Sony Music Entertainment held a press event last evening here in New York at Avatar studios featuring Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. The purpose was to highlight Sony’s continued promotion of HRA, the introduction of their new high-resolution “Digital Walkman”, and to promote “Cheek to Cheek”, the Columbia Records collaboration between the 88-year old star and the younger 28 year old singer…a record across generations. I really wish I could have been there because it sounds like the executives, engineer, and artists have created something really special.
It was a listening party for “Cheek to Cheek”, which was recorded “old school”. Danny and Dae Bennett engineered and produced the album without overdubbing and without using autotune. According to Dae, “What you hear is exactly as it was recorded live.” This is a welcome variant from the usual production methods used to make new commercial recordings. From the information that I read, it doesn’t say whether the band was also part of the “live” recording but I would assume so seeing the video of “Anything Goes”. The video shows both artists singing in the same room but the band is not present. It’s the way I’ve been making records for 15 years… with everyone in the same room singing and playing as an ensemble.
The recording was made at 96 kHz/24-bit PCM…not Sony’s own DSD format, a fact that I found somewhat surprising but encouraging. Engineer Dae Bennett said, “It’s great to hear that spectrum”, referring to the dynamic range of the 96/24 PCM recording vs. MP3. I look forward to getting my ears on the high-resolution audio files and hearing for myself just how much compression was used on the vocals and whether the mastering engineer was allow to let the dynamic range of the original mixes persist through to the version that consumers will be able to purchase. The audio on the Vimeo video is definitely compressed…but I’ll wait until I can download the H-Res files.
Sony is one of the biggest proponents of HRA. They introduced a large number of exciting pieces of equipment including the HAP-Z1ES hard drive music server and the less expensive HAP-S1, which I will review shortly. They also are reviving the “walkman” product category with the NWZ-A17, a high-resolution portable player capable of playing HRA material (the “Cheek to Cheek” record comes preloaded using up 1.4 GB) at 192/96 kHz/24-bits from its internal 200 GB storage capacity.
They are also the originators of the Hi-Res Audio logo that I discussed last week. Sony gave the logo to the JAS in the hopes that it would be adopted industry wide…with the attendant specifications. Those specs eclipse the definition of HRA as presented by the DEG, CEA, NARAS, and the labels. We’ll see how that plays out.
The Sony NWZ-A17 could be very bad news for the Pono music player and other high-end portable devices. It sells for $100 less than Neil’s unit and with Sony’s marketing machine, reputation, and desire to dominate the HRA segment, things could get interesting.