Hi-Resolution Audio and Sonos

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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.

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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.
My school must have been retarded because we did not dive into Nyquist–Shannon in year one.

I am no engineer, but I am guessing there is lot of ground to cover in electronics engineering before getting to DSP, sampling theory and principles, and the theorem. And if it is covered as early as year one, it would not be grasped by most students.
And I also find it difficult to believe that an engineering textbook would promote this pseudo science; these beliefs arise from a mish mash of reading half baked sources of information that proliferate on the net.
I can well imagine the kind of harsh responses that would be seen to this rubbish on Hydrogen Audio, where providing blind listening test based conclusions backing such claims are part of the terms of service. Of course, believers cast doubt on the concept of such tests as well, which circles us back to the science v religion situation of people basically living in two different universes.
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.

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



“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.

Gentlemen, differing opinions aside, let's reel it in, shall we? Clearly this is a topic that you all feel passionate about but try to keep personal attacks out of it. Thanks.

Nyquist-Shannon is not opinion, nor is the fact that the linked article is 100% hogwash.

An update from Mark Waldrep on his HD-Audio Challenge II:


After the first HD-Audio Challenge seem to indicate that people even trained listeners with above average systems — couldn’t pick out an HD file from a Redbook CD, I began to have serious doubts about my previously held position. The hundreds of people that have participated in the second round of the HD-Audio Survey, have confirmed the results of the previous project. It is no longer possible to claim that “hi-res audio” is an important next step in the evolution of audio. HD-Audio is completely unnecessary for the reproduction of hi-fidelity. It is a very good thing to record using 96/24 PCM audio but for the distribution of music, it’s nothing more than a sales slogan.



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I have both SONOS based systems in my entire house and also a dedicated, stereo home theatre system from Anthem (MRX720 with MCA525) which feed a PSB-based floor standing system (it is 5.1 for movies) .


I love the app-based control and low energy consumption profile of the SONOS system. I should also say that I love getting a nice ambience with my multi-room SONOS (I have it in nearly every room). I don’t have much to say or expect from my Play:1s re: sound quality.


I LOVE the sound quality of my home theatre system. It is, however, a massive energy hog (~350-500W of consumption everytime I switch the beast on). Pushing voluminous quantities of air costs energy which in turn costs money. Physics.


My SONOS system and home theatre are connected via a Connect that streams TIDAL to my Home theatre set up. I would very much love to stream MQA from connect onto my home theatre system: I would like SONOS to add that capability.


But--It is comical when I hear the people here clamoring for hires music on sonos *speakers*. That would be not a good fit. I like both my SONOS and my home theatre system. But they are for two very different purposes.


It is plain physics, guys. There is no way in hell any SONOS speaker system can sound as nice as a floor standing system. You want natural-sounding big sound? Then buy a floor standing system and understand the difference. For everyone who can’t tell the difference or want background music, SONOS is just fine (and nothing wrong in wanting that). Now, I still want SONOS to support hires audio--for example, they can introduce their amazing app-based control on a streaming box that will put hi-quality digital out into my Anthem system. But I am busy listening to real music on my nice floor standing ones using the stream from Connect (CD quality) and I have no time for chasing numbers. 

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



The Truth About High-Resolution Audio: Facts, Fiction and Findings

Mark Waldrep


My enthusiasm for high-resolution has diminished in recent years. After reading numerous studies and articles on the topic, I'm inclined to agree with those that believe Redbook CDs are sufficient to capture all of the fidelity we need when listening to recorded music.






None support higher than 48 kHz.

All support 24 bit at 48 kHz or less. Try it out and tell us how how it sounds.

There are no plans to support higher resolution audio. Even the support of 24 bit is a bit of an accident. If you are dead set on Hi-Res support, you should be looking for another product.
None support higher than 44 kHz. 48kHz

And the 'support' of 24-bit is evidently based on reading the 24-bit files then immediately truncating to 16-bit. Also, I don't know whether all formats are readable. 24-bit FLAC and WAV apparently work.

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.

And there it is folks, when confronted with science, they are left with nothing but insults. Yet we are the "bullies"?

I'd love to watch @nevalti post his nonsense over on hydrogenaudio. The industry experts over there would chew him up and spit him out, lol.

