Sony’s New HRA Lineup

I’ve been out of town this weekend…my nephew got married on Saturday in Paso Robles…AND I left my briefcase and laptop in the rear seat of my car. We took my wife’s car up the coast so I was without my normal tools.

Sony’s making a big push into the High-Resolution Audio market once again with last week’s announcement about three new pieces of hardware. They’re expecting big support from the major record labels and in fact bundle some tracks with the new hardware. The new machines are really music servers for the most part. The HAPS1/B and HAP-Z1ES have 500 GB or 1 TB of internal storage capacity and accept virtually any type of audio file.

The big push from Sony is the support of DSD files for downloading High-Resolution Audio files. They go well beyond that however. This is a statement from the website for the HAP-Z1ES:

“Playback of DSD and the full range of Hi-Res file formats, Analog FIR filters, 1TB hard drive for local music playback and storage, DSD re-mastering engine converts all signals to DSD signals, built-in Wi-Fi for app control and music transfer.”

There is a DSD re-mastering engine that will convert everything to DSD. In another part of the information blurb they say, “This digital-to-analog converter effectively reduces high-frequency noise in DSD signals.” So they’re acknowledging that the DSD format has all the HF noise and then letting you know that the hardware will remove it.

Now I know that any effort to elevate the quality of the music delivery is a good thing. And I do understand the emphasis that Sony is applying to their DSD encoding scheme. But I am very apprehensive that the message is being confused and that those customers that purchase this equipment and hear nothing more than they get from their CD players are going to poison the future of HRA just like before.

The few commentaries that I’ve read from Steve Guttenberg, the Audiophiliac at C|Net, and others are right on the money. If the labels don’t get behind this new initiative and release multiple versions of their catalog to take full advantage of the new specifications, then it will have a hard time getting traction.

At least the folks at Sony are telling the right story as it pertains to ultimate goal of HRA. This is the chart that they use to define high resolution audio:

hra_sony_info

Figure 1 – What is High-Resolution Audio? This is what Sony says it is. (Click to enlarge)

There are a few things to notice in this chart. They want the microphones used during the recording session to be capable of capturing frequencies up to 40 kHz. I can tell you that there are many microphones that CAN meet this standard but most of them are not used in the world of commercial and rock recording…especially if you look back at the vintage or “classic” recordings of yesteryear.

They use the 96 kHz/24-bit PCM standard as the minimum for recording. Terrific! But is this the specification for the transfers from the original analog or standard definition capture or the quality of the original? I know my recording will meet this specification but virtually 100% of the commercial recordings will fail this test.

Got to run…to be continued.

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

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