The New Sony High-End HD Audio Machine
The recent flurry of announcements from the CEA and Sony regarding the new HRA initiative is welcome news. We’re going to have a holiday season of machines capable of exceeding the resolution standard CDs. Here’s the low down on the top-of-the-line hardware that Sony will be pushing this Christmas.
There are two “HDD Audio Players” (the HDD stands for Hard Disk Drive). The first is their tap-of-the-line player with a 500 GB hard drive and built-in amplifier. It supports DSD at both 64 and 128 times 44.1 kHz and the full range of PCM High Definition formats at virtually all of the sample rates (44.1 kHz – 192 kHz) and word lengths (16-24-32-bits). The device also supports WAV, AIFF, FLAC, ALAC, ATRAC Advanced Lossless, ATRAC, MP3, AAC and WMA music file formats. There are not very many files other than a DXD or 384 kHz PCM file that you can’t play on this machine. Bravo!
The HAP-S1/B has a 500 GB internal hard drive for music storage, which should be more than enough to accommodate your catalog of high definition audio files. Those files will be downloaded directly to the device via a WiFi network connection (built-in) or be accessed from external USB drives or memory. The unit comes with a dedicated application for transferring music from your PC or Mac. You simply select your music library and the HAP-S1/B will bring the files to its local storage.
Running the unit happens from the front panel OR through “HDD Audio Remote” for iOS and Android phones and tablets. That means that you can site across the room and drive the player. The graphics and navigation controls will be accessed from the tablet or phone. Very cool. The days of getting up to swap a disc or switch to a different soundfile are behind us.
The good folks at Sony are hoping that DSD because as ubiquitous as HD PCM files. The DAC in the HAP-S1/B includes a LPF (Low Pass Filter) to “effectively remove” the high-frequency noise in DSD signals (I applaud their honesty and openness on this issue). They employ four FIR (Finite Impulse Response) digital filters per channel for very accurate clocking. FIR filters are ideal for D/A conversion of DSD signals.
There are plenty of cool electronics to appeal to the audiophile geek in all of us. Heavy-duty capacitors, single point ground structure, a custom designed transformer and a solid chassis contribute to optimal playback specifications. You can count on getting excellent sound from the unit…depending, of course, on what you play back on it.
One of my readers wrote to me asking me whether the HAP-S1/B supports 5.1 or 7.1 surround music playback. Sadly it doesn’t. By looking at the photograph of the back of the unit and reading the specifications tab on the product web page, it’s clear that this is a “traditional” audiophile piece…meaning their is not support for surround music playback.
To say I’m disappointed in this missing feature would be putting it mildly. The perceived difference between a 5.1 track vs. a stereo mix AND a standard definition audio track vs. most “high-resolution tracks” is dramatic. There’s no chance that someone will miss the fact that a surround music presentation is more immersive (taste is another thing) than a stereo mix. But play a great CD for someone and then a HD-Audio file and there’s a fair to good chance that the listener won’t be able to tell the difference.