offers high-resolution music downloads in Studio Master Quality in FLAC, ALAC, DSD, DXD-FLAC and MQA format.

All my current albums are stored in AIFF format on my Aurender N10 Music Server.  I might be willing to experiment with some of the above formats but I am more interested in listening to the music than spending time deciding on the best format.  These above formats might sound better than my PCM albums but is the sound quality really that much improved?  

Audio technology is continuing to improve and, it seems, new formats and solutions are always being introduced, such as MQA albums.   What new formats can we expect next?

If I decide to decide to download some files, what formats should I be using?  Your suggestions and comments are welcomed.  

It is easier if you separate the terms. It's really not too terribly complex.

PCM & DSD are the two fundamentally different digital philosophies, and within both, you have different resolutions.

16 bit 44khz is CD quality
these are all increasing resolutions in the sampling.

DSD, double, and quad DSD are a similar representation of higher resolutions in the DSD path.

so that is the way that the digital music is created in its analog to digital conversion from the master tapes as it were.  Now we have to save the file and choose a format of the file itself.

WAV - windows based, fully uncompressed file.
AIFF - mac based, fully uncompressed file.
FLAC - windows based, lossless compression
ALAC - mac based, lossless compression
MQA - newest kid on the block, promises lossless compression but delivers a smaller file size compared to FLAC and ALAC.  After the file's oragami is unfolded, you can get a high res PCM file.

so, what should you buy? Depends on your gear.  I have a dac that can handle 24/192 PCM. It cannot handle DSD.  If I buy high res files for use today, I would buy 24/96 or higher. If I buy for the future, I can buy DSD and my software (Roon) can translate the DSD file to a PCM format that my DAC can handle.

As for MQA, I am streaming those from Tidal, and my Dac is unfolding them and they yield a high res file.

hope this helps!

Thank you for your excellent explanation above.  It was very helpful and answers my questions. 

I am not ready to commit to DSD files but I will download some Hi Res WAV files to see how they sound.  Thanks again. 

Its been suggested I used the FLAC file format and not WAV files.  I plan on downloading Hi Res files from   
that is a simple and easy list of the file formats, thanks. BTW what do you think of the SOUND of the MQA files from Tidal? I have listened to them and have been impressed. That had been the first time listening to hi-rez music for myself...
MY Ayre Codex DAC supports  44.1, 48, 88.2, 96,

176.4, 192, 352.8 and 384 kHz PCM 16, 20, and 24 bits
2.8224 and 5.6448 MHz DSD 
1 bit (DSD over PCM = “DoP”)

This means the Ayre Codex DAC supports FLAC Files, correct?   Can someone please confirm this.  Thanks...

The encoding is different from the file type.  So FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIFF, etc are all file types that a music file can be saved as.  This is independent of the resolution and bit depth.  The file types I mentioned above are ubiquitous, and most all audio players and DACs support these file types.  Furthermore, there are audio file translator applications that can take a FLAC file and make it into a WAV file, etc.

Before I get slammed by the community, let me say that what I posted in the first answer to the OP is a simplification of the terms and concepts in digital.  I am sure someone can find something not quite right about my response, but more or less, it is accurate.

As for the difference between the (lossless) compressed file types of ALAC and FLAC versus the uncompressed file types of WAV and AIFF, a lot has been debated on this.  I listened and could not discern a difference.  I chose AIFF in the end for my music collection for more theoretical reasons.  In order to compress a file, with or without quality loss, the original file needs to undergo compression by means of a compression algorithm that finds way to make the file size smaller.  When the music will be played, this compression needs to get undone in reverse.  My way of thinking is, storage is cheap and plentiful, I would just rather that the files avoid this extra step.  In short, I just don't require the space saving of the FLAC and ALAC.  I chose AIFF as I am a mac user, and this is the native mac uncompressed audio file format.

As for the sound of the Tidal MQA files, I have not listened closely enough yet.  I have a Tidal HIFI membership, and I use Roon to stream the music to my PS Audio DAC.  Roon and PS Audio do not yet have a full MQA unfolding implementation.  I can bypass Roon for now and get the MQA unfolding with my DAC, but I like Roon, and the regular CD resolution files from Tidal sound great on my DAC.  Once Roon offers an update, I will be happy to listen to more of the Tidal masters!
Hgeifman, don't worry what file type you purchase for now.  FLAC is fine.  You can try another later if you like, but for all that I can tell, lossless is lossless, and the files are good.

Have fun!

@marktomaras, Thanks for your above comments.  Since HD Tracks offers the AIFF option, I will use it.  All my current albums use AIFF and it works fine.  
FLAC files need to be decoded/decompressed along the way, a potential source of issues (probably very minor). 

AIFF is an uncompressed format similar to WAV, but unlike WAV also has the benefit of supporting metadata and cover art. AIFF files take more disk space and longer to download. AIFF files work using iTunes.

All my current albums were ripped using the AIFF format.  I do not like the coding and decoding required for FLAC files.  I am still researching and am leaning toward using the AIFF format for my Hi Res downloads.  

I am going to defer on using DSD files for now.  

We think alike :-)
I trust DSD is great, but so is high res PCM. 
I listen to 70% vinyl, so until I upgrade to a DSD DAC, perhaps in a few years, I am happy with any files that are CD quality or better.
Hey guys .. just want to point out "uncompressed flac" (via dBpoweramp) has been around for a while now. This option is not "0 compression" btw. Basically, it’s a wav file with metadata. I switched from aiff after years of metadata issues (mostly minor).