Audio News for March 27, 2015

Pioneer Expands Atmos and Adds HDCP 2.2 –  Pioneer Home Entertainment will add Dolby Atmos, HDCP 2.2 copy protection, built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to their 2015 AV receiver lineup, starting at a $399 price point. HDCP supports a higher data rate of up to 18Gbps for 24-bit color for 60 fps UHD video, high-dynamic range video, 32 audio channels and other enhancements. Even the lowest-priced AVR features Apple AirPlay, Spotify, Pandora, vTuner, HTC Connect and upscaling of 1080p files to UHD. It handles multichannel hi-res audio playback of 192/24 5.1-channel WAV files via USB and 96/24 5.1 FLAC files (limited to 48K via Wi-Fi). It also supports stereo hi-res AIFF, WAV, FLAC and 2.8MHz DSD files as well as Apple Lossless, MP3, WMA and AAC files. All four new AVRs can be controlled from Pioneer’s iControlAV5 app for iOS and Android devices.

SOL Wireless Headphones – SOL Republic has introduced its Shadow wireless in-ear headphones, which are flexible, designed to be worn all day, are Bluetooth active with AptX, and have an in-line mic and remote multi-device pairing. They have an eight-hour battery life and are $99 retail.

Astell & Kern Limited Edition Hi-Res Mobile Audio Player – The AK240 now comes in stainless steel with more grounding points to eliminate electrical noise, and has a fancy leather case. It still uses a dual 192/24 DAC design and there’s extensive file support, including native DSD playback. Price is $3000.

‘Deezer Elite’ Hi-Res Audio Streaming Now Global – The service makes 35 million audio tracks available, as well as lossless FLAC stream at a 1411kbps standard. They claim that is five times the bitrate of other services. It is available only to Sonos users in the U.S., and is now the largest global hi-res streaming service in over 150 countries. At launch it costs £14.99 for a year. You can check it out on a free one-month trial before signing up for any payment plan. They claim that 65% of their surveyed users “would never go back to MP3” after having used the service, and 91% could ‘hear the difference’ between regular files and hi-res audio.

The Rise of Hi-Res Digital Music – is currently concentrated on those who claim to be able to hear the difference from compressed MP3s and are willing to pay for it. There is Tidal and now Deezer, charging $20 a month for streaming lossless music at 1411 kbps in FLAC or Apple Lossless, way above the industry standard of around 320 kbps. Then for downloads there is Neil Young’s highly-promoted Pono service, HDTracks and others. Sony and Onkyo are stepping into the breach. The music costs much more than on iTunes or Amazon. Linn’s technical director says “We support any codec that is open and widely used.”  Apple or Spotify could easily pump by their sampling rates one day and wipe out the hi-res niche in one fell swoop. A reviewer of the new Tidal service said, “Whether your ears care about the increase in fidelity, whether you have the headphones and playback devices to make the best of it, and whether the extra cash is worth it, only you can tell.” And how about the noisy surroundings where most mobile devices are used?

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