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Sony High Resolution audio comes to the UK review


Sony has introduced a complete top-to-bottom range of High Resolution audio products that promise high fidelity sound - we explain what it all means

Sony has brought its high-resolution audio range to the UK, officially launching a complete top-to-bottom line-up of equipment and services designed to bring more fidelity to your listening, both at home and on the move.

Originally introduced at this year’s IFA show in Berlin, high resolution audio represents Sony’s commitment to improved music quality, which has taken a big hit as a result of low bit rate MP3 encoding. Even CDs aren’t immune from quality downgrades, as shown in the graph below.

High resolution Audio

Sony says its digital audio formats, which are typically 24-bit/192kHz, can offer significantly more detail than an MP3 or CD track. You’ll have plenty of choice when it comes to what lossless format you prefer to buy your music in, too, as the entire high-resolution audio range supports FLAC, Apple Lossless, AIFF and Wav files, along with DSD compression typically found in Super Audio CDs.

Although it’s true that these files contain more audio information, there’s still a limit to what the human ear is capable of detecting, so higher quality isn’t the be-all and end-all answer. You also need to take playback equipment into account, which is why Sony has introduced a large range of speakers, amplifiers and music streamers to eliminate the hardware as a limitation to high quality.

High resolution in the home

We got our first proper look at the new range at a Sony event this week, including the HAP-Z1ES music server and TA-A1ES stereo amplifier.


As high resolution audio is a very high-end concept, targeted at audiophiles that still treasure their vinyl records and scoff at anything less than lossless FLAC digital files, Sony has kept things simple with its in-home range of amplifiers, music streamers and A/V receivers. Plenty of brushed aluminium, oversized volume dials and retro-inspired blue LCD displays should match existing high-end hi-fi separates.


The front-facing LCD screen on the HAP-Z1ES lets you browse through your music library, which is saved to the 1TB internal hard disk automatically when you add content from a connected device – either over Wi-Fi or over Ethernet. It shows you artist, track and bit rate information alongside album art and playback position.


The simple remote control handles the basics, but for more in-depth control you’ll want to install the dedicated HDD Audio Remote app to your smartphone or tablet. Again it shows the track details, but it’s far easier to read a tablet right in front of you than the tiny 4in display from halfway across the room.


We couldn’t judge sound quality based on the noisy environment of Sony’s press launch, although the few sample tracks we did hear were admittedly very detailed. We’ll have to wait until we get a system into the lab, but if you want the best Sony has to offer in terms of audio, there’s no question this is it.

On the move

Sony doesn’t want to limit High Resolution Audio to the home. The company is also launching a range of Walkman MP3 players that will happily play lossless 24-bit files. The flagship NW-ZX1 has a whopping 128GB of storage, which should be large enough to cope with the huge files that are an unavoidable side effect of high bit rate music, and a dedicated S-Master HX headphone amplifier which apparently reduces noise distortion. Essentially an Android smartphone without any calling capabilities, the NW-ZX1 runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean on a 4in, 854×480 Triluminous display. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC all come built-in. Sony doesn’t bundle a pair of headphones with the Walkman, suggesting you use a high quality pair of your own in order to make the most of its 24-bit, 192kHz playback abilities.

Sony Walkman NW-ZX1

The slightly more affordable NW-F880 will come in a choice of white, black, blue or pink colours, with 16GB, 32GB and 64GB capacities. It jettisons the headphone amplifier but gains an FM radio and digital noise cancellation. It will set you back around £260 for the 32GB model, currently only available to pre-order through the Sony website, while the NW-ZX1 will cost a whopping £490. Unfortunately, Sony has only confirmed a Japanese release for the NW-ZX1 so far, but with the High Resolution Audio push now reaching the UK, we hopefully won’t have long to wait until we see an official launch on this side of the globe.

What’s the hold up?

The major problem with high resolution audio as a concept is the availability of music. Simply put, very few music stores have a section for lossless or high quality music, and those that do typically have a limited choice. Unless you particularly enjoy classical music, or have a fondness for Carlos Santana, there’s simply not much to choose from at the moment. If anyone can change that it’s Sony, as it has access to a huge back catalogue of master recordings through its Sony Music Entertainment division, but that could take a significant length of time.

The other sticking point is price. The HAP-Z1ES, gorgeous though it is, costs a whopping £2,000. You then have to add speakers and an amplifier if you don’t already own them, with Sony suggesting the £2,000 TA-A1ES amplifier as the “perfect partner”. Until the price drops significantly, we can’t see High Resolution audio taking off any time soon.

On the plus side, top-end smartphones such as LG’s G2 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 now support 24-bit/192kHz playback. This is chiefly thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 inside each device, although Sony’s own Xperia Z1 has the same chip but high-resolution audio playback isn’t supported. Once Qualcomm adds this support to its mid-range and entry-level chips, almost half of all Android smartphones will be able to play lossless tracks. That will bring costs down dramatically, as you’ll just need a decent pair of headphones to enjoy high-resolution audio.

However, that seems to be a long way off, so unless you own a phone that supports it already Sony’s expensive hardware will have to do in the meantime.

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