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."

corrective_unconscious's picture

If Sony announces support for something that greatly increases the probability that the format in question will be dead prematurely within about six years.

And hi rez, well done recordings are exactly the opposite of what average listeners want through their average devices - earbuds on the one hand and then speakers for music to accompany another medium or activity on the other.

Wide dynamic range is almost always disastrous in those applications and for those listeners, especially.

Pro-Audio-Tech's picture

A new player and new software? WHY?

I bought into CD's when they came out, a new player and software.

I bought into SACD's when that came out, a new player and software.

I bought into DOLBY DIGITAL when that came out, a new player and software.

I bought into Blue Ray when that came out, a new player and software.

I bought into High Res Digital when that came out, a new player and software.

Screw this new format, I have probably $2000 worth of SACD's and don't even have a player that will play them any more. By the time you add up all the money I wasted on this stuff it has to be well over $10,000!

This new format and Neil Young's new thing will fail because of a few reasons.

1.) The average person doesn't care about audiophile sound, their cell phone is their audio player. They won't buy it.

2.) The audiophiles will pick it apart and then give up on it just like SACD's.

3.) It's just more money, how many formats can you buy The Doors and The Beatles on? If this format is trying to attract Audiophiles thay are wasting their time because the audiophiles (50 to 80 yr olds) are dying out and the young people don't care about sound quality. The audiophiles will not pay for it because it will never sound as good as vinyl and never reach the quality of the ultimate audio format, Reel to Reel Tape!



Louis Motek's picture

Oh, then you'll just love Dolby's new Atmos format. You will have up to 64 channels of audio -- up to 60 coming from your ceiling.

Imagine the grin on Monster's face! You can almost hear the chinese extrusion machines revving up from here. 

dalethorn's picture

Issuing the player with 20 albums in (original?) hires is fabulous.

Double blind testing doesn't account for subliminals.

I hope they provide for additional or larger drives.

ThinkTank's picture

The Problem is Sony needs to get more compaines on board to push this new format, I mean techically it is SACD gone digital download. That being said there are other units out now for less money, Sony has a unit for $999 and Teac has a unit for $800. If they drive the prices down and the DSD units are able to upscale the music and in the realm of making a crappy recording sound better "I am all in".  Now the real problem is the loudness wars and frankly the sad part is people don't really care about quality anymore. wink

zuluwarrior0760's picture

Sony has created a device that could slay a lot of the smaller manufacturers jumping into the high resolution market and particularly DSD....

On the surface, it seems to be a dream device, but I'll never know whether it is because I'm not buying one.......

In Sony's wisdom, they decided to exclude perfectionists and tweakers by deciding not to provide a digital out.

It stands to reason that in 5 years the best DSD Dacs will obliterate today's best ones, but I would say that there's also potential that the best DSD dacs out there today would obliterate whatever chip Sony decided to put in this unit.  Just do the markup math and include the cost of the 1tb drive etc and you begin to see that there is no way Sony could have put in an Esoteric, Benchmark or Berkeley caliber device and still maintained a 1995.00 list and 1550 or so street price.....including a harddrive....

One thing that came to mind today is if Modwright could hot rod a Sony SACD
player to include a tube output stage among other improvements, I wonder if eventually we might see him start to offer digital out upgrades to these Sony Hi-Res players?

In the meantime, here's hoping Bryston takes note and includes DSD and all other formats in it's next generation of the BDP.  Then an audiophile who has 100K or more in gear could go out and purchase any 5K or 50K DSD DAC he wants in 5 years and tweak to his heart's content......


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