Dr. AIX's POSTS NEWS — 16 November 2015


Sony is undoubtedly the leader in the design, manufacture, and promotion of high-resolution audio equipment. They have aggressively invested in new lines of products from music servers, headphones and speakers, to portable players. Well, now they’ve added am automobile setup to their Hi-Res lineup with the introduction of the RSX-GS9 digital media player ($1,499), the XM-GS4 4-channel amplifier ($299), and the XS-GS1 Super tweeter ($199)…for automobiles. They’ve previously released an array of speakers including the XS-GS6921 rear speakers, XS-GS1621 and XS-GS1621C front speakers, XS-GSW121 and XS-GSW121D subwoofers, and XM-GS100 mono amplifier. These products are among the best available for enhancing your in car listening…although I still regard my 2004 Acura TL with its ELS DVD-Audio system as a notch above other systems because of its capability for surround sound.

It comes back to the comparison between moving to high-resolution audio and content or expanding the number of speakers for surround sound. Listening in a car can be really great. I’ve had AIX customers write to me and tell me that they enjoy sitting and listening in their cars to 5.1 music more than standard stereo in their living room. I would tend to agree. The PR announcement seems to indicate that the preamp outputs of the RSX-GS9 can drive discrete 5.1 surround sound, but they never mention 5.1 or surround specifically.

The press release also mentions “the head unit RSX-GS9 is natively compatible with DSD, an audio format that reproduces music with unprecedented accuracy”. This claim of superiority for DSD encoding is to be expected from Sony but including DSD in a car unit is not typical. And the information says that is will do 5.6 MHz as well as 2.8 MHz. DSD lovers will appreciate this feature.

In addition to acting as a tuner, the media player has advanced connectivity features such as LDAC™ supported Bluetooth®/ NFC™ in connection with Sony’s SongPal App, two USB (Type A) slots and a USB micro-B (USB DAC) insuring you can play your music from a variety of media storage, including smartphones, USB flash drives, and MP3 players. I guess SACD, CD, and DVDs are no longer appropriate for car systems.

Also from the press release, “Sony incorporated the ES9018S, the high performance 32-bit audio D/A converter by ESS Technology, Inc. The D/A converter translates your music files to analogue signals in an impressive dynamic range of up to 135dB and THD+N (total harmonic distortion and noise) of -120dB to deliver a clarity and presence that rivals live performances.”

Once again the people that write advertising copy have had a little too much Kool Aid and bring up high-resolution specifications without addressing the problem that very few if any commercial recordings will ever demand these specs. It always goes back to the fidelity of the content…and we know how heavily mastering engineers hit the compressors.

Getting Hi-Res Audio in your car is possible (as long as you’re not driving) but comes with a hefty price. As good as the system offered by Sony sounds, I wouldn’t invest thousands of dollars in a custom audio sound system claiming to deliver high-resolution audio specs. The performance of an average automobile sound system is probably sufficient unless you spend a lot of time in your car and want that extra level of fidelity.

It’s challenging to perceive high-res audio in a good home system, I’m doubtful that have super tweeters and 192 kHz/24-bit files playing in your car is really going to elevate your listening experience. If it does surround, then maybe.

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About Author


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.

(12) Readers Comments

  1. I don’t care how quiet a car is. When it’s rolling in traffic, try listening to the “Poet and the Peasant” overture by Suppe, and tell me you can hear the quiet passages.

    • Exactly…it’s not an ideal listening environment.

  2. I could see discreet 4 or 5 channel recordings making for some very interesting listening inside the small area of a auto interior. As to HD we have discussed before the subtle improvements that it brings to the show. Inside a car with all the road noise, etc; making it’s way into the cab I can’t see a HD system bringing anything beneficial to the scene.
    As for me I’d just as soon turn the music off and listen to the beauty of a blown 707 HP Hellcat Hemi singing it’s tune while the rear tires scream in pain as I tear off layers off rubber in large smoky burnouts! But short of a Hellcat my 06 Ram with its piped and chipped 5.7 Hemi makes some awesome tunes all it’s own.

    • I guess you’ve made your preferences very clear.

  3. Yes, absolutely. And no-one bothers to introduce the notion of “road noise” which is typically 50-60 db; obliterating what we’re seeking in the true Hi-Res musical experience. That is; high dynamic range between the lows and highs. The car is one place where “loud-all-the-time” makes some sense…

    • Unless you’re parked in the driveway.

  4. I have to wonder, if you are paying that much attention to the sound in your car, you have to be distracted from your driving. Personally, I’ll take less sound and more attentive driving. I do my serious listening at home. Safer that way.

  5. Does RSX-GS9 has optical out?????

    • No, I don’t see it on the specifications list.

