Hi-Resolution Audio and Sonos

  • 14 December 2018
  • 118 replies
  • 15703 views

This topic form is intended to uncover the truth about what Sonos products (if any) actually support Hi-Res audio (ex. 24bit/192KHz, DSD, MQA). Further more I would like to exclude personal opinions about PDM (pulse-density modulation) vs DSD (the format used by in SACD). Weather you can hear the difference between a 256k AAC version vs a uncompressed 24bit or DFS file is worthy discussion, but just not on this topic. Again I would really like to understand what Sonos is doing or planning to do to support Hi-Resolution audio. There is a flood of Hi-Res content being released from master studio recordings. This trend is on the rise.

118 replies

Martin is a producer.  His experience with digital sampling theory and the math behind it is probably slim to none.  His position in the realm of “experts” can be likened to the difference between an expert Photoshop user, and the guy who programs the Photoshop application.  You do not need to be an expert on low level image processing to be the former, you most certainly have to be for the latter. 

The same can be said for a guy like Martin vs a guy like Monty at Xiph.  Some of the most absurd, incorrect “facts” I’ve ever heard about digital audio have come from producers and artists.  Just ask Neil Young, he lost his shirt touting the advantages of Hi-res.  Great artist, one of my favorites, but the extent of his actual knowledge about digital sampling couldn’t fill a thimble.

Badge

Well, that graph is very clear yet it doesn't make the point,  the subject is to prove should oversampling and using more bits than actually needed, in few words having redundancy digital input can be actually identified by trained ears as presenting a more lifelike experience.

I am in the case as it was Sonos and only Sonos that forced our household to jump onto HD audio through Amazon Music HD, now as I am not able to play more than cd quality I cannot say is there’s any difference. I am sure that if there was any wtahsoever It would me minimal in comparison to the jump from Spotify up to CD quality

However I have read an expert opinion on that:

https://www.whathifi.com/news/sonos-says-high-res-audio-support-not-roadmap

What do you think of Mr martin opinion?

Another great blog post by Mark Waldrep, an expert on HD-Audio in the studio, where it actually matters.

http://www.realhd-audio.com/?p=6664

 

A follow-up post:

http://www.realhd-audio.com/?p=6725

Badge +1

Thanks Ratty,

Just read the article. Excellent explanation. Totally agree with the conclusion regarding better 'Masters'.  Best sound I ever heard was from a remastered Mobile Fidelity LP back in the 70's. And to think I sold it for a fiver when CD's came out and I replaced it!

Another great blog post by Mark Waldrep, an expert on HD-Audio in the studio, where it actually matters.

http://www.realhd-audio.com/?p=6664

 

“Let’s push for lossless CD quality streams and better sounding masters. Forget about MQA and any company — hardware or software — that tells you to get behind “hi-res” audio or music.”

Sums it up nicely.

Another great blog post by Mark Waldrep, an expert on HD-Audio in the studio, where it actually matters.

http://www.realhd-audio.com/?p=6664

 

I'd guess that the margin of profit on a thousand speakers would be a larger amount of money than the margin on ten speakers.

That is why price points have little correlation with speaker sound quality with today's tech. What Sonos sells for USD 200 has to be sold at many times that price by the little (in comparison to USD 2 billion) audiophile maker to get an adequate return on his investment. There is therefore little to none additional engineering value in such a speaker that may be priced at USD 1000, compared to the USD 200 Sonos product. The audiophile make also has to spend much more per unit on marketing spend to convince audiophiles that such value exists for the additional USD 800 spend. The reality is that all this additional spend that drives the USD 1000 price is there only to support low manufacturing and marketing scales.

So those that say the Sonos is not an audiophile brand are implicitly saying that Sonos offers more sound quality/dollar than the audiophile brands out there, that are severely handicapped by their minuscule scales. Of course the clever marketers will turn this situation around using an elitist pitch for their kit, to which human nature is commonly a willing victim. Everyone is a snob, some hide it better than others. And so the little audiophile makes also have their own little stall in the market, by catering to this human trait.

