I wrote about the collaboration between Best Buy and Sony last June when it was announced at the CE Week event. The press release said that some 70 Magnolia Design Centers would have dedicated areas for the latest Sony hi-res audio gear including headphones, headphones amplifiers, music servers, and speakers. The marketing push for high-resolution audio is just about to hit high gear. After all, the holiday shopping season is already in full swing and who doesn’t want to get their hands on the latest hi-res audio equipment?
The announcement also said, “Customers will be able to demo a selection of high-res audio clips, and the stations will promote a variety of high-res recordings from Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group that are available through participating digital music download providers.” The usual digital music download providers are the usual sites…HDtracks, ProStudioMasters, SuperHiRez, Qobuz, PonoMusic, and HighReMusic.
So if you were in charge of securing the content for these Magnolia locations, what music would you choose too show off the benefits of high-resolution audio equipment?
If you visit the Sony site that suggests where to “purchase and enjoy” high-resolution audio files, you won’t find HDtracks or PonoMusic. I talked about their recommendations some time ago. They list 2L, iTrax, Linn, Blue Coast, Native DSD, and Naim. The reason is simple…the recordings that you can download from these sites easily eclipse the fidelity of just about any recording licensed from the major labels. If Best Buy and Sony really want to demonstrate the improvements offered by the latest hifi gear, they should get their hands on some recordings that actually are high-resolution.
Mike Crane, the audio director of Magnolia said, “The addition of high-res music stations offers fans of high-resolution music the chance to experience the next wave of audio technology.” I agree there’s a chance that fans will be able to hear better sound but a very slim one. It could happen if a consumer brings in a bona fide high-resolution audio recording from one of the sites mentioned above. On the other hand, if the repertoire comes from the major labels, there is virtually no chance that consumers will feel engaged with fidelity that is indistinguishable from what they’re used to.
There is a large gap between what Sony’s new hardware can deliver and the fidelity of the tracks that will be recommended by retailers and the major labels. In my opinion, over promising and under delivering will continue to disappoint those that the industry should be trying to impress. But would Best Buy or CE companies consider playing real high-resolution content in their new demo locations? No, they wouldn’t. They have “experts” that will tell them what they should play. And they’ll do what they’re told. And they will fail.
So music fans will get the chance to hear some “hi-res” Neil Young, Led Zeppelin, Diana Krall, and The Police through headphones and marginal quality speaker systems. I wish I could do a brief exit poll as the customers leave the Magnolia stores. “So what did you think of high-resolution audio?” “You want to know the truth…it sounded great but not really any different than what I’m used to.” And they’d be right.
Wouldn’t it be better to blow them away with new hi-res music?