Recently Sony invited me to check out their current lineup of Hi-Res audio products, something which I’ve been wanting to hear for myself.
Lately there has been a lot of interest in getting better quality audio out of our digital systems. Many companies have started offering high quality audio players, receivers and downloads to go above the typical MP3 compressed audio most people are used to. Even musicians like Neil Young have created their own players/services offering better audio.
Personally, I’m not terribly fussy in this regard but have a number of friends on a constant quest for audio perfection. You’re either one of these people or you’re not. One friend went so far as to build a Linux media centre for his living room (without knowing what Linux was when he began) in order to carefully rip/record his jazz albums in the best quality possible. He spent countless hours meticulously organizing the tracks and then built a small media pc just to play it back on his stereo the best way he could.
Now it looks like Sony could have helped him. They invited me down to a local store to see the full lineup of gear. From high end receivers, speakers, specialized smartphones, headphones and even an updated Walkman with Hi-Res audio support. You can’t just plug your earbuds into these either so I was also loaned a pair of MDR-1A headphones to listen with which are probably the nicest I’ve used.
Obviously this post can’t compare to hearing the difference in person. One demo they have on their smartphone is a visible switch between MP3 and Hi-Res audio where you could listen to a song and flip between the two qualities of playback to really hear what you were missing and see the waveform (if that’s your thing) to see the difference. It was pretty compelling to my untrained ears, even in a somewhat noisy store environment.
The main difference between what makes for good audio and okay audio is the digital to analog conversion (DAC) chip in these devices. Normally it’s an after thought on most smartphones/music players. The Sony products have specialized circuits and chips that can enhance the playback of the audio many times better than what a CD or MP3 can offer due to a number of factors.
Another interesting thing that Sony does is support all platforms. Whether you have an Apple Lossless or FLAC audio file (from any source) it’s all compatible on the Sony platform. You can drag and drop onto the free software to get your music onto the device. Basically any uncompressed audio file can be played back. If your audio file isn’t hi-res, it will do a decent job of upscaling it…but you’ll likely be able to tell the difference between the higher quality tracks versus low.
The Walkman at first seemed like a ‘feature phone’ from about 5 years ago but it’s not about the simple display, it’s about the audio which this excels at.
I’m not sure I’m the kind of person that needs a dedicated device to play back my audio but definitely after using this gear for a little while, I understand the desire to get away from bad MP3 ripped audio or streaming services. You really can hear the difference. These devices aren’t cheap, but for many, it may be worth the investment.