  6. Hi Mark,

    Enjoying music in your car is great, but the noise floor inside a car is obviously not apt for reproducing HRA.
    SONY’s attempt to take HRA everywhere, with portable players and now car audio, is simply proof of HRA simply being a marketing strategy, not an audible reality, nor even a reality reflected by the quality of the recordings most of us listen to. It’s about selling stuff, and the way to do it it to add a couple of logos, unrealistic specs, false promises and tons of hype.
    Worst of all, judging by the requirements of the JAS logo coming from SONY, they perfectly know what a recording or recording equipment – and the room we’ll listen in – needs to deliver in order to fulfill the HRA promise. They know perfectly well that’s an impossibility in a car, even in Tesla and driving around the English country side at 3am.

    -135dB SNR and -120dB THD+N?!! There’s only one component on the planet that does those specs, and it’s not any of SONY’s; it’s a Benchmark Media Systems AHB2 Power Amp. It’s even 2dB short of the -120dB THD+N. That’s the current state of the art in audio performance, and a performance you’d be hard pressed to be able to enjoy even in the quietest room in your home.
    Not even Benchmark’s DAC2 D/A converter does those specs, and least of all, the recordings we listen to. SONY most likely just copied the specs of the ESS Sabre chip and pasted them on their gear, disregarding the fact that the components featuring that chip has to implement it correctly in order to get that performance out of it. Benchmark has done precisely that, and they have managed to deliver the one of the highest ENOB measured so far with their DAC2, and the 21 bits we know are state of the art for D/A conversion today… and which are still a bit short of -135dB SNR.

    What your post has again highlighted, is the importance of provenance, and even more so in my opinion, the importance of presentation and the recording techniques behind it. 5.1 is certainly a way to go when it comes to improve the listening experience and our joy of music, so are binaural recordings and well achieved stereo recordings. Another relevant factor is of course the practices involving the preservation or compromise of the original fidelity captured by the recording equipment, but those can only render their true value if the equipment used to record and for playback – including the room – can deliver that ultimate fidelity.

    I believe presentation – accompanied by recording practices that care about the original fidelity of the recording – is by far the most realistic goal in achieving a great musical and listening experience, and that’s of course a part of provenance, that is the conditions in which a recording is made, including gear, location and the particular use of gear.

    My personal favorites are binaural and stereo, because of how convincing and natural they sound and because of how affordable they can be, especially binaural recordings. A state of the art headphone setup could set you back 3K- 4K – including headphones, headphone amplifier and D/A converter -, and a very very good setup could set you back less than 1K. This is still a desktop setup to be enjoyed in your home, not on the go with a PONO player, or an Astell & Kern, which by specs and measurements fall short of HRA. Not that you’ll experience HRA on the way to work in the subway or walking down the street, anymore than you would in a car or an airplane.

    In my opinion, portable audio is a long way from being able to deliver HRA, and faces serious obstacles to do so, and HRA is not enjoyable on the go or in a car, nor will it be. I have serious questions if HRA is enjoyable at all in contrast to an optimally recorded CD, but that’s my personal experience (and above 40 years of excessive usage of the only two ears I’ve got).

    My bet would go for recording techniques and presentation, accompanied by minimalist mixing and mastering. High-Resolution Audio shouldn’t be a promise, it should be a goal. And that goal should be to elevate recording quality to the great playback capabilities that the best gear out there already has, and make room treatment part of our setup; to focus more on – and not forget – how we (humans) hear and how to use the already great instruments we have, to create the most involving and engaging recorded musical experience possible.

    The task of HRA is – for now – less that of the consumers buying the ultimate DACs, Loudspeakers and analogue recordings or CDs in 24bit or DSD buckets, than that of recording engineers and musicians getting it right, and really creating HRA content that justifies the ultimate measured performance in audio playback systems and large 24bit audio files. To enjoy High-Resolution Audio recordings, first there have to be some.

    This task demands more than just people using gear correctly; it demands an absolute and radical change in business model, where the middlemen who are responsible for the screw-up we’re in now, are gone, and where big profit as the main objective is taken out of the equation of delivering true quality, both aesthetically and technically.

    The guys in charge of the creative process and distribution of their work, have to be the musicians themselves. When musicians participate in the whole production chain all the way to the final product, and thoroughly understand the process, fidelity will be an option for them to decide, not the commercial loudness and compression issues decided by the producers or the wrong people with the wrong objectives. I believe that’s when we’ll see a massive change in recording quality, when the options that define that quality are available for those who really have to make that call. For now we’ll have to rely on the good will and pretensions of small, independent or classical music labels to get good recordings, and that’s just the continuity of the business model that has to go.


  7. Sony are also rolling out listening stations: http://www.cnet.com/news/sony-intros-hi-res-listening-stations-at-best-buy-hands-on/
    I suspect that these are much more likely to strike a chord with the general public than the reams of numbers and terms in the CTA/S&V ‘Guide to Hi-Res Audio’ article (8 pages!)

  8. Of course, sony may be correct that their system will PLAY Hi-res audio in your car, but you will not be able to perceive it due to the listening environment.

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