By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
New York – Sony wants to expand the appeal of high-resolution audio playback by introducing the first in a series of audio products said to take the confusion out of high-res playback.
Sony will accomplish that goal in large part by enabling the products to play almost every music-file format available, including 192kHz/24-bit PCM, DSD, and double DSD.
The products “will decode whatever you throw at them,” said home audio group director Neal Manowitz, who said the launch will be backed by a “comprehensive marketing effort.”
High-res audio, described as music that sounds better than CD, “will eventually impact all Sony products,” he said here during a press conference.
He was joined by Sony Electronics president/COO Phil Molyneux, who said the audio and music industries are banding together to promote high-res audio so that younger music lovers will get their first opportunity to experience music the way that artists intended.
Sony and other audio manufacturers “are working on a whole new approach to bring high-resolution audio to a broader audience,” Molyneux said. The effort is designed to make high-resolution downloading and transfers convenient and easy to use while reducing confusion over the large number of incompatible high-resolution formats, he said.
To support the hi-res initiative, the three major music labels are preloading 20 high-res tracks on the two Sony hi-res products that store music on hard drives.
Sony will ship its products in the fall, when it will also launch a print and digital ad campaign to promote the Sony products and high-res audio in general. The campaign, which will run throughout 2014, will support the more than 100 specialty-A/V storefronts that will sell the products in the fall. Sony will also provide product brochures, in-store displays, and retail training to the stores, which will have assisted salesfloors. Sony will also hold digital listening parties at dealers’ stores and demonstrate the products as consumer audio shows.
The company has already launched a web site, www.sony.com/hires, to explain the benefits of high-res audio and point out the online music stores from which high-res tracks and albums can be downloaded.
The new high-res products include a $799-everyday USB DAC/amplifier to connect to PCs, a mini-component sized $999 hard-drive music player/amplifier, and a component-size $1,999 hard-drive music player. Also in the fall, two existing ES-series A/V receivers, the STR-DA2800ES and STR-DA5800ES, will get firmware upgrades to expand their selection of audio decoders to include all of the codecs supported by the new components.
Two pairs of passive tabletop speakers round out the selection of high-res products, Sony said.
Supported file formats are 24-bit PCM at sampling rates of 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 176.4kHz,and 192kHz; DSD (DSF, DSDIFF); MP3, WAV, WMA, AAC, FLAC, ALAC, ATRAC, ATRAC Advanced Lossless, and AIFF.
The three electronics components also restore missing data from compressed files, and the two music players feature a DSD re-mastering engine to upscale music files to double-DSD quality.
To further simplify the playback experience, the two players come with HAP music transfer software, enabling Macs and PCs to automatically copy music files to the players when new files are added to a computer. Both players also come with Ethernet connection and built-in Wi-Fi to network with PCs.
The $799 USB DAC features asynchronous USB port, 2x20-watt amplifier, compatibility with almost every PC music-player application, headphone output, line output, and optical and coaxial digital inputs. It also plays back music streamed to a PC.
The $999 mini-component sized music player/amp is the HAP-S1, which features 500GB hard drive, storage expandability, 2x40-watt Class AB amp, front-panel LCD display, and control from iOS and Androids apps.
The $1,999 music player is the HAP-Z1ES, which lacks amplifier but features 1TB hard drive, front LCD display, and control from iOS and Android apps.
Neither music play incorporates music-streaming services.
The speakers will be available at $349 and $599/pair.
High-resolution downloads are available from multiple web sites, including HD Tracks, which offers about 10,000 new and catalog albums in ALAC, WAV, FLAC, and AIFF at sampling rates from 44.1kHz to 192kHz and 16- to 24-bit word lengths.
For its part, the CEA said it plans to expand its efforts to promote high-res audio. “The time is right for our organization to explore new avenues to help promote this exciting audio technology,” said CEA president/CEO Gary Shapiro. “We expect major HRA announcements over the next year and believe that the technology will have a strong presence at the 2014 International CES.”
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