Could 2014 be the year that High-Res audio goes mainstream?

Sun, 13 Oct 2013, 4:07pm

Sony Walkman F886

Sony’s commitment to pushing better quality audio was clear for all to see at IFA 2013, with the launch of a complete range of high-resolution audio products

The launch of that hi-res hi-fi family has since been followed by official confirmation of the company's flagship high-res portable music player, the NWZ-ZX1 Walkman (hot-on-the-heels of the Astell & Kern AK120, which recently launched officially in the UK).

What's more, we've been tipped-off that more is to come in time for next year's annual curtain-raiser for the year in consumer electronics, CES 2014 in Las Vegas.

Could CES 2014 see high-resolution audio enter the mainstream?

Sony is not the only company already talking-up high-res audio: two of the newest flagship smartphones, the LG G2 and Samsung Galaxy Note 3, support high-resolution audio files straight out of the box.

Elsewhere, Neil Young recently confirmed his intriguing Pono music service, which aims to deliver a higher quality music store and a dedicated portable music player, is all set to launch in 2014.

HDtracks, the largest US high-res downloads site, is rumoured to be readying itself for an official UK launch in the not too distant future, too.

The Consumer Electronics Association, which organises CES, has now put its not inconsiderable weight behind High-Resolution Audio, or HRA, as the CEA referred to the format in a press release.

“The time is right for our organization to explore new avenues to help promote this exciting audio technology. Recent market trends and research indicates that consumers are poised to embrace high-resolution audio, creating tremendous new market opportunities,” said CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro.

The CEA goes on to say, “every major music label has expressed support for HRA, including Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group, in addition to leading independent labels”.

Lest we forget, the likes of Linn and Naim have long been pushing hi-res audio via their own respective record labels.

But now it seems the idea has some serious weight behind it from the big US and Korean electronics companies, potentially bringing high-resolution audio to a wider audience.

As the CEA said, “We expect major HRA announcements over the next year and believe that the technology will have a strong presence at the 2014 International CES.”

And who are we to argue? Bring it on, we say.

MORE: CES 2014: news, rumours and what to expect

MORE: High-resolution audio: everything you need to know

 

by Joe Cox

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Comments

It's the mastering, not the media. Many WHF readers have established this for themselves by downsampling 24 bit remastered songs down to 16 bit and hearing no difference at all. Put the 16bit remaster next to the original CD and of course there's a huge difference. Sony wouldn't be behind this in such a big way unless they've identified that there's big money to be made but this is all a con. We don't need a £2K Sony player to hear the difference a good remaster makes, we just need a piece of software to do the downsampling and a spare 5 minutes to do the legwork. WHF could but this to rest by conducting their own tests or having another blind test session. Strange that they haven't addressed this issue head on, yet. 

I have been buying quite some "studio master recordings" over the last two years by current artists. The majority were mastered to play on tiny plastic pc-speakers and standard earbuds: Anna Calva, Chvrches, AlunaGeorge, The National, Jamie Lidell, Lana Del Rey, Black Keys, Austra, David Bowie, Depeche Mode, MGMT, Washed Out, Alex Hepburn, Phoenix etc. Only a few sounded acceptable (but same mastering as cd): Girls in Hawaii, Agnes Obel, Valerie June,...  Only a 'handful current albums" were specially mastered for high-res: Muse (2nd Law), Green Day Trilogy,...  Conclusion: the labels keep us fooling and 99% of the time I ended up frustrated having paid a premium price for some 'inferior' sounding music. The labels completely ignore the complaints by the few music-fanatics that are still prepared to pay for music! They prefer to focus on people who don't care about music and download the majority of their music in an illegal way. And then we haven't talked about the licensing issues. Where I live there isn't any hig-res download store available. When I try to download a local artist's work in studio master quality from Qobuz I get the message: This download isn't authorised in your country. So if i want to hear my local artists in studio master quality, the only way to get them is using torrent sites! Conclusion: Labels encourage illegal downloading! I contacted them a few times about this matter, but they never tried to fix it. Always the same standard answers about licensing deals.

 

As long as the greed of high prices (esp. scalping early adopters) is kept in check and a good UI is developed, then success should follow.

But... as was shown with SACD (by Sony!) greed and a lack of an industy agreement for the best joint path led to confusion, high prices and a failure of wide spread adption for what should have been CD 2.0. 

I really look forward to Hi-Res audio, but shouldn't the industry also help consumers understand the best way to store digital music and media, e.g. a NAS drive, and which formats work best and actually Qualify as HD! The lack of information/education also hinders wide spread adoption. I'm sure many people like me have a huge iTunes Library (95%+ Lossless) and would like to know the next step to use this with the new propsed hardware. 

 

I think yes. especially if the device price is not too high. many people will buy it