Sony to Push Hi-Rez Downloads & Playback
It was like old times. A major consumer electronics company was presenting a press conference in a high-rent venue to introduce its new audio products. These events used to be commonplace; now they are rare. But on September 4, in Manhattan's Jazz at Lincoln Center, to an audience that included record company executives from Universal, Warner, and Sony Music, HDTracks' Norman and David Chesky, Chad Kassem and Marc Sheforgen from Acoustic Sounds, whose new DSD download store was last week's big news, musician Herbie Hancock, and veteran mastering engineer Mark Wilder, Phil Molyneux, President and Chief Operating Officer of Sony Electronics since September 2010 (below), announced that the company saw high-resolution audio as the future of recorded music playback.
"Young people used to MP3s have never experienced the full quality that the musicians, producers, and engineers worked to create," said Molyneux, and quoted the results of a survey that revealed that 60% of consumers said they would pay more for better sound quality as long as they didn't have to sacrifice convenience. However, that same survey indicated considerable confusion among consumers. There are too many codecs, too many file formats associated with downloads, making the subject of hi-rez audio too complicated, too off-putting for all but audiophiles.
We don't have to be convinced of the benefits of recording and playing back audio with a bit depth great than the CD's 16 or a sample rate greater than the CD's 44.1kHz (provided those parameters haven't been messed with, of course). But at yesterday?s event, Herbie Hancock talked about his experience of hi-rez audio, comparing the original file of "Don't Give Up" from his Imagine Project album in his studio with the CD. "The CD sounded closed-in, smaller, thinner," he said, "with the hi-rez file, it was if John Legend and Pink were back in my studio."
Neal Manowitz Director, Product Marketing at Sony Electronics, then stepped up to the podium to announce Sony's strategy. They are launching a range of audio products this coming fall, all of which will play anything, from lo-rez MP3s to double-DSD (DSD-128) files.
Flagship of the new range will be the HAP-Z1ES hi-rez media player pictured above. This features a 1TB internal drive, Ethernet and WiFi connectivity, and can be controlled by an app running on a tablet or phone. It will upsample any format to double-DSD as well as handling native single-DSD and double-DSD files. Designed by the same engineer as Sony's well-respected SCD-1ES SACD player from 1999 and coming preloaded with 20 hi-rez albums from Sony, Warner, and Universal, the HAP-Z1ES will be priced at a very competitive $1999 when it becomes available in the fall. I was told it will make its public debut at next month's Rocky Mountain Audio Fest.
In related news, the CEA announced on September 3 that it was to join "consumer electronics (CE) manufacturers, retailers, music labels and artists in offering expanded support for and promotion of high-resolution audio (HRA). CEA is exploring initiatives to corral support among consumers and retailers, and plans to leverage opportunities to promote HRA at the 2014 International CES."
"Adoption of HRA offers benefits for consumers as well as new market opportunities for the CE and music industries." says the CEA's press release, explaining that "HRA offers the highest digital sound quality while retaining the benefits of digital audio, such as portability and personalization. HRA music files provide greater clarity and detail than MP3s and other compressed digital audio formats, resulting in a listening experience that more closely represents the original recording."