However, I doubt Sonos can hold out against the great unwashed forever. Marketing forces being what they are, it's likely Sonos will, eventually, need to support "hi-rez", at least the way its competitors do, on one device, without needing it to be slung throughout the house, which most networks simply won't support.

I went to a concert today ((Tchaikovsky 5th) and it was almost ruined for me as I had to sit in row J instead of my preferred row M.

If three rows make such a vast difference, is it not conceivable that the acoustics of your living room have a much greater impact on 'sound quality' than whether the music is 16 or 24 bits? An honest question.
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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.

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.

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.
This is basic electronics. The more samples you take, the better you can reproduce the original signal irrespective of what frequency it has.
It is what you have been led to believe. It is not basic electronics, I am afraid. Only people like me, that are not engineers, fall for this belief until someone patiently takes them through the basics of digital signal processing. Of course hi res hawkers do their best to mislead via the stair steps/jaggies pictures and words.
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In the real world how many of our multi speaker Sonos systems would have a hope in hell of keeping up the bitrate over wireless of HiRes. In my urban wireless environment my Sonos system is incapable of reliably streaming Flacs around the house anymore, even my next door neighbour's microwave will bring things to a halt let alone my microwave. I have just given up and converted everything to 320kbs MP3 and I now have a reliable system back!  There is no opportunity to retro wire my system with Cat5. I have always wondered if Sonos was not capable of buffering a greater amount of information to help with streaming in Flacs. 



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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.
Whilst I appreciate this may well be a "science vs faith" irresolvable argument, a few comments:

1) 128 vs 320 vs CD Quality
2) Bluetooth headphones vs. same headphones connected via cable to the music player
3) Playing the CD on your kenwood head unit vs. playing music through HDMI adapter connected to your iPhone

i can hear differences in sound quality in all the above scenarios.

Of course you can. 128 & 320 are lossy. Bluetooth is lossy (very, depending on the codec).

if high-res made no difference, then hearing music live and through a CD would be the same. Because you are comparing the original analog source with a recording of the same.

Not apples for apples at all. As Kumar remarked, the live experience is totally different from a stereo recording, if for no other reason than the spatial context.

if high-res made no difference, how come all the samples from voice to instruments of sound libraries like east west audio came in 24 bit vs. 16 bit which supposedly is all we need?

Simple. Digital audio software works in 24bit (or higher) to provide space above and below the music information to allow for errors during all the necessary computations. At the end of the process, correct engineering aligns the music samples into the 16-bit space which, remember, has a dynamic range exceeding that of human hearing.

the comparison I made of playing back CD quality vs. high-res of my mix was not on Sonos. It was on a regular wired system. I can sure make out the difference. So do all the sound engineers at the studio as well. We hear what we hear. Theory and books are not going to change our experience.

Bad conversion to 16-bit would manifest on whatever platform.

Nyquist-Shannon has its place - but you have to consider that there are a lot more factors in play when music is played back which contribute to the overall experience - all of which can increase or decrease your musical experience. So, we can’t just quote theorems and generalize it for everyone in every context using a wide variety of equipment.

Those that maintain that there are all kinds of other magical factors in play tend to be labelled as "subjectivists", which rather takes me back to my opening sentence....

I don’t recommend using Auto channel. Use only channel 1, 6, or 11. And use only 20MHz wide channels.

I am listening on my desktop to an Echo Dot wired to the line in of my Connect Amp, playing Tab Benoit: These Blues Are All Mine. As good as it can get at the desktop via small bookshelf speakers. I don't care what are the numbers for the source, they don't matter. If I like the music, they are irrelevant red herrings. And if I don't, nothing via adding more numbers will make me like it.
Steve Guttenberg, world renowned. The real deal. Don’t read anything else. What he says is exactly what I am saying as well. He writes better.


Lol. Steve Guttenberg is one of the worst audiophools out there. Go look at a couple of his YooToob videos; he bungles his way through, has zero technical knowledge, and contradicts himself constantly. Try to pin him down an ANYTHING; he simply waffles.

I don't get this; how can a downstream player in a group use a buffer to ensure that it plays music in a stable way and still remain in sync with the upstream - in the group - player to it? It will then always lag behind the upstream player.


Not the way it works at all.  The master unit sends out the data stream to all grouped devices, and play doesn’t start on any of the group until all devices have sufficient buffering.  Then, the timing logic/cues in the data are utilized for all to play from their buffers in sync.