It wasn't so some decades ago; it took all the progress over this time in solid state and digital tech in componentry that made it possible for excellent output quality to be available at low prices to those that had the ability to achieve scale.

PS: of course, a by product of this is that there really is a lot less to discuss these days on the sound quality subject, which means that there is a lot of noise and heat on things that apparently have scope for discussion, like Hi Res. Lot of that, but no forward motion.
My impression is that Sonos is much more interested in the mass market than it is in the "specialty/hi-res" market. They'd rather sell a thousand speakers to your parents and their friends, than they would selling you and ten of your friends special speakers that can handle hi-res.

I'd guess that the margin of profit on a thousand speakers would be a larger amount of money than the margin on ten speakers.

At the end of the day, Sonos is in business to make money. I suspect that colors some of their decision making around what speakers and codecs they want to make and support.

But not being a Sonos employee, or even an investor, I don't know that for sure, it's just a logical deduction based on evidence that I can see. I have no insight into where Patrick Spence wants to take the company. For all I know, next week they'll introduce a new speaker, just to make me look silly.
As far as local bandwidth issues, take a look around here at the number of folks trying to add an audio device to their Connect that need to go to compressed audio to get it usable.

I'm a firm believer in Boost mode, with or without a Boost, and keeping my Sonos traffic off my LAN so I can configure my WiFi as I wish with no consideration of the Sonos restrictions/requirements. I'm a fan of wiring everything easy to connect to Ethernet too. These two solved long term aggravations here and with the addition of static/reserved IP addresses for all Sonos gear solved all my Sonos issues.


I guess I am extremely fortunate. My router is a bit outdated now, Apple Airport Extreme, but on a good day with like 23 connected devices I am pulling 700 mb per second.
Userlevel 7
Badge +21
As far as local bandwidth issues, take a look around here at the number of folks trying to add an audio device to their Connect that need to go to compressed audio to get it usable.

I'm a firm believer in Boost mode, with or without a Boost, and keeping my Sonos traffic off my LAN so I can configure my WiFi as I wish with no consideration of the Sonos restrictions/requirements. I'm a fan of wiring everything easy to connect to Ethernet too. These two solved long term aggravations here and with the addition of static/reserved IP addresses for all Sonos gear solved all my Sonos issues.
Funny, I’ve done the same comparison, Connect vs Squeezebox, via a pair of the most transparent, “revealing” speakers available, my QUAD ESL-63s. Noticed absolutely no difference whatsoever, as expected.

Some people have adequacy issues, and need to feel “superior” by lying. It’s sad, but all too common.

Internet bandwidth is not the issue. Witness the fact that people routinely stream 4K TV. It's the requirement to pump multiple streams around the house over the average DIY wireless network, whilst maintaining sub-millisecond sync, which could be compromised by potentially increasing per-stream bandwidth by a factor of 6.

I agree. I get flawless HD streams into the TV at home, but cannot stream the corresponding uncompressed - required for lip sync - audio around the home minus stuttering except where the Sonos units in the group have been wired to the home network.
Of course the problem there is the small buffer size, but I suspect even buffered Hi Res streams will run into headwinds that will negate even the psychological benefits of Hi Res. Nothing kills music enjoyment faster than stuttering.
PS: In some respects India = rural first world?!
Your girlfriend's parents are lucky. Many rural customers are stuck with low bandwidth ADSL connections.

I'm pretty sure it's because the number of "I keep getting dropouts on my Sonos!" calls/complaints would shoot up due to the extra bandwidth required - especially for systems just on the edge now. Which doesn't benefit Sonos one iota.5 years ago that would be a totally valid complaint. I just visited my girlfriend's parents who are farmers, they have fiber internet in the middle of nowhere.

