Sonos says people should listen to lossless, CD-quality audio and stop listening to MP3s before talking about high-resolution audio.

What Hi-Fi? spoke to Giles Martin, Sound Experience Leader at Sonos (and successful record producer), at the launch of the Sonos Playbase, and naturally we couldn't help but ask about high-res audioSonos supports lossless, CD-quality files but no higher, unlike some rival products, notably Bluesound.

Martin has worked in some of the most famous studios in the world on some of the biggest albums, so it's fair to say he knows his stuff. He's also not shy of an opinion where sound quality is concerned.

And - spoiler alert - it seems we're unlikely to see high-resolution audio support on Sonos anytime soon, with Martin adamant that there are more important areas of focus for Sonos, the music industry and for anyone who cares about audio quality.

"I'd like everyone to start listening to 16-bit/44.1 kHz [CD-quality, lossless audio] and stop listening to MP3s, and experience those differences before they start talking about high-res," said Martin. 

"It becomes a spec war. I did this with the Beatles masters at 24/96... and yes, there is a difference... but the difference between MP3 and 44.1 is the one. For most units [with hi-res audio] you wouldn't notice the difference, with double-blind testing, certainly on the consumer audio side. But I do believe we should listen to music in the best possible resolution, and I don't think there should be a ceiling on it, but I think there should be an agreement on what high-resolution is."

More after the break

So, for the immediate future, will we see Sonos hardware supporting high-resolution audio?

"It's not on the roadmap... as soon as it becomes experientially a good thing, it should be part of what we do. Right now, it's a niche thing that people should experience and see whether they want. And see if they want to experience drop-outs in the home, because that really is the essence of it. A [hi-res] file that drops out is way worse than an MP3 - I hate to say that! - but that's what people don't talk about."

So there's an issue with broadband speeds, too. Could MQA, which promises to reduce the bandwidth required to stream high-res audio, provide a solution? Martin doesn't seem convinced.

"I met Bob Stuart and experienced MQA. I'm into anyone that tries to prove the infrastructure of how we listen to music... [but] I think the future is going to be a variable bitrate."

And, lest we forget, there's the issue of cost - with high-res audio and lossless files costing more to download or stream compared to compressed, MP3 files.

"We need to encourage people to pay for music... I don't believe consumers will pay twice as much for [high-res music] for a start. For me, it's not twice as good. I think everyone from Sonos, streaming services and more important music labels need to fall into line and decide what we're doing." 

Do you agree that CD-quality, lossless audio is a good enough for now? Or would you like to see high-res support on Sonos? Let us know in the comments below.

MORE: Sonos Playbase hands-on review

 

Comments

Graham Luke's picture

Good.

I'm pleased Sonos is sticking to the tangible rather than the intangible.

There is no empirical evidence, that I am aware of, that people can tell the difference between a well recorded and mastered piece of music whether encoded at 16/44.1 or higher.

There is however evidence from double-blind testing that they cannot; '24-192 music downloads are very silly indeed' (xiph.org)

DavidDS's picture

Makes perfect sense...

...and for the same reasons that CD continues to dominate physical media and SACD fizzled out. Most people can't tell the difference, and then only when listening to a decent system and not on a smartphone. Audiences need to be weaned off MP3 before we can start thinking of Hi-Res as a must-have.