Sony is leading the pack when it comes to the marketing and delivery of high-resolution components. It’s their original logo that is showing up whenever HRA is mentioned. I dialed into the NHK nightly news a couple of days ago and a correspondent was talking about the new flagship high-resolution audio player from Sony, the Walkman NW-ZX2. High-resolution audio has actually made into the mainstream…or at least the words have. I’ll try get my hands on one of the new Walkman NW-ZX2 devices sometime in the near future. But for now, I’m happy to have received a Sony NWZ-A17 high-resolution audio player.
It was at the last fall’s HiFi Show in Brooklyn that I first laid my hands on the less expensive portable high-res player from Sony. These units go for $300…a far cry from the $1000 you’ll have to spend to get the heftier Z2. I listened to the Sony NWZ-A17 for a while at the Sony table. It sounded really good but didn’t blow me away. The unfortunate part of demoing high-resolution audio is the lack of real high-resolution audio that used as demo material. Why do makers of these devices insist on using “classic” tracks from 30-50 years ago?
Getting sample tracks to bundle with a new player is a financial and licensing challenge. It can be very expensive to secure the rights to the master from the record company, get approval from the artist, and then pay the mechanical royalties to the publishers. I can understand why hardware makers don’t provide a lot of music pre-loaded on the portable players. And who knows whether the purchaser is going to like the music and/or artists that do find their way into the onboard memory. It’s always a risky proposition.
The portable device that Sony sent me (and yes I will doing a thorough review in a future post very soon) came with four bundled high-resolution tracks (actually standard definition stuff in big bit buckets). There were four other MP3 tunes. The four HR tunes are: “Snowflake” by Lara Ruggles, “Don’t Drift Too Far” by Elephant Revival, “Blue Rondo la Turk” from the classic Dave Brubeck Quartet album Time Out, and “Watermelon Man” by Herbie Hancock from Headhunters. I off loaded all of the high-resolution tracks and opened them in Adobe Audition to check out the dynamic range and frequency response.
The plot below shows the four tunes.
Figure 1 – The spectra of the four high-resolution tunes on the NWZ-A17 player. [Click to enlarge]
Notice that none of these “so-called” high-resolution tracks actually exhibit the kind of attributes that real HD-Audio do. The tracks sound really good though my Sennheiser 280 phones but they aren’t anything amazing. At the Brooklyn show, I asked if I could load a few of my tracks onto the device. I added John Gorka’s “Let Them In” and “Mosaic” by Laurence Juber. These sounded dramatically different than the usual demo fare. If you’ve got one chance to blow someone away with amazing sound, why not select the very best sounding files you can. I’d be thrilled to make a variety of tracks available to Sony or anyone else that is making a high-resolution player.
If we can’t blow people away at first listen then why bother?