Over the last 20 to 30 years, music has taken up a big role in most people’s lives. It helps us relax, focus, forget about the sore legs while running, or simply makes us wanting to dance and enjoy being with friends. Listening to music did see a big tranformation the last decades though, and it has taken a turn for the worst…
If you ask me which word defines the transformation that music has seen over the last quarter of a century, it would be portability:
Rewind to 1979. Sony released its first Walkman and revolutionized the whole music listening experience. All of a sudden people were able to go walking, bike riding, running, … and listen to their music at the same time. Great improvement, right?
A couple of years later. Thanks to Sony and Philips, Compact Discs became mainstream in the mid-eighties. The Walkman was replaced with the Discman, but the same rules apply: we wanted to take our music with us, everywhere we went. Music in beter quality than on a walkman, great improvement, right?
Whereas the CD players had their downsides – limited storage, a laser was needed to “read” the music and didn’t work well when you wanted to go running – the nineties saw the birth of MP3 players. An all-round solution: digital music, great quality, more songs you could store… Great improvement, right?
Fast forward to the present time. Nowadays everyone listens to music on the go. On our way to work, school, when we run, in the car… We listen to music everywhere. We take our entire music collection with us on our smartphones, mp3 players, PC’s and whatnot. Music became portable. Great improvement, right?
Loss of Quality
All of these improvements have one thing in common: a loss of quality. Where vinyl – and CD’s to a certain extent – aims to produce a quality that is closest to recording studio quality, more “recent” audio aims to produce a quality that is acceptable and doesn’t take up a lot of space, so we can take more music with us.
It’s generally thought that the human ear can hear frequencies only up to about 20kHz. Anything above that is inaudible and considered “ultrasonic.” CDs for example cover sound up to about 22kHz.
Enter HighRes Audio
Since a couple of years, several digital audio formats exist which broaden the frequency spectrum in digital files. FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec), ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec), WAV are but examples of such codecs. They also support much higher bitrates than any other codecs.
What are the advantages? A much more vivid audio listening experience. You basically hear every note, every sound, the way it’s meant to be heard. Feel free to listen for yourself. Linn Records has a nice collection of demo files which you can download and listen to.
What are the disadvantages? Your average portable music player (smarthphone, MP3 player, …) will not be able to play these tracks. You need a specific app or software for this. PC/Mac/Linux users will have less trouble playing these, since most recent audio software is able to handle these tracks.
A pioneer then, a pioneer now
Sony was a pioneer in the early years of digital music and portability. They started a revolution then with walkman, CD’s, and as far as I’m concerned, they started a revolution over the last years with Hi-Res Audio too!
I recently attended #SonyNewWorld, a brief showing of what Sony has in store in several key markets: TV, multimedia, photography, and also audio. I was lucky enough to be able to join a short session about HighRes Audio and what Sony is doing to make this more mainstream.
Their range of products for your home is already quite elaborate. I witnessed a short demo of these receivers and amps, and boy was I impressed. The quality of HighRes Audio on systems specifically designed for this kind of audio will blow you away. The concept of multiroom, where you stream your Hi-Res Audio to a device in another room where you still get a Hi-Res version of your song, is impressive.
Furthermore, these receivers will also “upscale” your current non-HighRes audio collection, giving it just that extra touch it needs.
You’re disturbing your family or roommates with the noise? No worries, the MDR-Z7 headphones provide you with an immersive sound, while keeping those close to you from killing you for playing your music too loud.
But of course not everyone enjoys music in their home, which Sony realizes. That’s why their mobile/portable market is seeing a considerable upgrade in the very near future! I can’t say much about it yet, since several products are yet to be announced. All I can say is this: if you enjoy listening to music on the go, keep a close eye on Sony over the coming months and be prepared to give your music collection the upgrade it deserves!
By the way, if you’re a spotify or other streaming service user, and you like Hi-Res music, you might want to check out Hi-Res streaming services like Tidal and Qobuz. They might be a bit more expensive than spotify or others, but the quality you get in return is more than worth it!
P.S. If I got your attention on High-Resolution Audio (HRA), you might want to read up on WhatHifi. They wrote a great article explaining the ins and outs of HRA!