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Sony Stresses Hi-Res Audio In Product Launches

San Diego — Sony continues to promote high-resolution audio (HRA) as a key feature in new 2014 home-audio products and promises to bring HRA playback to a broader base of consumers.

To broaden the base, the company is launching its first HRA-capable HTiB, a series of entry-level speakers said to being HRA performance to new price points, and two new HRA-capable A/V receivers at an everyday $499 and $599.

Last week, the company revealed plans for a promotion in which purchasers of Sony high-resolution product get a free high-resolution download of Xscape, the second posthumous album of previously unreleased Michael Jackson tracks.

The high-resolution HTiB is the wedge-shaped $699-everyday BDV-N7200W, a networked 3D Blu-ray model that plays back high-resolution 2.8MHz DSD files and, at resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz, WAV and FLAC files via USB stick or home network. It ships in May. It converts DSD files to PCM.

Among four new A/V receivers, the top two – the $599 STR-DN1050 and $499 STR-DN850 – decode WAV and FLAC music files up to 24/192 and ALAC files up to 24/96 as did their predecessors, but the DN1050 is upgraded to add native 2.8MHz DSD decoding. Files can be played back via USB stick, Ethernet port, or Wi-Fi. These and two other AVRs at $349 and $279 will be available this month.

In its first entry-level speaker refresh in years, Sony is launching the four-SKU Core Series to bring HRA performance to entry-level customers at prices of $239 each for a three-way floorstanding speaker, $219/pair for a three-way bookshelf speaker, $169 for a two-way center channel, and $239 for a 115-watt 10-inch sub.

The new products follow the shipment of the HRA-capable $699 SRS-X9 wireless tabletop speaker with ability to play back DSD files (after conversion to PCM) and WAV and FLAC files up to 24/192 via USB and home network. The 154-watt 2.1-channel biamplified stereo speaker features Ethernet port, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g, AirPlay, DLNA, and Bluetooth with support for AAC and aptX streaming over Bluetooth. The speaker also features DSD remastering, NFC, and music-streaming services.

In launching its latest audio products, Sony is bringing HDMI 2.0 to an HTiB for the first time. It joins the company’s first two HDMI 2.0 sound bars, which were announced recently, and the company’s first under-TV speaker, which also sports HDMI 2.0. Two of the four new AVRs also feature HDMI 2.0, as did their predecessors when a software update was made available for them. The products, however, lack optional HDCP 2.2 copy protection and won’t get upgrades to HDCP 2.2.

Sony began its efforts to promote HRA-capable audio products in 2013 with the September announcement of premium-priced HRA-capable audio products, including a $799-everyday USB DAC/amplifier to connect to PCs, a mini-component-size $999 hard-drive music player/amplifier, and a component-size $1,999 hard-drive music player. At the time, the company also announced plans to offer firmware upgrades to two ES-series A/V receivers to expand their selection of audio decoders to include all of the codecs supported by the new components.

The premium components’ supported file formats are WAV and FLAC files up to 24-bit/192kHz, DSD (DSF, DSDIFF), double DSD, MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC, ALAC, ATRAC, ATRAC Advanced Lossless, and AIFF.

Here are the details of the newest HRA products:

A/V receivers: Four new models will be available in May to replace four current models. The 7.2-channel $599 STR-DN1050 and 7.2-channel $499 STR-DN850 are networked models that play back files with up to 24/192 resolution like last year’s models via USB, HDMI and home network. The DN1050, however, adds DSD playback, unavailable in its predecessor.

Like their predecessors, both feature AirPlay, DLNA, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g, Bluetooth, MHL, and 4K passthrough. The $599 model offers 4K up-scaling like before, and the $499 adds 4K up-scaling for the first time. Both add NFC.

The top two also add bigger power supplies and improved capacitors compared to their predecessors as well as new DSP modes, including one to replicate the sonic characteristics of the Berlin Philharmonic concert hall.

Some of the embedded streaming services have also changed. Spotify and TuneIn replace Slacker and vTuner, respectively, and Pandora and Sony’s Music Unlimited service remain.

In other changes, the $599 model improves upon its predecessor by adding a back MHL/HDMI input to join a front MHL/HDMI input, dual HDMI outputs for the main zone, HDMI for a second zone, and powered second zone to distribute any connected source, including Bluetooth.

The $599 also adds a faster audio circuit with less distortion, thanks to the use of a copper rod instead of a printed copper circuit from the power source to the amp to reduce the length of the signal path.

The $499 DN850 streams files up to 192/24 via front USB, HDMI and home network like its predecessor. It also features one MHL/HDMI input like before but adds on-screen GUI, whereas its predecessor displays black-and-white text.

Two other new AVRs, the $349 7.2-channel STR-DH750 and $279 5.2-channel STR-DH550, are largely unchanged from their predecessors. Both lack network capability. The $349 model features Bluetooth, while the $279 model lacks Bluetooth.

Compared to the $279 model, the $349 model adds 4K passthrough.

The top three AVRs feature iPod/iPhone USB.

All of the networked AVRs, the new Blu-ray player, and the high-resolution tabletop speaker can be controlled via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth from Sony’s new Song Pal app for iOS and Android devices. The audio products wake up when they receive a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth signal.

Consumers can import any of their streaming apps into Song Pal’s user interface to unify control and make it possible for the networked-audio products to stream the streaming-apps’ music directly from the Internet via a home network. The capability makes it possible to reduce the drain on the mobile device’s battery.

Blu-ray HTiB: The wedge-shaped BDV-N7200W is the company’s Hero 3D Blu-ray HTiB, available in May at $699 with cosmetics that differ slightly from its predecessor. The DLNA/Wi-Fi-equipped system continues to offer an angled-up top panel that slides to the side to expose a disc.

Besides being the company’s first HRA-capable HTiB, the system is also the company’s first HTiB with HDMI 2.0, though neither the HTiB nor other Sony audio products feature optional HDCP 2.2 copy protection over HDMI.

The 5.1-channel system supports all HRA codecs up to DSD via USB stick and Ethernet port. Wi-Fi access to a computer’s high-resolution files was unclear.

Like its predecessor, it comes with embedded Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g, two-way speakers, Bluetooth, NFC, DLNA for audio playback, and wireless surround speakers.

Other features include two HDMI 2.0 inputs, one HDMI 2.0 output, 4K passthrough, Miracast, and streaming of Netflix, HuluPlus, Sony’s Music Unlimited, Pandora, Spotify and other Internet-delivered services.

The system also offers DDSE+ to enhance compressed music, 1,200-watt output, and a supertweeter to extend high-frequency response for HRA tracks.

Core Series speakers: The Core Series (CS) speakers are promoted as offering high performance with extended frequency response at an affordable price.

The speakers will be available in May exclusively in Sony stores and in Best Buy, bringing Sony speakers to the retailer’s main sales floor for the first time in years. The CS speakers will join Sony’s STR series of AVRs on the main floor.

Sony and Best Buy will work together to promote HRA, Sony added.

The speakers are designed to deliver HRA sound quality via supertweeters that deliver extended high-frequency response, specially tuned crossovers, wide dispersion for a wide sweet spot, and extensive internal bracing, the company said.