Sony gets serious about high-resolution audio, again

Sony unveils a new line of high-resolution players, but the Audiophiliac wonders if this is just a replay of the SACD saga.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
3 min read
The Sony HAP-Z1ES Music Player System Sony

This past Wednesday, at the Time Warner Building in New York, Sony Electronics demonstrated a renewed interest in high-resolution audio. The company had a full slate of high-resolution hardware on display, and promised review samples would be coming our way in the near future. The initiative includes a commitment to make high-resolution audio "a more convenient, compelling, and cost-effective listening experience for digital music enthusiasts everywhere. To support this, select Sony products will come preinstalled with high-resolution tracks from Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment."

The flagship high-resolution audio model, the HAP-Z1ES ($1,999) Hi-Res HDD Music Player, can store and play virtually all audio file formats and features a 1TB hard drive.

The HAP-S1 Hi-Res Music Player System ($999) has a 500GB hard drive with expandable storage, and has high-resolution playback capabilities. The HAP-S1 also features a built-in 40-watt-per-channel stereo amplifier. The HAP-Z1ES and HAP-S1 can be automatically synced to play music files stored on a PC or Mac. Both players can also be controlled via a HDD Audio Remote app available for Android and iOS tablets and smartphones.

The Sony HAP-S1 Music Player System Sony

This fall owners of Sony STR-DA2800ES and 5800ES receivers will enjoy new high-resolution playback capabilities, thanks to a firmware update that provides access to high-resolution files through the USB input.

Unfortunately, the Sony Walkman F886 high-resolution media player wasn't mentioned at the press event, but I can't wait to listen to it. The 32GB media player handles all types of 192KHz/24-bit high-resolution files -- including WAV, AIFF, FLAC, and Apple lossless -- according to the Sony Europe Web site. So the F886 might not be coming to the US; we'll have to wait and see.

Looking at the downloads coming from the major and indie labels I don't see a lot of new high-resolution audio albums. Yes, older, remastered titles are plentiful, and that's fine, but that's why Sony's new enthusiasm for hi-res recalls the launch of the SACD format in the early 2000s. I remember the promises of hundreds of new titles that would come out each year, but we mostly saw a smattering of old music remastered for SACD coming out each month. Right now, there's new music from Sheryl Crow, John Mayer, and Sting sprinkled in with golden oldies in the 20 free high-resolution songs that Sony is including with the new components, but I'll start to really believe in the future of high-resolution audio when the labels commit to releasing the bulk of their new releases in hi-res. If not, why bother, no one will notice.

Ideally, they would release at least two mixes, the maximally compressed mix of the type they currently offer, and a minimally compressed and processed high-resolution mix. With that second mix no one would strain to hear the advantages of what high-resolution offers. Until that happens most music buyers won't hear all that big a difference with high-resolution audio. That was one of the reasons why SACD failed to gain mass acceptance when Sony debuted the format, and I hope they get it right this time.