Audio News

Audio News for September 27, 2013

Apple Launches iTunes Radio; Poland Celebrates Penderecki’s 80th Birthday; Sony’s New Double-DSD Hi-Res Audio System

Published on September 27, 2013

Apple Launches iTunes Radio – The new service is very similar to Pandora’s streaming service, but is for iPhones and iPads as well as part of the latest upgrade to iTunes on standard computers (11.1.0). It doesn’t yet have as large a selection of tracks as Pandora, and basically expands and extends its radio feature to match what other services have been offering. One difference is that there is a small red box with a price and link to the iTunes Store to purchase the track which is playing. It is also commercial free and has similar “thumbs down” and “thumbs up” options to Pandora. Apple has the advantage of being in 119 countries while Pandora is only in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand—but Apple’s cost per track is slightly higher. According to Nielsen SoundScan, online download sales are down—3% for tracks and 6% for albums so far this year.

Poland Celebrates Penderecki’s 80th Birthday – Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, who has won three Grammys, is working on a new opera and some chamber music as he approaches his 80th birthday. A festival in Warsaw will be part of his celebration, with Lorin Maazel conducting and soloists such as violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. The country will also issue a collector’s bank note for his birthday with an image of him conducting. Earlier on Penderecki experimented with sound and scale, and then turned to large forms for choir and orchestra. Now he favors chamber music. He taught at the Yale School of Music in the 1970s.

Sony’s New Double-DSD Hi-Res Audio System – The Japanese company feels that it’s now time to bring audio into the 21st century (well good for them!) The availability of cheaper hard drives, faster download speeds from the Internet, and several successful online hi-res download outlets, have brought hi-res audio to a much wider audience. Hi-res audio samples the musical signal much more often than standard CDs and hugely more than compressed MP3-type audio files. Many of today’s hi-res master recordings are stored as 96K/24-bit or 192K/24-bit files. The latter means that the audio waveform is sampled 192,000 times each second, and the 24-bit word length is 256 times the accuracy of the standard CD. But Sony’s new hi-res products, demonstrated in London, can handle files up to 192K/32-bit.

Sony’s HAP Music Transfer app automatically copies the music library on one’s PC or Mac over to the hi-res audio players’ hard drives. There is an Audio Remote app to control it. Lower-res files are upscaled to hi-res when they are stored on the player’s hard drive using Sony’s Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE). This DSD re-mastering engine upsamples and converts the entire collection to 5.6MHz DSD, known as “double DSD” because it is twice the sample rate of DSD used in recording SACDs. During playback this hi-res bitstream is converted to analog waveform using four Finite Impulse Response filters per channel to reduce unwanted high frequency noise artifacts. The Sony flagship media music server is the HAP-Z1ES, which operates along with the integrated stereo amp, the TA-A1ES and Sony’s new speakers, the SS-NA2ES (3-way, 6-unit floorstanders) to demonstrate the full potential of hi-res audio. The HAP-Z1ES plays just about any music format, including up to 5.6 DSD, FLAC, MP3, WMA, AIFF, ALAC, ATRAC, DSF, etc., and is 80 watts per channel. The two electronics components are about £2000 each and the speakers £6000. Of course more mainstream music now needs to be made available in hi-res. Sony is launching a new online gateway, where music lovers can browse and download a growing range of hi-res recordings, but it would be even better if they simply offered them to the present popular online hi-res services.

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