updated 06:36 am EDT, Mon September 23, 2013
Sony aims for audiophiles with high-res music player, headphones
Electronista recently had the opportunity to spend some pre-release hands-on time with the forthcoming Sony HAP-S1 High Resolution Music Player first announced at IFA Berlin a couple of weeks ago. The new player gives music lovers the chance to really enjoy high quality digital recordings including in the popular FLAC format and Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC) through a 2-channel Class AB amplifier rated at 40 Watts RMS per channel. We also had the chance to test the system out on the similarly just announced Sony MDR-10R High Resolution headphones with both making a formidable combination for getting the most out of your high resolution audio files.
The Sony HAP-S1 incorporates a 500GB hard drive with expandable storage and can sync your audio files directly from either a Mac or a PC using Sony's HAP Music Transfer software. In addition to FLAC and ALAC, it supports a wide variety of alternative formats including PCM up to 192KHz in 24-bit depth, DSD, AAC, ATRAC Advanced Lossless and AIFF. It incorporates a DSD Re-mastering Engine that can upscale audio to DSD (5.6) quality, while it also utilizes Sony's Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) that restores missing data from compressed files. The system can be matched with Sony's new SS-HA1 High Resolution Speakers, sold separately, although we didn't get a chance to listen to these although they were on hand.
The new Sony MDR-10R headphones are a closed dynamic type and utilize a PET diaphragm and a pair of 40mm drivers matched with a pair of neodymium magnets. Sensitivity is 100dB/mW, impedance is rated at 40ohm(1kHz) while the frequency response is a wide 5Hz-40,000Hz with beat response control. In addition to using an enfolding structure, detachable tangle-free serrated cords, it adds supper soft ear cushions for added comfort. They weigh in at just 180grams, while Sony's engineers also worked with its Sony Music artists to help refine audio reproduction and the tone of the MDR-10Rs.
It is great to see Sony getting into high-resolution audio gear, as there clearly is an appetite in the market place for well-priced, but high quality audio gear for delivering optimal audio quality from digital files. It is also very clever, and thoughtful, of Sony to offer the HAP-S1 on its own, without encumbering potential buyers with a pair of speakers that they may not want depending on their listening circumstances. At the same time, having the option to pick up the matched SS-HA1 speakers is an ideal scenario for those who may not have a set of high quality speakers already, but who don't want to go to the hassle of tracking down a suitable pair.
For our hands-on, we spent some quality time with the HAP-S1 paired with Sony's MDR-10R headphones, similarly designed to take full advantage of audio capabilities of the HAP-S1 music player. The listening experience is, in a word, superb. We listened to a range of FLAC tracks with a wide dynamic range and the sound was crystal clear with the nuances of vocals and instruments like the acoustic guitar coming through on an expansive, but controlled sound stage. Music sounded punchy when it needed to, with strong, distortion-free bass present and trebles that were highly detailed, but never sounding harsh. The mid-range was also well balanced, adding warmth, with the overall listening experience quite difficult to fault.
Although you don't need to buy the Sony headphones to get the most out of the HAP-S1 (or vice versa), the two do work together very well. However, although we didn't get to try a different set of headphones with the HAP-S1, we suspect that if you already have a favorite pair, you will still be more than pleased with the capabilities of the HAP-S1 listening experience. While there are a number of high-quality external DAC adapters that PC and Mac users can choose from, there is nothing quite like the experience of listening to your audio files through a purpose made piece of gear with a high-quality Class AB amp.
If you're looking to get the most out of your lossless digital audio collection, the Sony HAP-S1 music player offers excellent value for money at a suggested retail of $999. Look out for it this fall in a choice of black or silver. The Sony MDR-10R headphones are available for pre-order now and are priced at $200 and come in either black or white. Both are part of Sony's new high-res audio range.
By Sanjiv Sathiah