The point to bring on board is that 44.1 kHz digital data **also** undergoes changes in the path from bits to sound waves. It's not a question of with or without. 44.1 has trade-offs and multiple parameters just like any other digital file, when processed back to analog.
It's odd for me to use the term "distortion", when the effect in question could be "provides improved phase alignment after D/A, when compared to a lower sample rate". "Distortion" implies a departure from a preferred norm, but in this case the processing involved could be moving from "norm" to "new, more-preferred". I am suspending an assumption which seems to be made a lot, which is that 44.1 kHz already represents a quality cap ***in all respects***. The science (see the papers cited above) does not support that.
Not too sure where the references to the audibility of "phase alignment" (the correct term is group delay) is coming from, but from research, group delay becomes audible when it is greater than 1ms at 2KHz, which is the band greatest sensitivity in human hearing. No current DAC filter, at any bit rate, has even 1/10th that much.
Then, there's this:
If you don't want to buy the paper and read it, it basically shows that high-resolution files played through a 16/44.1 "bottleneck" were indistinguishable from the high resolution originals. The paper would seem to refute the 16/44.1 "quality cap".
Group delay caused by reconstruction filters is nothing like the dual-driver experiment used in the paper, "Audibility of temporal smearing and time misalignment of acoustic signals" by
Milind N. Kunchur, cited above. In that test, two discrete wave-fronts were presented, skewed in time. The test signal was an artificial, analog-generated 7KHz square wave with, essentially, infinite odd harmonic content, not musical signals with natural and normal spectral content. In short, the paper is interesting, shows a quality of perception that bears further study, but doesn't relate at all to the mechanism of group delay in anti-aliasing or reconstruction filters. It may be reasonably good science (don't know yet, I haven't finished the paper), but is the study of something that doesn't occur within a digital recording/reproducing system.