High resolution audio (HRA) has not really been defined. Few people know what it is. Fewer still know its benefits. But whatever it is, we know that Sony is leading the charge.
Sony recently brought a few A/V reporters to its headquarters in San Diego to 1) enlighten us on HRA and 2) demonstrate how Sony is and will be the leader of the format.
What many readers want this instant is a list of the new HRA products Sony is announcing today, so let’s get those out of the way first.
Today, Sony is announcing:
Two upper-end-but-still-affordable 7.2-channel A/V receivers, the STR-DN1050 (165 watts per channel) and STR-DN850 (150 watts), featuring 4K upscaling and pass-through, a generous number of connectivity options, Wi-Fi, AirPlay, Bluetooth, NFC, built-in music services and of course HRA support.
The DN850 supports up 24-bit/192-kHz resolutions, while the DN1050 supports up to Direct Stream Digital (DSD).
Two step-down receivers, the STR-DH750 and STR-DH550, offer many of the same features as their beefier counterparts at lower prices.
Sony STR-DH550 receiver
One of the most interesting features of the new lineup is the powered second zone of the STR-DN1050 receiver.
It comes complete with dedicated HDMI output, IR repeaters and both amplified and line-level audio connectivity. All of the audio and video sources connected to the receiver can be independently accessed from the second zone, including digital streaming services and music streamed over Bluetooth.
Sony believes it has the first product that can assign Bluetooth to a second AVR zone, which it demonstrated for us last week.
All of them will be available in Sony stores and through authorized Sony dealers in May, at suggested retail prices of $599, $499, $349 and $279, respectively.
Blu-ray Home Theater System
The BDV-N7200W is a 1200W 5.1 channel Blu-ray home theater system with wireless rear surround sound speakers and a powerful down-firing subwoofer. It supports 4k and 3D pass-thru, plus offers built-in Wi-Fi with support for movie and music streaming.
Both the Blu-ray system and the receivers are compatible with Sony’s new SongPal audio app, which simplifies the selection of audio and control of Sony devices.
I might add that the Blu-ray Hi-Res Audio home theater in a box sounds delicious!
Sony adds two new HRA-optimizing Core Series (CS) speakers to its line, the floor standing SS-CS3 and the SS-CS5 bookshelf speakers, as well as the SS-CS8 center channel speaker and the SA-CS9 subwoofer.
Hi-Res Audio is All About the Ecosystem
The new products announced today add to Sony’s growing stable of Hi-res audio products.
Sony HRA followers will already know about Sony’s first hard drive music players introduced last year, the HAP-Z1ES ($1,999) and HAP-S1 ($999), arguably the first (only?) players anywhere that make hi-res audio acceptable from a user point of view.
They come with about 20 tracks already, and importing old CDs or downloading new tracks couldn’t be simpler, even for digital audiophobes.
Sony’s Home Audio product marketing manager Aaron Levine notes that the typical hi-res experience requires a DAC, PC, control device and some way to get a Wi-Fi connection. Not so with the HAP servers.
“Our whole goal is how do you make it easy?” he says. “Like a traditional CD player, you hit play and it plays.”
Transferring music to the drive is a breeze, he explains: Point to the music file folders, choose your tracks and the format you want for transfer, then “set it and let it run.”
Having the music reside on the hard drive “allows for us to have very speedy playback,” says Levine.
He notes, though, that “there’s a whole group of consumers now that are PC savvy,” including himself.
Last year, Sony introduced the UDA-1 Hi-Res DAC, which Levine has been using “fairly extensively at work and I’m addicted to it.”
Besides these products, Sony now offers the PHA-2 portable headphone amplifier ($600) that had all the audiophiles going gaga at the Sony press event, pulling out their iPhones and donning Sony’s hi-res MDR-10R headphones.
A useful hi-res tool that has slipped under the radar of many an audiophile and artist is Sony’s PCM-D100 portable recorder.
Jeff Hiatt, director of product marketing for Sony’s Home Audio group tells how the band Oh No Fiasco recorded a piece with the device and was “blown away” when they listened to it right away through the unit’s headphone jack … with Sony’s hi-res headphones, of course.
Hiatt notes that the entire ecosystem of hi-res content, players and listening devices (e.g., headphones) creates a sonic experience that doesn’t necessarily drain the pocketbook.
Sony’s $199 headphones optimized for hi-res audio, paired with a hi-res audio player, eliminates the need for a four-figure set of headphones to extract the nuances of the music.
For a shared hi-res listening experience, Sony also offers the slick SRSX9 ($700), apparently the only Bluetooth-enabled speaker that plays back hi-res audio.
This, too, works with Sony’s new SongPal app, which ties the audio ecosystem together within one intuitive interface.
SongPal puts all of your audio streaming services in one place so you don’t have to back in and out of separate apps for Spotify, Pandora and the like. And while you may select one of these services from your smart phone, the music will stream via the network rather than from the phone itself.
Use the app also to pull up any Sony product on the network and specify what music – and from where – it will play.
SongPal also is used to adjust settings on Sony products, down to zone two on the Sony receivers.