Internet bandwidth is not the issue. Witness the fact that people routinely stream 4K TV. It's the requirement to pump multiple streams around the house over the average DIY wireless network, whilst maintaining sub-millisecond sync, which could be compromised by potentially increasing per-stream bandwidth by a factor of 6.
I'm pretty sure it's because the number of "I keep getting dropouts on my Sonos!" calls/complaints would shoot up due to the extra bandwidth required - especially for systems just on the edge now. Which doesn't benefit Sonos one iota.

5 years ago that would be a totally valid complaint. I just visited my girlfriend's parents who are farmers, they have fiber internet in the middle of nowhere.
nevalti,

One detail about your testing methodology that I forgot to inquire about: How did you match levels between the various formats and the live performance? In a testing session humans tend to prefer the louder presentation -- even if they are otherwise identical. Tiny level differences that are very difficult to accurately determine (subjectively or analytically) will sway the listening jury.

---

With respect to attempting to send hi-res audio to multiple rooms, I recently attended a seminar laying out techniques for distributing 2k, 4k,and 8k video to multiple rooms over a LAN. There are similar, sometimes ugly, discussions about the need for 4k or 8k, display size, color space, frame rate, data compression, viewing distance vs the ability of humans to discriminate the difference.

In the seminar we were concentrating on raw data handling techniques, not subjective differences. While the quantity of data required for hi-res audio is nowhere near that required for transporting multiple high resolution video streams, it was clear that we would need better than average quality networking support for reliable hi-res multi-room audio support. In addition to the need for more sophisticated networking hardware, system layout and setup are critical too. Currently, this sort of network is beyond the capability of the typical DIY installer. (and much more expensive)

SONOS is designed for high reliability on home networks -- which are typically haphazard at best. The additional data required for multi-room hi-res would stress the typical home network -- resulting in much louder complaints of "doesn't work" than complaints of "isn't hi-res".

"Wi-Fi 6" is beginning to roll out. In a few years it will become pervasive and we could re-visit the practicality of wireless multi-room hi-res home audio. Note that every Wi-Fi gadget in the home will need to be replaced in order to fully realize the potential of Wi-Fi 6. By then, 10G networking will become more common too.
So that would be a big "NO" on performing your test using foobar2000's A/B/X function @nevalti?

So tell me again, who exactly is refusing to "LISTEN"?
I don't think anyone is disputing that there is a huge range of qualities in audio equipment. I have no problem with your desire to listen in a way that allows you to hear every element, every nuance of tone and feeling. That's your business.

But this thread is about whether it makes sense for Sonos to add HiRes to the system. And HiRes, and even 16 bit lossless, are off the radar of 99.999% of Sonos' target market, I would suggest.
Userlevel 4
Badge +5
I need a drink. Pass me a glass of Blue Nun, please, someone.
I do appreciate the joke but Blue Nun is actually a very good illustration that all wines are not even similar. Same applies to audio equipment.

"Sonos isn't an audiophile system".
You certainly don't need an 'audiophile system' to get good quality reproduction - just look at my mediocre system. Sonos is however a premium price 'product' and should be judged as such. It is a very good system for anyone who is not interested in listening carefully. You all know that as well as I do but you still feel the need to attack anyone who questions it's performance. Mr 'americantoday asked perfectly sensible questions and was attacked rather than helped. Shame on all the jackals.

Has anyone actually LISTENED YET? Are all the jackals just yapping the same old, same old?
Well we can at least agree on something then. Sonos isn't an audiophile system. It is not priced as an audiophile system. I, thank goodness, am not an audiophile.

So, lacking @nevalti's sophisticated appreciation of music and audio quality, I still manage to enjoy my Sonos system somehow.

I need a drink. Pass me a glass of Blue Nun, please, someone.
Userlevel 4
Badge +5
Ho, ho, that got the pack excited. 'Oooh look, another victim to pounce on'. Feel free to join back in 'americantoday' but it seems that I will take their flack for a few days.

Notice that not one of them even tried to replicate the test I described. I doubt that any of the jackals really LISTEN to their music. If they are only using Sonos - I'm not surprised. Sonos is a truly excellent system for user convenience and it is more than adequate for their stand-alone speakers. Sonos do not however offer anything like top quality audio, not even for 16/44 recordings, and nor do they claim to any more. They did to start with and they also claimed that their system delivered a bit perfect stream to the hifi system - but it doesn't and they no longer make those extravagant claims nor do they try to compete with the more modern systems. The jackal pack hanging around the Sonos forum conveniently ignore all that.They have invested so much energy in defending Sonos (I wonder why) that they probably wouldn't dare to sit back quietly and LISTEN. Even if they did, few of them would admit to hearing what they have been missing because it would ruin their hobby of forum pouncing.

I fell for the hype initially and used Sonos for hifi for a while, feeding a 'Connect' into a Benchmark DAC2, a Bryston 4BSST (or a KT88 triode amp) and PMC OB1i speakers. When I wanted to try hi-res for the first time, I hooked up my old Squezebox again. I was quite shocked to hear how much better the old Squeezebox sounded using exactly the same DAC and hifi system. It even sounded noticeably better in a blind ABX test - which only identifies big differences. Both the Squeezebox and the 'Connect' were fed into the same Benchmark DAC2. The Sonos system and the Squeezebox had ALL signal manipulations including volume control disabled. They were both playing exactly the same 16/44 files and delivering the supposedly bit-perfect digital stream into the Benchmark DAC2. I could switch instantly from one to the other whilst playing the same track and the difference was not subtle. The illusion of reality was far better with the Squeezebox - and that is the whole purpose of hifi to me.

Having realised that the 'Connect' was simply not delivering what I wanted, I tried one of my old ZP90's -with similar results. The older ZP90 was actually very slightly better. I gave my 'Connect' to an electronics engineer who worked, at the time, for Naim and asked if he could test it. When he returned it, he told me that it was 'far from bit-perfect'. The rest of his explanation went over my head.

Since then I have been experimenting with alternative systems and found that the Qualcomm system is better but frustratingly unreliable. I also found that the humble Rasberry Pi using JRiver Id software sounds significantly better than Sonos and, set up ready to play, it is less than a quarter of the price. The JRiver IdPi system can multi-room in hi-res too. It is nothing like as user-friendly as Sonos though.

This leads me on to another surprising discovery. Whilst LISTENING I noticed, much to my surprise that even the Windows programmes I used made a difference to the sound. I had been using MediaMonkey and was astonished to hear that JRiver Media Centre sounds noticeably better! I wonder if that can be measured. Given that surprising 'discovery', I now wonder if the Sonos software is partly responsible for the degradation that I found unacceptable in my hifi system.
Userlevel 6
Badge +14
I'm pretty sure it's because the number of "I keep getting dropouts on my Sonos!" calls/complaints would shoot up due to the extra bandwidth required - especially for systems just on the edge now. Which doesn't benefit Sonos one iota.
Userlevel 7
Badge +21
What is stopping Sonos from supporting 24 bit 192 khz?

The same thing that stops Sonos from doing so many things, it won't make them more money than what they are selling now.

Look at how long Sonos resisted doing a mobile/battery speaker and now we have one. Why, they saw a potential profit in it at this point.
People who think that 16/44 is 'perfect', the pinnacle of music reproduction, are rather like the idiots who believe that all amps sound the same, or cables, or DACs etc.
I just noticed this rather disreputable debating tactic: caricature and misrepresent the opposing views so that you can ridicule them. Disappointing.

I have another question for @nevalti. Who organised / funded the 'proper' test of hires he attended? Was it a hifi retailer with hires equipment to sell? Just interested to know, as I have known hifi retailers to organise such demos.
What is stopping Sonos from supporting 24 bit 192 khz?
Science.

Reply